CHICAGO — Nearly nine months after Hadiya Pendleton was killed by a shooter with a history of carrying an illegal weapon, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton wonders if stricter gun penalties could have saved her daughter's life.
"Every day I wake up with the reminder that I’m in a world without her ... without her love ... without her laughter... without her love," Cowley-Pendleton said Tuesday of her 15-year-old daughter.
Tuesday afternoon Pendleton stood with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and a slew of families who have lost children to gun violence to urge the passing of House Bill 2265. They appeared at a City Hall media conference urging state lawmakers to pass the bill. A City Council committee also passed a resolution pushing for the law, and it goes before the full council Wednesday.
The bill would increase the mandatory minimum sentence for illegally having a gun — formally charged as aggravated unlawful use of a weapon — from one year to three years and requiring those convicted to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.
Two men were charged in Hadiya's shooting at a park about a mile away from President Obama's Kenwood home. One of those men, Michael Ward, 18, had been sentenced to probation for a gun offense in January 2012. If the law had been in effect then, he would have been in jail the day Hadiya was mistakenly killed instead of trying to gun down a gang rival, supporters of the law change said.
"Learning that my daughter's alleged murderer had been in jail for another gun crime was devastating. It's like rubbing salt in an open wound. It’s like losing her all over again," Cowley-Pendleton said.
Emanuel also testified in support of the resolution.
"The weakest link is the fact that they're not strong enough, which is what this law would deal with and making sure that penalties for illegal gun possession and usage act as the deterrent that they need to be, which they aren't today," Emanuel said.
Officials in their support for the bill have touted a memo published last week by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which found that the "social cost of crime" from those who are repeatedly caught with illegal guns exceeds the cost of locking them up.
The cost-benefit analysis found that more than 63 percent of those on probation for unlawful use of a weapon are arrested again for the same crime within a year, with 7 percent rearrested for a violent crime.
"We estimate the average social cost of crime committed by this population of ... probationers per year to equal $115,602, more than five times the estimated ... cost of incarceration per person per year," the study stated.
The study estimated that the law would avert more than 3,800 crimes, including more than 400 violent crimes.
But the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, said the bill has "profound unintended negative consequences." The bill would take away discretion from judges and put money into incarceration that could be used for other crime-fighting resources, Executive Director John Maki argues.
The Illinois Office of Management and Budget expects that if passed, the law would add 3,860 inmates to state prisons and cost nearly $1 billion in combined operating and construction expenses over a 10-year period.
"Mandatory minimums undermine the integrity of the justice system by weakening the role of judges in determining proper punishments, increasing the powers of prosecutors beyond their proper roles, and driving record-high prison populations, which have had a devastatingly disproportionate impact on minorities and the communities that are experiencing the most violence," Maki wrote.
But Emanuel and McCarthy shook off that notion, stating this bill puts "the deterrent on the front end" based on statistics from the impact of a similar law already on the books in New York. McCarthy was adamant that the John Howard Association's research was not factoring in the incarceration rate.
"It's an entire strategy to reduce incarceration rates, but at the same time putting the right people in prison. By putting the right people in prison the deterrence value [shows] that people stopped carrying guns at the level that they used too," McCarthy said. "So that deterrence has not been worked into that formula because gun seizures, homicides and incarceration rates have all gone down as a result of a number of factors."
And Cowley-Pendleton said the bill will show that carrying a gun could have stiff consequences.
"In my community carrying an illegal gun is no big deal, but it needs to be a big deal. Some think about guns as an accessory what they need to know is that it is a crime, a homicide waiting to happen," she said. "The point here is not to throw more people in jail. The goal is to make it upfront to those individuals that carry illegal weapons that jail time is in fact a real consequence. That’s what needs to be clear."