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Oak Park Handgun Ban to Face Referendum Test

October 31, 1985

OAK PARK, Ill. (AP) _ Three doors along a quiet business strip separate the two sides battling over the one issue almost no one takes a neutral position on - handgun control.

Next Tuesday, voters in this village of 65,000 on Chicago’s western border, one of four municipalities in the nation with handgun bans, will consider a non-binding referendum on whether they want to repeal the 13-month-old ordinance.

Activity is at a feverish pitch at the offices of the Oak Park Citizen Committee for Handgun Control and its adversary, the Oak Park Freedom Committee, just three doors down the avenue.

″My mother is the head of ‘Crime Watch’ in her neighborhood,″ said James Zangrilli, treasurer of the Freedom Committee, ″but instead of neighbor watching out for his neighbor, this thing (the ban) has people watching to see who’s got a gun in their closet.″

Replies Chris Walsh, chairman of the Committee for Handgun Control: ″This is a gutsy community, one that cares about the generations to come. And they are going to uphold this small step toward preventing the thousands of deaths each year that result from the use of handguns.″

The ordinance passed last fall but, after some legal maneuvering, the City Council agreed in July to put the question up for an advisory vote.

From the pulpits of almost a quarter of the village’s 63 churches and congregations, religious leaders actively support the ban. Volunteers from both sides have gone door to door with pamphlets, soliciting opinions and pushing for a large turnout.

Representatives of the pro-and anti-handgun factions agree the vote likely will determine whether a relatively new city council opens old wounds by reconsidering the controversial ban.

That, however, is about the only thing the two sides agree on.

Zangrilli says the Freedom Committee has raised almost $45,000, with $18,500 coming from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and an additional $4,500 from such gun groups as the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Alice Possley, treasurer of the Committee for Handgun Control, puts her group’s funds at about $14,500, adding that all but 10 donors are from Oak Park.

″We felt from the start we can win by doing this at a grass-roots level, that the people of Oak Park would resent the NRA coming in here telling people how to vote just because they have a lot of money,″ said Ms. Possley.

″The difference between us and them is that we both asked for money (from national pro- and anti-handgun organizations), but they never got any,″ said Zangrilli. ″They’ve been playing this like they’re running a strictly local campaign, but it’s not true.″

Oak Park’s ban - which carries fines up to $1,000 and a possible jail term for a first offense - is modeled after the ordinance first put into effect in Morton Grove, a northwest Chicago suburb that became the nation’s first municipality to ban the sale or possession of handguns.

Morton Grove’s ordinance, which already has withstood several state and federal court challenges, went into effect in February 1982. Since then, Washington, D.C., and Evanston, Ill., have enacted similar laws.

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