Whenever anybody proposes a new law to combat gun violence, somebody else inevitably counters that we should enforce existing gun laws first.
That’s not a great argument for failing to enact sensible new laws to better control deadly illegal guns, but the critics have a point. We have failed to adequately enforce so many current gun laws.
Today’s Exhibit A is Chicago’s little-known gun offender registry, which the City Council voted to expand last year.
The idea behind the registry makes sense. The names of all Chicago residents who have been convicted of serious crimes, such as armed robbery, carjacking, home invasion and kidnapping, are supposed to be included on a public list for four years. The intent is to make it easier for the police to vet the backgrounds of people they encounter, and for ordinary citizens to check and see if potentially dangerous people are living nearby.
In a big city with plenty of serious crime, you might expect to find thousands of names on such a registry. But when Sun-Times reporter Frank Main checked the online list in December, he found it included only about 450 names. Once he began asking questions, the city added about 700 more names, all names the city said had been blocked by a “glitch.”
Some glitch. When a technical problem keeps more names off a list than on it, how does no one notice?
The list remains a joke. Even with the new names added, the registry includes just a fraction of the names that should be there. Since 2010, an estimated 2,500 people have been convicted of possessing guns illegally in Chicago — and illegal possession is just one of the many crimes that are supposed to place people on the registry.
We know it’s hard to administer this kind of a registry. You can bet that most offenders won’t happily register on their own, and sometimes they claim they didn’t even know about it. And tracking down violators eats up police time.
But it would be police time well spent. If done right, the registry could be a helpful crime-fighting tool, and most Chicagoans would no doubt find the information invaluable.
Our city and nation sorely need saner gun laws. To fail to enforce existing laws makes no sense at all. Although murder rates have dropped significantly in Chicago and the rest of the nation over the past two decades, too many of our streets are still riddled with bullets.
On Monday night, men were shot in Humboldt Park and Lake View. Five people were killed and 18 were wounded in shootings from Friday night through Sunday night.
We have added our voice to those calling for important new gun laws. To target illegal guns, Illinois must license all gun dealers; require point-of-sale reporting in gun sales; improve the background check law, and beef up penalties for failing to report lost and stolen guns. Other reasonable laws could do even more to curtail gun violence.
But when existing gun laws are not enforced, new laws become a harder sell.