DOWNTOWN — Chicago's top cop and Illinois' Republican senator both cited the death of Hadiya Pendleton as a pivotal moment in the national debate over gun control Tuesday.
Joining Police Supt. Garry McCarthy in the push for mandatory minimum sentences for gun violations, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said Pendleton being "blown away" made him wonder, "How, as a senator, can I make sure that doesn't happen?"
Asked about research that disputes the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences, McCarthy asked how you would explain that to Pendleton's parents.
"We're talking about saving lives," McCarthy said. "We're talking about stopping people from being murdered. And people are assigning a dollars-and-cents formula to this? Come on."
The two made the comments at a joint news conference at the Union League Club Tuesday in which Kirk came out in favor of a Democratic state bill for mandatory minimum sentences supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Kirk called himself "a Republican senator backing up a Democratic mayor to solve the toughest crime problems" and promised to use his "bully pulpit" as a U.S. senator to push the measure.
McCarthy praised Kirk's "courage" for facing inevitable "political criticism," later adding, "In my mind, this is not about politics. The reality of this is this is about people dying."
McCarthy saved his sharpest comments for researchers disputing the effect of mandatory minimums.
"There are a lot of people doing research who aren't on the ground," he said. "Some of the folks who are doing that research probably couldn't find Englewood on a map."
McCarthy insisted the facts were that three-year mandatory sentences for gun crimes in New York had led to fewer arrests, fewer guns on the streets and fewer people going to jail.
"So something's happening there," McCarthy said. "If you're gonna go to jail for three years, you're gonna think twice about carrying a firearm. People stopped carrying those guns because they don't want to go to jail."
Although McCarthy spoke about the "awesome burden of carrying a firearm," emphasizing its lethal nature, both addressed criticism that the laws could send relatively innocent people to jail for three years. McCarthy spoke of "prosecutorial discretion" in charging people under the laws.
Kirk emphasized the intent was to "really crack down on people who use a gun in a crime."
The Illinois Senate bill Kirk backed has three prongs: Illegal possession of a gun by a felon would call for a minimum four-year sentence, up from two; aggravated unlawful use of a gun without a state firearm owner's ID card would lead to a three-year sentence, up from one; and illegal possession of a gun by a gang member would lead to a four-year sentence, up from two.
"Carrying an illegal loaded weapon is a violent crime and should be treated as such, because it's the gateway crime toward committing a murder," McCarthy said. He cited his own studies showing that someone convicted of that crime was four times more likely to commit a murder and nine times more likely to shoot someone down the road.
McCarthy said 108 murders and shootings so far this year would not happened if mandatory minimums were in place, as either the shooter or the victim would have been in jail.
Kirk at one point cited Michael Ward as "the murderer of Hadiya Pendleton" as someone who would not have committed his crime. McCarthy corrected him that Ward is the "alleged" murderer, as he has not yet been convicted.