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It's Time To Ban Assault Weapons In America, Ald. Says As Gangs Infest Ward

By Ed Komenda | January 18, 2017 6:13am | Updated on January 20, 2017 11:16am
 In 2016, Chicago Police took almost 2,900 guns off the streets between January and April.
In 2016, Chicago Police took almost 2,900 guns off the streets between January and April.
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DNAinfo/Ed Komenda

BRIGHTON PARK — In South Side neighborhoods ravaged by gang gunfire, it's a common question at the dinner table:

Where are the weapons coming from?

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and Deering District Cmdr. Stephen Chung tried to answer that question at a Tuesday morning meeting at Shields Middle School, where more than 100 concerned parents packed the cafeteria. They were there to demand more resources for violence prevention programs in Brighton Park, a place where gang members killed three men and wounded six others over the past month.

"There are tens of thousands of guns on trains flowing through Chicago," Lopez said. "Sometimes those trains are broken into in Chicago. Anyone think those weapons leave Chicago?"

A Chicago man named Warren Gates recently landed in federal prison for more than five years for trafficking a shipment of dozens of handguns stolen from a South Side railyard, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Gates, 49, had 24 stolen guns, 17 of which he bought illegally from men who had stolen 111 guns from a Chicago railroad car early on April 12, 2015, according to authorities.

Law enforcement officials recovered 16 of those stolen guns at various locations and crime scenes around Chicago.

The guns were aboard a cargo train on its way from a Ruger factory in New Hampshire to Spokane, Wash. The train was parked overnight on the South Side when the thieves broke locks on a train car and stole the guns.

Gates admitted buying the 17 stolen guns so he could re-sell them. Before his arrest, he sold 11 of them.

Another common path for guns to end up with gangs is "straw purchases," according to Chung said.

That's when someone with a clean record and firearm owner's identification card buys a gun and sells it to a gangbanger who otherwise couldn't legally buy it.

"They'll sell them to the gang members at an upcharge or whatever the case," Chung said. "That's how they're getting these firearms into the area."

Chicago Police been working with federal law enforcement agencies to find these illegally traded guns and get them off the street, Chung said.

In 2016, Chicago Police took almost 2,900 guns off the streets between January and April — a number amounting to at least one gun confiscated nearly every hour of every day.

Before those guns end up with police, they're often involved in bloodshed in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards and Brighton Park, authorities said.

From 2013 to 2016, the number of shootings each year in Brighton Park jumped from 16 to 64 — a 300 percent increase, according to a DNAinfo analysis. The number of people killed during that time increased from one in 2013 to 10 in 2016.

The last deadly gang shooting happened on Jan. 11

Around 6 p.m. in the 3700 block of South Western Avenue, a carload of gang members rolled up on a van filled with Satan's Disciples, a rival street gang, according to Chicago police.

Someone in the car sprayed the van with an assault weapon, killing 18-year-old David Gonzalez and wounding four others, authorities said. Police are investigating which gang members were in the car, but gangs in the area include La Raza, 50 Strong and the Latin Saints.

"The real question for me isn't where [the guns] are coming from. The question for me is: Why does anyone need a gun designed for a battlefield?" Lopez said. "Weapons of war do not belong in my hand or any other civilian's hands."

Investigating the scene of Jan. 11 gang shooting, detectives found .223-caliber bullet casings fired from an assault weapon. Their discovery matched the size of ammunition used in a Dec. 16 shooting that killed two people and seriously wounded two others in front of a neighborhood market across the street from Shields Elementary.

The shooting there, at the intersection of 43rd and Rockwell, involved a automatic "machine pistol," Lopez said. 

"We learned of another new weapon on our streets. A handgun that was manufactured. Made. Not changed. Made to shoot bullets this big," Lopez said, spreading his fingers to show the size of a large bullet. "A machine pistol that you could buy online or at gun shows."

A solution to the bloody gang violence, Lopez said, is a federal ban on all such weapons.

"You go to your state reps. You go to your state senators. You go to your congressmen, and you tell them to ban those weapons," Lopez said. "You can't use what doesn't exist. You can't use what you can't buy."

The alderman's campaign against assault weapons began in June 2016, after the Orlando nightclub massacre and two 15th Ward shootings that involved assault weapons. Lopez offered a resolution to the City Council asking state and federal leaders to support a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons.

"Those weapons do not need to be in civilian hands," Lopez said.

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