Nearly two dozen gun-rights advocates in a Chicago courtroom burst into applause yesterday after Judge James Linn found Roderick Pritchett, 26, not guilty of a felony weapons charge. The acquittal was not so much a victory for gun rights as it was a triumph for common sense, the proposition that whatever mistakes Pritchett may or may not have made in storing a semi-automatic pistol in his car, he’s not a proper target in the war on gun violence, writes Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn.
Pritchett’s case has been a cause celebre for Concealed Carry Inc. of Oak Brook, Ill., since he sought out the group shortly after he was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in November 2002. The defense and prosecution agreed during the bench trial that Pritchett cooperated with police officers who pulled him in a routine traffic stop, that he presented an Illinois Firearm Owner’s Identification Card and volunteered that he had a handgun in the car stored in a zippered pouch. Pritchett had a clean record. He had purchased the 9 mm pistol from a suburban gun dealer because, he said, he believed he, his fiancem and their young son needed extra protection living in a high-crime area.
Supporters saw Pritchett as an example of an honest citizen victimized by overzealous enforcement of firearm laws. Illinois law allows licensed firearms owners to transport guns in cars as long as they’re enclosed in a case and unloaded. Linn had all he needed for a guilty verdict: the word of two police officers against the word of one citizen. Without discrediting the police account, he said Pritchett deserved “the benefit of the doubt.”