U.S. Supreme Court

Why Otis McDonald Is Lead Plaintiff in High Court Gun Rights Case

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Otis McDonald already owns two shotguns, but he says he needs a handgun to defend himself from young thugs in his Chicago neighborhood.

“I know every day that I come out in the streets, the youngsters will shoot me as quick as they will a policeman,” McDonald told the Chicago Tribune. “I would like to have a handgun so I could keep it right by my bed,” he said, “just in case somebody might want to come in my house.”

McDonald’s lawyers will get a chance to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court of his right to own a handgun when McDonald v. City of Chicago is argued March 2, the Chicago Tribune reports. At issue is whether the individual right to own guns under the Second Amendment, established in District of Columbia v. Heller, applies to state and local governments under the 14th Amendment’s incorporation doctrine.

McDonald, a 76-year-old retired maintenance engineer, was among about a dozen Chicagoans interviewed by Second Amendment lawyer Alan Gura, who successfully argued Heller, the story says. Gura got McDonald’s number from a gun rights supporter who met the Chicagoan after he attended several gun rights rallies in Springfield, Ill.

Gura chose four Chicagoans; McDonald, a Democrat and a hunter, is the only black plaintiff. The others are a libertarian who is a partner in an options trading firm; a software engineer who keeps his gun collection outside the city; and the software engineer’s wife, a hypnotherapist.

After McDonald was selected as lead plaintiff in the suit, he asked, “Why would you name it after me?” he told the Tribune. “Is it just because I’m the only black?”

McDonald says he was joking, but the issue is important, the story says. A 2008 survey established the demographics of those most likely to own guns: middle-age, middle-class, white men who live in suburban or rural areas.

University of Chicago law professor Adam Samaha told the Tribune of one reason why McDonald may have been chosen. McDonald is an important symbol of the history of the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War to protect slaves from state laws infringing their rights.

Justice Antonin Scalia referred to that history in his majority opinion in Heller. According to Scalia, those who had opposed disarming freed slaves had believed the Second Amendment protected their right to own guns.

Lawyer Robert Levy, chairman of the libertiarian Cato Institute, told the Tribune of another reason McDonald was selected. “We wanted to be able to present the best face not just to the court but also to the media,” said Levy, who was among the laywers plotting strategy in the McDonald case. “We didn’t want some Montana militia man as the poster boy for the Second Amendment.”

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