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Breaking: Otis McDonald, champion of Supreme Court victory, passes

Otis McDonald, shown here with SAF's Alan Gottlieb, passed away Friday in Chicago.
Dave Workman

Otis McDonald, the man whose name will be forever synonymous with Second Amendment activism for his victory over Chicago’s handgun ban, died today, according to his nephew, Dr. Frederick Jones, who spoke with this column. He was 80.

Mr. McDonald, who was 76 at the time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago that its handgun ban violated the Second Amendment, and that the right to keep and bear arms was incorporated to the states via the 14th Amendment, had been suffering from a lengthy illness.

Mr. McDonald was the key figure in a lawsuit brought by the Second Amendment Foundation in June 2008, immediately after the high court had issued its landmark ruling in the Heller case that recognized the Second Amendment as protective of an individual civil right. It took two years for that case to wind its way through the federal court system, with attorney Alan Gura, who argued the Heller case, and Chicago-area attorney David Sigale representing SAF, Mr. McDonald and other plaintiffs.

Born in Fort Necessity, La., Mr. McDonald moved north to Chicago after serving in the U.S. Army. He arrived with $7 in his pocket that he had been given by his mother, and for a time he stayed with a friend while searching for and finally landing a job.

He worked in several jobs before finding is career at the University of Chicago, where he worked as a journeyman engineer. He also worked his way through college, earning a degree in engineering from Kennedy-King College in Chicago. He later served as president of his local trade union.

But Mr. McDonald will always be remembered as the lead plaintiff in the Chicago lawsuit. He wanted a handgun for home protection in that city, but the ban on new licensing that was instituted in the early 1980s prevented that. So, supported by SAF and with representation from Gura and Sigale, Mr. McDonald decided to fight.

According to Dr. Jones and author Sue Bowron – they wrote the book that told McDonald’s story as “Act of Bravery: Otis W. McDonald and the Second Amendment” – Mr. McDonald is survived by his wife, Laura and their children, Chandra and Sheila, both of Chicago, and two other daughters, Jessie Marie and Dorsey, and several grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son, Kelvin.

"Otis truly loved people," Mr. Gura recalled to Examiner. "He was universally kind, patient, and positive, and wanted very much to see his neighbors enjoying their freedom to which they are entitled. We all owe Otis a debt of gratitude that he could fulfill that wish."

SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb, recalled being at the Supreme Court four years ago when the landmark ruling in his case was handed down. It was a moment that brings tears to his eyes as he remembers what transpired.

“Walking down the stairs from the Supreme Court from our victory,” Mr. Gottlieb said, “Otis told me that he promised his mother that he would one day make her proud. He hugged me and I told him, ‘Truth is, Otis, you made us all proud’.”

Dr. Jones will officiate at Mr. McDonald’s services, which are pending.


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