CHICAGO — Critics have repeatedly charged Chicago with having the country's strictest gun laws with little effect.
It's a line that's been said by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called Chicago a "disaster" when it comes to gun violence while having what he deemed the "single toughest gun laws." He is not alone.
The most stringent gun laws in the U.S. happen to be in Chicago - and look what is happening there!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2014
During Wednesday night's debate against his Democratic opponent, Trump repeated the claim: "In Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the United States, probably you could say by far, they have more gun violence than any other city."
But Chicago Police have disputed that, saying it is a common misconception that Chicago has the country's strictest gun control, and the department's officials have contended that gang members face worse sanctions from their gangs for losing a gun than they do by the courts for illegally possessing one. Police have also emphasized that most guns used in Chicago crimes were bought outside of the city or state, where regulations are not as strict.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department actually want the laws to get tougher by imposing harsher sentences on those convicted of gun crimes, particularly if they have prior weapons arrests.
“What they fail to recognize is we don’t have strict gun laws that hold people accountable,” Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said of critics.
So, is Chicago the strictest?
Our regulations are actually similar to those of other major cities, said Roseanna Ander, the founder and executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The Crime Lab works to reduce violence through scientific analysis and research.
"At this point, we're probably fairly comparable ...," Ander said. "I think in New York and Los Angeles, both cities have pretty restrictive gun laws."
Even in the past, when Chicago had tougher gun regulations, its handgun ban was rivaled by the "restrictive gun laws" of New York and the "onerous" process to get a permit and have a gun in Los Angeles, Ander said.
Here's a timeline of recent changes to Chicago's laws:
• June 2010: Chicago's ban on handguns was ended by the Supreme Court in the McDonald v. Chicago case
• December 2012: Illinois' concealed carry ban — the last of its kind in the United States — ended in a court decision, though the state still restricts where people can carry concealed guns
• July 2013: The Firearm Concealed Carry Act went into effect, providing regulations for concealed carry
• September 2013: Chicago ends its gun registry
• January 2014: A judge rejected Chicago's ban on gun shops
How do Chicago regulations compare to those of other major cities?
While it's difficult to compare laws between major cities (especially since some of the laws come from the state), here's a chart that explains the basics of gun laws if you're in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York City. In some cases, New York City and L.A. do have tougher laws on the books:
|Chicago||Los Angeles||New York City|
|Buying guns||You need a Firearm Owner Identification card to buy rifles, shotguns and handguns. You do not have to register guns you own.||You need a Handgun Safety Certificate. The state registers gun sales and serial numbers.||You need a permit to buy rifles, shotguns and handguns. You have to register guns you own.|
|Concealed carry||Chicago now allows concealed carry, though there are restrictions: You must be approved for and receive a license, and you cannot concealed carry in prohibited areas like schools, for example.||Los Angeles allows concealed carry with restrictions. A concealed carry weapon license is required.||New York City allows concealed carry with restrictions. A concealed carry weapon license is required.|
|Assault weapons||Banned under the Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban. Anyone who had an assault weapon before the ban went into effect had to modify it so it wouldn't be an assault weapon, disable it or give it to police. Read about how Chicago defines assault weapons here.||Banned. Previously bought assault weapons must be registered.||Banned. Previously bought assault weapons must be registered.|
What changes does the Chicago Police Department want to gun laws?
Chicago Police have said for years that Chicago needs tougher gun control laws and sentences to decrease crime. Guglielmi, the department's spokesman, has said the department has identified and arrested people who are responsible for the city's violence, but there's more work to be done.
"The largest obstacle remains the lack of serious repercussions for those we arrest for repeated gun crimes," Guglielmi said in an emailed statement. "As we move forward, in addition to continued targeted enforcement of gang members, Superintendent [Eddie] Johnson will continue calling for policymakers and others to join the fight against crime by creating a stronger culture of accountability for repeat gun offenders."
Guglielmi previously said Chicago Police are focused on holding violent offenders responsible by "building the strongest prosecution possible against" those accused of gun crimes, he said. They're looking at where guns are coming from and how they're transferred, and seeing if they can make additional arrests based on that information.
They're also pushing for legislative changes that will enact harsher sentences for those convicted of gun crimes, particularly repeat offenders. Former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told aldermen the current system is equivalent to a "catch and release" program when it comes to those facing gun charges.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, there have been 2,477 people arrested on gun charges, Guglielmi said. Of those, more than 600 had been arrested before on weapons charges.
Here's a breakdown:
• Two arrested had five prior arrests on weapons charges
• Six had four priors
• 28 had three priors
• 132 had two priors
• 460 had one prior
Source: Chicago Police
"The criminal justice system has to step up," Guglielmi said. Chicago should "have zero tolerance on gun crime. If an individual has documented criminal history, especially a felon, this individual should not be out in society walking around with a gun."
The police have implemented a sometimes-controversial program that looks at the victims and suspects in gun crimes, and tries to estimate how many lives could have been saved if gun sentences were harsher and the suspect had been in jail for an earlier gun crime instead of on the street and able to re-offend, Guglielmi said. Also, many of those arrested on gun crimes become murder victims themselves, but the department says that wouldn't be the case if they had been locked up longer on the original charge in the first place and not on the street.
In those cases, police estimate, 437 people would not have been a victim of gun violence between 2012 and this past September, he said.
"Essentially what that is, is people are held accountable for their gun crimes," he said.
At a news conference last summer, then-Police Supt. McCarthy said police had taken 4,824 illegally owned guns off the street. That equated to 4,824 lives saved, McCarthy said, calling illegally possessing a gun a "gateway" to murder. That number has climbed to 5,561 guns as of Oct. 8, Guglielmi said. That's roughly 15 guns per day.
People need to "get on the bus" to Springfield to push for reforms that will stop the violence, Guglielmi said.
Laws in Surrounding Communities Matter: Ander
Ander, of the U. of C.'s crime lab, said changes in Chicago's violence — up or down — can't be attributed solely to the city's gun laws, strictest or not. Ander contends that Chicago's gun violence is affected by regulations in surrounding communities, like Indiana, where gun laws are more lax (Chicagoans have been known to get their guns from Indiana).
"It's very hard for a city in and of itself to unilaterally regulate its way out of the gun violence problem," Ander said. "Somebody once described it as, 'We're as strong as our weakest link.'
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a city in and of itself doesn't have all of the ... levers that it would need to address the gun violence problem, that it's really going to be affected by the region and what the laws are in other parts of the region," he said.
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