AUSTIN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel was joined by the city's top cop and the county's top prosecutor in pushing for stiffer penalties for gun violations Monday.
But he also expanded the debate to call for stronger mentoring in the African-American community ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to the city Friday.
"Our current gun laws are simply not working," Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said Monday at a joint news conference at the Austin District Police Station. "We cannot continue to rely on laws that aren't working and expect a different result."
"Chicago does not have strict gun laws," Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said, attempting to reframe the gun-control debate as it focuses nationally on Chicago. "The State of Illinois does not have strict gun laws that prevent the facilitation of the flow of firearms into our streets."
Emanuel joined them in pushing for legislation in the General Assembly for tougher mandatory minimum sentences for gun violations and "truth-in-sentencing" guidelines that would extend the amount of prison time to be served before possibility of parole.
"The victims deserve it, the public demands it and the criminal justice system should deliver it," Emanuel said.
Yet, as McCarthy also reiterated his call for wide-ranging gun control -- including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, extensive background checks before sales and a demand for all gun transfers to be reported -- Emanuel expanded the debate to include afterschool programs, summer jobs and, notably, mentoring in the African-American community to provide young gang members with better role models.
Emanuel raised the issue within the context of President Barack Obama's expected visit to the city Friday after his State of the Union speech Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
"I welcome the visit," Emanuel said, adding that it comes at a "reflection moment for the city" in which all neighborhoods are realizing "we have to pull together as a city to save all our children."
Obama was expected to use the visit to address the issue of gun violence, and Emanuel hinted at the direction the president might take.
"We have too many young men growing up without affirmative role models," Emanuel added. "Given that the lion's share of both the victims and the perpetrators are young African-American men, who better to have that discussion than the president of the United States, who has repeatedly talked about fathering and the role of fathering."
McCarthy and Alvarez, however, kept their focus strictly on gun penalties. The toughened gun laws, to be sponsored in the General Assembly by state Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago), would increase the jail term for felons caught with guns from two years to three years, with a minimum of five years for subsequent offenses. It would increase the minimum sentence for unregistered gun users getting caught with a gun in a crime from one year to three years. It would also add gun crimes to "truth in sentencing" offenses requiring that those convicted serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
McCarthy said the laws were modeled on those enacted by New York, where he was a longtime police officer until rising to head departments in Newark, N.J., and now Chicago.
"The fact is, I have seen what stringent gun laws, what impact they can have on a city like Chicago," McCarthy said.
McCarthy displayed some of the 809 guns Chicago Police had already confiscated in the first six weeks of the year, saying the prevalence of guns on the streets is a persistent source of the city's murder problem.
Alvarez said in the meantime she would ask her prosecutors to push for maximum sentences for gun offenses.
"While we are committed to getting this legislation passed, we cannot wait for it to wind its way through the Legislature," she said. "We must act now to get gun-toting gangbangers off our streets."
Emanuel said he was "confident" the new penalties would be part of additional gun control passed in Springfield.