WE NEED GUN LAWS THAT MAKE SENSE

Chicago Sun-Times - - COMMENTARY - BY JODY WEIS

The tragedy in New­town, Conn., is forc­ing us — as a coun­try — to have a long over­due de­bate about gun con­trol. Ef­forts to en­hance back­ground checks and limit the avail­abil­ity of high ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines for as­sault weapons are both pru­dent mea­sures that will as­sist in keep­ing weapons out of the hands of crim­i­nals and re­duce the lethal­ity of th­ese weapons. How­ever, with 300 mil­lion firearms in this coun­try, we must more se­ri­ously con­front what to do about the guns that are al­ready on our streets, and the of­fend­ers who use them.

We need com­mon­sense laws in place for all ci­ti­zens, while at the same time, fo­cus­ing the strong­est gun con­trol on the crim­i­nals that ter­ror­ize our neigh­bor­hoods on a daily ba­sis. Un­til we do, all ci­ti­zens — black, white, brown, rich or poor — will con­tinue to be vic­tims in un­ac­cept­able num­bers. There are some fairly sim­ple so­lu­tions, but we need to com­mit our­selves to im­ple­ment­ing them, and then en­forc­ing them.

Peo­ple who buy weapons for crim­i­nals, and then con­ve­niently claim that th­ese weapons were lost or stolen when they turn up at a crime scene have to be held ac­count­able. I com­mend both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle for propos­ing mea­sures that will fo­cus on th­ese straw pur­chasers. Hav­ing to report when a weapon is lost or stolen is not un­rea­son­able. To buy weapons for crim­i­nals is crim­i­nal; we should treat it that way.

When I was po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent, and work­ing with the Cook County state’s at­tor­ney and law­mak­ers in Spring­field, we were able to push through two laws re­quir­ing manda­tory im­pris­on­ment for in­di­vid­u­als caught with il­le­gal weapons. Chicago leads the na­tion in re­cov­ered il­le­gal weapons, and we av­er­age more than six shoot­ing in­ci­dents a day. In­di­vid­u­als who use il­le­gal weapons to ter­ror­ize our com­mu­ni­ties should be be­hind bars. Un­for­tu­nately, for some judges, “manda­tory” doesn’t al­ways mean manda­tory.

We can­not ar­rest our­selves out of a crime prob­lem; but at the same time, we need to sup­port the men and women of law en­force­ment . . . so long as they con­tinue to ar­rest vi­o­lent of­fend­ers who are then — al­most im­me­di­ately — back on the streets, we will never be able to stem the tide of vi­o­lence. Re­cently, Preck­win­kle sug­gested es­tab­lish­ing a “gun court.”

Hav­ing one court hear all of the gun of­fenses in Cook County would pro­vide for more con­sis­tent sen­tenc­ing; of­fend­ers con­victed of a gun of­fense with manda­tory prison time would go to jail. This would send a clear mes­sage while also show­ing a united front be­tween the po­lice, pros­e­cu­tors and the courts to com­bat this in­sid­i­ous gun vi­o­lence.

The plague of gun vi­o­lence that in­fects too many of our com­mu­ni­ties is not one that can sim­ply be solved by more ar­rests, and we must rec­og­nize that some com­mu­ni­ties are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected both by the gun vi­o­lence and his­toric at­tempts to po­lice the prob­lem. Nor can we reg­u­late our way to a vi­o­lence-free world — not with 300 mil­lion guns in Amer­ica — and not with some peo­ple who are just evil.

As a coun­try, we need gun laws that make sense. How­ever, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the crim­i­nals are the ones re­spon­si­ble for nearly all of this sense­less vi­o­lence. Let’s make it harder for crim­i­nals to get their hands on guns, and if they do, let’s pun­ish them in a way that will both get them off of our streets and serve as a de­ter­rent. Do­ing so will make all of our com­mu­ni­ties safer. We have the laws — we need the will.

Jody Weis is the former su­per­in­ten­dent of the Chicago Po­lice De­part­ment and a re­tired spe­cial agent in charge of the FBI in Philadel­phia.

Jody Weis | SCOTT STE­WART~SUN-TIMES FILES

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