Editorial: Feds need to pick up game vs. gun crime

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Follow @csteditorialsCan we get a little help here, Mr. Fardon?

Chicago is beset by gun crimes. Just over the weekend, shootings took the lives of six and wounded 32 more. So far this year, there have been more than 3,550 shootings, nearly 20 percent more than all of last year. To fight this scourge, we need all hands on deck.

So why isn’t the U.S. attorney’s office here, headed by you, Mr. Fardon, doing more to combat gun violence?

In an analysis published in Sunday’s Sun-Times, reporters Mick Dumke, Frank Main and Jon Seidel show that federal weapons charges in Chicago — which you’d think would be soaring upward — have fallen slightly over the past five years. Look to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Milwaukee or Detroit, and you’ll see prosecutors who have charged many more people with weapons offenses than the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has.

EDITORIAL

Follow @csteditorialsEighty-four people were charged with federal weapons offenses here in the 12 months that ended on June 30, compared with 92 for the comparable period that ended in June 2011. The number dropped as low as 57 in 2014 before rebounding somewhat.

Altogether, 477 people were charged with federal weapons offenses over the past five years in Chicago. Compare that with 1,012 in Manhattan and 1,249 in Detroit. In 2014, federal prosecutors in Chicago ranked 82nd out of 90 districts nationwide in gun prosecutions.

Moreover, critics complain, a high percentage of cases brought by the Chicago office are for relatively minor charges, such as a felon in possession of a single gun. Bigger cases, such as the ongoing prosecution of the Hobos, a so-called “super gang,” are few in number.

Clearly, Chicago could use more help from the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. At a time when shootings are on the rise, the office could be more aggressive in pursuing major gun crimes. Though gun crime charges are more traditionally brought by state prosecutors, there is no shortage of such crimes to prosecute. Have at it, Mr. Fardon.

The federal government shutdown in 2013 led to the layoffs of more than a quarter of the staff in the Chicago office, but that’s no excuse. Most of those positions have been added back. And we know that such federal agencies as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which makes some gun arrests, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System are understaffed. But that again is no excuse.

U.S. attorneys office in Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Detroit and elsewhere face the same constraints — but prosecute gun crime more.

On Nov. 8, Cook County voters will elect a new state’s attorney. We might suggest a prompt meeting with the new state’s attorney to map out a powerful new plan to crack down on illegal firearms.

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