Explaining why guns are dynamite in Chicago

photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz

Sometimes the reporting on guns and crime in Chicago forgets the basic facts, and forgets too how to explain them.

Here’s an excellent piece by Jim Warren who has moved to the New York Daily news. Steve@chicagoistheworld.org

BY JAMES WARREN / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2013,

WASHINGTON — When it comes to guns, David Mamet peddles deceit just like the weary real estate salesmen in his brilliant “Glengarry Glen Ross,” being revived now on Broadway.

So if you need insight into firearm crime — especially the befuddling, little-understood difference between New York and Chicago — don’t trust one of America’s foremost playwrights on what’s going on in his native Chicago, or, for that matter, anyplace else.

The Pulitzer Prize winner recently wrote a pro-gun, anti-President Obama screed for Newsweek. It included a call for “more armed citizens in the schools”; an attack on Obama for having armed protection for his own family but not everybody else’s, and a claim that Chicago’s horrendous gun violence results from “the law-abiding populace having been disarmed, and so crime runs riot.”

As Glengarry’s foul-mouthed Shelley Levene (Al Pacino, in the latest revival) or Ricky Roma might well say, “What the f—?!”

Mistruths course through Mamet’s polemic. He shows a deep misunderstanding of background checks and illicit gun markets. He cheap-shots Obama by claiming his daughters will receive lifetime Secret Service protection, arguing that if Obama can determine his family’s security needs, Mamet should determine his.

But a belief that giving everybody a gun would help Chicago’s violence problem is utterly blind to the deadly impact of more weapons being made more available to bad guys through theft and unregulated secondary market sales.

And Mamet, consistent with many others in the pro-gun camp, surely doesn’t understand the striking, unappreciated differences faced by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, on the one hand, and Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, on the other.

Second Amendment enthusiasts relish the fact that Chicago — a city that has on its books some of the nation’s toughest firearm laws — is rife with gun murders, notching more than 500 last year alone.

They use this as a recurring punchline to point out the supposed folly of tight restrictions on weapons possession.

But a comparison with New York City, where gun laws are equally tough and murders are sharply declining, proves that Chicago’s bloodshed has little to do with law-abiding citizens being prohibited from carrying guns. Rather, they’re about what we do with not-so-law-abiding citizens when we find them with guns.

In short, in New York City, the courts follow through with serious punishment for those who wield illegal weapons.

In Chicago, with precious few exceptions, they let those who brandish firearms go right back on the street.

Consider this stunning, largely unreported fact:

In 2012, Chicago police confiscated more than 7,400 guns, including 300 assault weapons. New York will disclose final figures next week to the City Council, but for the first six months of 2012, New York police confiscated 1,385 guns.

Double that and guess that the yearly total was somewhere around 2,800. Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city, confiscated 4,700 guns.

When you adjust those figures for population size, a much-smaller Chicago takes about 8.5 guns off the street for every one the NYPD takes off the streets.

And it takes 2.5 guns off the street for every one Los Angeles takes off the street, according to numbers- crunching on confiscations done for me by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

But while New York’s homicide number dropped to 414, or its lowest level in 40 years in 2012, Chicago’s spiked over the 500 mark, to 506, for the first time since 2008, during the same period. That was a 17% hike in homicides over 2011 in Chicago.

Imagine: In Chicago, far more guns are taken off the streets, yet far more havoc is caused by guns on the streets.

What’s going on?

One theory posited by some is that there’s just higher gun ownership in the Midwest. But that’s been debunked by research.

Then there’s the notion that Chicago’s gun laws are looser. But that’s not really true, either, with the National Rifle Association chronically critical of the city for being too restrictive.

Can one then say that the Emanuel-McCarthy team is less competent and caring about the problem than the Bloomberg-Kelly partnership?

That’s a stretch, even with criticism that the intense and supremely capable Emanuel (nicknamed “The Missile” by me, a moniker that’s stuck) can receive for budget-driven cuts in the police department; at times ad hoc and overly reactive strategies in dealing with violence; and not having an empowered City Hall aide like Bloomberg adviser John Feinblatt, who drives coordinated law enforcement strategies throughout all government agencies dealing with crime.

