Chicago looks to tougher gun laws

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

On a re­cent evening on Chicago’s south­west side, an all-too-fa­mil­iar scene un­folds: Within sight of the Windy City’s iconic down­town high­rises, dozens of po­lice of­fi­cers swarm. A 21-yearold man has been shot out­side his home. All of a sud­den, a deaf­en­ing scream pierces the si­lence: The man’s fam­ily has just learned he has been de­clared dead at the hos­pi­tal.

Chicago - the Mid­west­ern stomp­ing grounds of Al Capone, the ruth­less mob­ster who left a trail of blood in the Roar­ing 1920s is grap­pling once again with a gun vi­o­lence problem and a soar­ing mur­der rate. There have been more than 670 mur­ders in Chicago from Jan­uary to mid-Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to po­lice - a 56 per­cent jump in just one year. The city is on track to end 2016 with the most killings since 1998.

On Fri­day night, the grand­son of Illi­nois con­gress­man Danny Davis was fa­tally shot in the head - over a pair of shoes, po­lice said. The na­tion’s third largest city is strug­gling to fig­ure out how to stem the free flow of bul­lets and blood, and is hop­ing new, tougher gun laws are the answer. “I have seen too many lives torn apart. Too many par­ents lose a child,” Chicago’s po­lice chief Ed­die John­son said at a re­cent pub­lic fo­rum. “As a Chicagoan, I’m ashamed, be­cause we could do bet­ter.”

‘Beyond Frus­trated’

John­son and his state law­maker al­lies want to re­duce the num­ber of shoot­ings by stiff­en­ing jail sen­tences for those re­peat­edly ar­rested for gun of­fenses. The po­lice depart­ment says that a hard core of 1,400 re­cidi­vist gun of­fend­ers - many of them gang mem­bers or drug deal­ers - are fu­el­ing much of the vi­o­lence. “We’re beyond frus­trated,” said An­thony Guglielmi, a po­lice depart­ment spokesman. “You could re­duce the vi­o­lence in the city by 40 per­cent just by keep­ing peo­ple in jail for crimes they have com­mit­ted.”

The new draft bill is headed for the Illi­nois state leg­is­la­ture in the next few weeks, where there are in­di­ca­tions of bi­par­ti­san sup­port. It would ask judges to sen­tence re­peat gun of­fend­ers at the higher end of the three-year to 14-year guide­line range. Judges who hand down lighter sen­tences would need to of­fer a writ­ten ex­pla­na­tion of their rea­son­ing. De­spite a tough na­tional cli­mate for pass­ing gun con­trol mea­sures, the bill’s au­thors are hope­ful that Illi­nois will be dif­fer­ent.

One rea­son is that the state’s Repub­li­can gov­er­nor Bruce Rauner has al­ready agreed to tougher gun laws. Ear­lier this year, he signed a bill to in­crease penal­ties for gun traf­fick­ing from nearby Wis­con­sin and In­di­ana - border states with more per­mis­sive gun laws. An­other rea­son is that this lat­est sen­tenc­ing law would not im­pose strict manda­tory min­i­mums, some­thing leg­is­la­tors and gun-rights ad­vo­cates have op­posed. “Illi­nois can be a real trend-set­ter here,” said state rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Zalewski, a Demo­crat who sup­ports the mea­sure. Repub­li­can state law­maker Michael Con­nelly has also of­fered cau­tious sup­port, say­ing, “We have to do some­thing.”

‘No Em­ploy­ment, No Re­sources’

But of­fi­cials ad­mit that tougher gun laws can­not fix the deeper prob­lems at the root of the vi­o­lence. Ali­cia Means, 42, lives in the strug­gling Mar­quette Park neigh­bor­hood on the city’s south­west side. When she hears the sounds of gun­shots, she says, she and her chil­dren drop to the floor in­side their home, just in case a stray bul­let pierces the walls. Life was not al­ways this way. Grow­ing up, she said her neigh­bor­hood was “nice and clean... Peo­ple cared about other peo­ple’s chil­dren.”

But the hous­ing cri­sis and Great Re­ces­sion took a toll on the streets around her, where there are now a num­ber of aban­doned homes. “Change has been mainly no em­ploy­ment, no re­sources, peo­ple los­ing their homes... no way to pay their bills,” Means said. Alex Kot­lowitz has heard all of this be­fore, hav­ing spent decades study­ing Chicago’s eco­nom­i­cally-chal­lenged neigh­bor­hoods. His book “There Are No Chil­dren Here” takes an un­blink­ing look at grow­ing up poor in Chicago.

“There are a lot of rea­sons why there is vi­o­lence in what is a fairly con­cen­trated part of the city,” Kot­lowitz said, cit­ing his­toric so­cio-eco­nomic fac­tors and trauma from past blood­shed. But he says longer jail terms are not the answer for pre­dom­i­nantly African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties that “have faced longer and longer sen­tences in ev­ery crime imag­in­able”. “There’s a kind of tonedeaf­ness about it,” he said. “The idea that this is the premier so­lu­tion that peo­ple are talk­ing about, for me, is just so dis­ap­point­ing.”

John­son, the city’s po­lice chief, who is black, in­sists he un­der­stands the pit­falls. “I want our fo­cus to be on in­di­vid­u­als that we know are driv­ing the vi­o­lence on the streets,” he said. “The last thing I’m look­ing to do is lock some­one up based on the color of their skin or where they live.”

—AFP

Chicago Po­lice of­fi­cers in­spect a hand­gun dur­ing a gun turn-in event at Up­town Bap­tist Church on Satur­day in Chicago.

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