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High court weighing Chicago handgun ban

CHICAGO — A couple worries that burglars who tried to break in when the wife was home alone will return.

A retiree fears the drug dealers and junkies just outside his window will attempt — again — to steal what he spent a lifetime earning.

And a businessman wants to protect himself as he could when he was a police officer.

Together, they are the face of the most serious challenge yet to Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban.

Today, the four will take their seats inside the U.S. Supreme Court as their attorneys argue a lawsuit that bears their names: David and Colleen Lawson, Otis McDonald and Adam Orlov.

The four are not stereotypical gun rights advocates. They don't represent the agenda of any national group or organize rallies. Instead they represent average Chicagoans — the kind of people that opponents of the city's ban say should be allowed to protect themselves from gun violence.

"Some people want to stereotype advocates in any case, to make them look like a bunch of crazies," said Alan Gura, a Virginia attorney who will argue the case. "But these are plaintiffs who reflect the city in which they live."

Chicago's ban on the sale and possession of handguns has been weathering legal challenges for years. But it gained newfound attention after the Supreme Court in 2008 struck down a similar handgun ban in the District of Columbia. The court now plans to decide whether the ruling on D.C., a city with unique federal status, should apply to local and state laws, too.

The lead plaintiffs in the Chicago suit decided to fight the city's gun ban for different reasons.

For the Lawsons, it stemmed from a scare in 2006, when Colleen Lawson was home alone with the flu and three men tried to jimmy open her back door. They ran off when they saw her through a window.

"That's how close they were to getting in," said Lawson, 51.

The Lawsons believe a handgun would allow them to protect their family and give them the kind of peace of mind Colleen Lawson had as a child, when she knew her grandmother kept a pistol in her apron.

"I knew without any doubt my grandmother would be able protect us," she said. "I can't say that to my children."

Seventy-six-year-old McDonald knows the feeling.

He came to Chicago from Louisiana when he was 17, as part of the Great Migration of blacks. He worked his way up from a janitor to a maintenance engineer, a good job that allowed him and his wife to buy a house in 1972 on the city's far South Side, where they raised their family.

In recent years, McDonald, now a grandfather, has watched the neighborhood deteriorate, the quiet nights he once enjoyed replaced by the sound of gunfire, drunken fights and shattering liquor bottles.

Three times, he says, his house has been broken into — once the front door was wide open and the burglars still out front when his wife and daughter came home from church. A few years ago, he called police to report gunfire, only to be confronted by a man who told him he'd heard about that call and threatened to kill him.

"I just got the feeling that I'm on my own," said McDonald.

Orlov didn't grow up with guns and doesn't hunt. But his four years as a police officer only underscored his belief that people hurt by the city's handgun ban are those obeying it.

"The law only prohibits the actions of those who are law-abiding," said Orlov, 40. "The more law-abiding, the more likely you are to be vulnerable to the activities of criminals."

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