Plus, the Bronx-bred McCarthy, whose father was a police detective, helped implement many of New York’s seemingly winning policing strategies before moving to Newark and Chicago. He’s brought many of New York’s seemingly successful tactics to the Windy City.

A critical difference he confronts involves mandatory minimum sentences. In New York, it’s 3.5 years for carrying a loaded, illegal weapon. It’s three months in Chicago. For sure, that doesn’t mean everybody caught in New York goes to prison, given significant loopholes, but incarceration rates have jumped sharply for illegal gun possession.

Think about the message it sends to a teenager or young man who’s thinking about packing heat. Potentially go away for a few years in New York — or get a slap on the wrist in Chicago.

There is ample finger pointing in Chicago, but the bottom line reality is gun crimes aren’t treated anywhere near as seriously by prosecutors and the courts. In Chicago, one can be arrested for illegal gun possession but often not be charged with an offense or see your case tossed by a judge.

The Cook County court system, the nation’s largest integrated system, has more than two dozen specialty courts, including for prostitutes, drug abusers and veterans — but not for guns. New York once had such a court but doesn’t need it now, given its tough minimums.

Former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress personified the New York approach. In 2008, he brought a loaded gun into a club. It accidentally fired. He wound up serving time after pleading guilty to a felony weapon possession charge.

It’s close to inconceivable that a Chicago Bear would suffer the same fate in Chicago, where prosecution of gun crimes simply does not have the same priority.

Yes, the two cities are different places in other respects, as underscored by Jens Ludwig, who directs the University of Chicago Crime Lab. In part, he argues that Chicago crime reflects concentrations of poverty that dwarf those found in New York. He also maintains that the recession hit Chicago harder, with stiffer city budget cuts linked to higher crime rates.

But he also points to the courts for their priorities. They simply do not take illegal carries as seriously as they should.

Chicago must zero in on exactly where the breakdown is happening. If the cop on the beat is vigilant toward guns, what’s happening then? Is there a lack of desire to prosecute such crimes by prosecutors who are stretched thin? Or do prosecutors not quite trust many of the cases brought by police? And are judges looking the other way?

There is no real consensus, though it is crystal clear that the bad guys know the risk of bringing illegal guns into Chicago falls short of onerous, unlike in New York.

What is an often-articulated claim of Chicago’s comparative complexity comes from Patrick Fitzgerald, a Brooklyn native and renowned federal prosecutor who just ended a 10-year run as U.S. Attorney for the Chicago-based Northern District of Illinois.

He also prosecuted Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 others in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and, as a Justice Department special counsel, prosecuted Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, for perjury.

Fitzgerald subscribes to the belief that Chicago’s more numerous and deeply entrenched multi-generational gangs — said to number more than 100,000 members by credible estimates — play a role.

At minimum, he contends, they aggravate the problem when combined with drugs, too many guns, the lack of tough mandatory minimum sentences and, perhaps, less-demanding judges.

He has little sympathy for reflexive National Rifle Association responses to Chicago’s travail, namely that it somehow shows that gun control doesn’t work or that mere enforcement of existing laws is the solution.

“You can’t take seriously people who don’t want to know where the guns come from,” Fitzgerald, who is now in private practice, told me.

He might have added, as do other experts, that the NRA has consistently sought to weaken law enforcement’s ability to get guns off the street and even stymied attempts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the roots of gun violence.

Studies and disputes continue on the historic New York crime drop and the persistent Chicago homicide rate. Only ideologues and the foolish would claim cold certainty.

But somewhere in the mix is a divergence in what happens in the two cities’ courtrooms. Ironically, there may be truth in “Faustus,” another Mamet play, when a character says this:

“Many remark justice is blind. Pity those in her sway, shocked to discover she is also deaf.”

jwarren@nydailynews.com

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/chicago-bleeds-article-1.1259253#ixzz2LGZVOVWu


Share


Comments

No Comments

Add a Comment

* means field is required.

Name *

Mail *

Website