Last week, students at Cary-Grove High School in Illinois heard two gunshots in the school hallway. The gun was loaded with blanks. It was a drill to teach those suburban students to recognize the sound of live gunfire.
For many who live in urban Chicago, that sound is all too recognizable. At a Senate hearing on gun violence last week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) pointed out that Chicago is "awash in guns," despite having some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
The local nightly news is a grim reminder of that statement for those of us who live in the city. More than 500 people died because of gun violence in Chicago last year. This year, the toll is already at 40.
The deaths only tell part of the story. Far too unreported are the thousands upon thousands of violent crimes committed with guns. My own mother and father were held at gunpoint during a robbery several years ago. I hear gunfire periodically from my apartment, and I live on the north side of Chicago in a working-class neighborhood. Yes, the city is awash in guns, and yes, the solution to this epidemic of violence needs to be a holistic one focusing on education, jobs, and poverty. But at the very least, comprehensive, federal gun control can help triage the situation.
Learn more about Chicago's gun violence below the fold ...
1. Meet the victims.
During last week's hearing, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, in an emotional plea for action, noted that "Too many children are dying. Too many children." Alden Loury at The Chicago Reporter brings us the sobering numbers:
From 2008 through 2012, nearly half of Chicago’s 2,389 homicide victims were killed before their 25th birthdays. In 2011, the most recent year for which the data were available, more than 56 percent of individuals who committed murder were also under 25.2. Meet John Riggo. Meet his store, "Chuck's Gun Shop."
Conservatives frequently point to the volume of gun violence in Chicago to claim that gun control laws are ineffective. Yes, Chicago does have relatively strong gun control laws on the books, but it's not Chicago that's the problem.
As Durbin said, Chicago is "awash in guns," but most of them are bought (legally) out of the city or out of the state.
Chuck's Gun Shop is a tiny, unassuming gun shop in Riverdale, Illinois. That shop "sold more guns between 1996 and 2000 that ended up in the hands of criminals than any store in the country." A Chicago Sun-Times analysis last year revealed that almost 20 percent of guns recovered in crimes used within one year of purchase came from that single store.
An ABC-7 investigation several years ago revealed that suburban gun shop owners don't blink an eye when a Chicago resident purchases a gun. These suburban gun shops are a haven for straw purchasers. Cracking down on such straw purchasers would directly impact Chicago's gun violence.
3. This is why we need a national framework:
Newt Gingrich has claimed that "If gun control works, Chicago ought to be safe."
If Gingrich knew how logic works, he wouldn't have made that argument.
Chicago's streets are being flooded by weapons from out of state. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have introduced a bill to crack down on the gun trafficking and straw purchases that contribute to this flow of guns from one jurisdiction to the next. To be clear, the illegal influx of guns into urban areas isn't just a Chicago problem. According to Gillibrand, "[e]ighty five percent of weapons used in crimes in my state come from out of state and 90 percent of them are illegal."
David Spielfogel, senior adviser to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, summed up the problem:
“Chicago is not an island...We’re only as strong as the weakest gun law in surrounding states.”4. The NRA wants to make it easier to buy a gun in Illinois (and, well, everywhere).
Illinois used to have a ban on carrying concealed firearms until a federal appeals court held in a 2-1 decision that the ban was unconstitutional. Now the state legislature is scrambling to come up with an alternative. Some are looking to New York as a model:
Known as a "may issue" state, a typical gun owner in New York must show "proper cause" in order to get a permit to carry a gun in public.Of course, the NRA will have none of that. The group has introduced a bill this week that would make Illinois a "shall issue" state—meaning a permit would have to be issued to anyone who fulfills the training and qualification requirements of the state statute.
Proper cause is defined as "a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession." However, New York has a decentralized permitting system, meaning each county and the city of New York issues permits and therefore can establish their own set of guidelines and rules. So, what may be considered proper cause in one county may not meet the same standard in another.
3. Not all Democrats are helping.
Sure, there are Democrats in this city and state who are trying to stem the tide of violence. But then there are Democrats who aren't helping advance the right side of the gun control debate at all:
“We’ve buried far too many of our own children over the years—every day. When are we going to go after the criminals? When are we going to go after the people who buy guns for those who aren’t able to go get their backgrounds checked? We need to strengthen the laws we already have instead of keep talking about new ones...We need to do more about the criminals. Cook County has an assault weapons ban. We have the highest amount of murders in the country. Let’s do more about enforcing the laws we have at the same time doing more about keeping our streets safe,” she said, adding she backs a universal background check and tougher criminal penalties on straw purchasers.That's IL-02 Democratic candidate Debbie Halvorson explaining why she would vote against an assault weapons ban if elected to Congress. The 2nd district includes part of the southeast side of Chicago as well as some adjacent suburbs. And Toi Hutchinson, another Democrat in the race where gun control has become the key issue, doesn't think Illinois should have a state-wide concealed carry ban.
On Friday, Daily Kos endorsed Robin Kelly in that race, a candidate who says she is "proud" of her F rating from the NRA.
Last week, Hadiya Pendleton became Chicago's 42nd homicide this year. Days before she was shot down near her high school, the honor student had performed at President Obama's inauguration. Her murderer is still at large. Earlier this year, a mother buried her last surviving child. All of them were gunned down in Chicago over the course of two decades.
What we are witnessing in America's cities is what one mayor has called "slow motion mass murder." The response from the federal government to address the daily death toll must be comprehensive and, most importantly, must be backed up with local law enforcement resources so that parents in cities like Chicago bury less of their children every year.