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Chuck's Gun Shop, where many of the guns that end up in Chicago are bought, near Chicago in Riverdale, Ill., Jan 28, 2013. Chicago, a city with no civilian gun ranges and bans on both assault weapons and high capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and 41 killings already in 2013.

Nathan Weber, Nyt - Nyt

Strict gun laws haven't stemmed Chicago bloodshed

  • Article by: MONICA DAVEY
  • New York Times
  • January 29, 2013 - 11:46 PM

CHICAGO - Not a single gun shop can be found in this city. They are outlawed.

Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban.

And yet Chicago, a city with bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013.

To gun-rights advocates, the city illustrates that even some of the toughest restrictions fail to make places safer. "The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they've essentially made the citizens prey," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.

To gun-control proponents, the struggles in Chicago underscore the opposite -- a need for strict, uniform national gun laws to eliminate the current patchwork of state and local rules that allow guns to flow into this city from outside.

"Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it's like you've got this single house sitting on a whole block where there's anarchy," said the Rev. Ira Acree, a pastor who has marched and gathered signatures for an end to so much shooting. "Chicago is an argument for laws that are statewide or, better yet, national."

Chicago's experience reveals the complications inherent in carrying out local gun laws around the nation. Less restrictive laws in neighboring communities and states not only make guns easy to obtain nearby, but layers of differing laws -- local and state -- make it difficult to police violations.

And though many describe the local and state gun laws in Chicago as relatively stringent, penalties for violating them -- from jail time to fines -- have not proven as severe as they are in some other places, reducing the incentive to comply.

The rules sound tough

Efforts to compare the strictness of gun laws and the level of violence across major U.S. cities are fraught with contradiction and complication, not least because of varying degrees of coordination between local and state laws and differing levels of enforcement.

In New York City, where homicides and shootings have decreased, the gun laws are generally seen as at least as strict as Chicago's, and the state laws in New York and many of its neighboring states are viewed as still tougher than those in and around Illinois.

In Chicago, the rules for owning a handgun -- rewritten after the outright ban was deemed too restrictive in 2010 -- sound arduous. Owners must seek a Chicago firearms permit, which requires firearms training, a background check and a state-mandated identification card.

To prevent straw purchasers from selling or giving their weapons to people who would not meet the restrictions -- girlfriends buying guns for gang members is a common problem, Chicago police say -- the city requires permitted gun owners to report their weapons lost, sold or stolen.

Still, for all the regulations, the reality looks different. Some 7,640 people currently hold a firearms permit, but nearly that many illicit weapons were confiscated in the city last year alone.

Chicago officials say Illinois has no requirement, comparable to Chicago's, that gun owners immediately report their lost or stolen weapons to deter straw purchasers. Consequently those outside the city can, in the words of one city official, carry guns to gang members in the city with "zero accountability."

And a relatively common sentence in state court for gun possession for offenders without other felonies is one year in prison, which really may mean a penalty of six months, said Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state's attorney. She said such punishments failed to serve as a significant enough deterrent for seasoned criminals who may see a modest prison stint as the price of doing business.

"The way the laws are structured facilitates the flow of those guns to hit our streets," Garry McCarthy, the Chicago Police superintendent, said in an interview. "Chicago may have comprehensive gun laws, but they are not strict because the sanctions don't exist."

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