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STEINBERG: Government tries to blind Chicago to grim gun statistics

ATF says Chicago misused gun sales information to see where confiscated weapons were sold. | Getty Images

When Republicans are shrugging off the need for any kind of rational gun policy — not that they ever consider it — they enjoy mentioning the high murder toll in Chicago and pretend that doing so proves their argument.

“I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Oct. 2, drop-kicking the issue in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre.

“The most stringent gun laws in the U.S. happen to be in Chicago,” Donald Trump tweeted in 2014. “and look what is happening there!”

What is happening here is that Chicago — though banning gun sales but not gun ownership — is ringed by suburbs pumping guns into the city and by states whose lax gun laws provide a direct pipeline to the city’s streets.

OPINION

Legal gun sales are a big part of the problem. The Sun-Times outlined that situation again last week. According to the second “Gun Trace Report,” the work of the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago Crime Lab, more than half of the 27,500 guns recovered by CPD between 2013 to 2016 came legally from 5,000 federally licensed gun shops in Illinois and other states; almost a quarter from Indiana.

As if that weren’t chilling enough, then the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives looked at that report and saw a situation that needed to be addressed immediately: that the information was published at all.

“Contrary to federal law,” sniffed ATF spokeswoman Mary Markos in an email. “A prohibited use of the data,” she scolded, in a jaw-dropping story by Alex Yablon published Friday on The Trace, an independent, nonpartisan website devoted to examining gun violence.

Roll that phrase around in your mind a little. “A prohibited use of the data.” These numbers are forbidden by the government. A novelist couldn’t concoct a more chilling, Orwellian sentiment, and that it doesn’t offend every patriotic American with a love of freedom is a sign of how lost in fear and fantasy some people are.

Any kind of gun legislation — like that banning the “bump stocks” that allowed 58 people to be killed and 500 wounded in Las Vegas last month — cannot be considered because, in their opinion, it would tread on the Second Amendment rights of gun fanatics.

But to even examine the numbers is a violation of the law, they insist, mistakenly.

Revealing such data isn’t against the law, not yet anyway. The ATF mouthpiece is referring to the “Tiahrt Amendment,” a 2003 law sponsored by Kansas Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt designed to blind the public to the true scope of our national gun disaster. It bans the ATF from releasing firearm trace data to the public or for it to be used in research, and requires the FBI to destroy gun purchase records within 24 hours.

The specter of a government employee waving that like a club is terrifying, or would be, if our capacity for terror weren’t ground down by constant use.

Cities have become the repositories of what remains of American spirit and freedom, and the Emanuel administration is pushing back.

“This is just classic,” Adam Collins, a spokesman for the mayor, emailed The Trace. “The Trump administration is arguing it would be better to hide the facts on the deadly effects of gun trafficking than partner on a solution? Well, burying your head in the sand won’t change the truth and it won’t solve the problem.”

Burying your head in the sand is exactly what we’re doing, as a nation, and we see the result, and not just with guns. After 20 years of official Republican denial on a range of important issues, from climate change to health care to guns, the GOP elected a man to whom facts mean nothing, who wallpapers over the obscenity of yesterday’s lie with a fresh lie today.

Their answer is to lash out at the facts and the media telling them, to denounce our objectivity as the very bias that distorts everything they do. People die in Chicago every day because of it. Every day. Now they tell us we are not even allowed to gather information and understand why. And we won’t be allowed, someday, if they continue to get their way.