Editorial: Chicago’s body count should include the broken hearts

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Takiya Holmes, 11, Lavontay White, 2, and Kanari Gentry-Bowers, 12, were killed within a period of four days in Chicago. | Family photos

Follow @csteditorialsTakiya Holmes, who was 11, died in her mother’s arms. How does this woman go on?

When a child is shot and killed in Chicago, the pain lives forever in those who loved that child. It ebbs but never ends. It is the invisible price our city pays for its failure to protect its people.

Chicago measures gun violence by the number of people killed, which is horrific enough, but we should count as well the broken hearts. Maybe then we would never look away.

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When Takiya was killed, shot in the head by a stray bullet on Saturday night while sitting in her family’s minivan, we wondered where her killer got that gun. When Kanari Gentry-Bowers, who was 12, was shot just a half hour earlier, we also wondered where the killer got the gun — and what kind of person shoots into a grammar school basketball court.

When Lavontay White Jr., who was 2, was killed in the backseat of a car on Tuesday, we wondered again about the gun, and about how so many Chicago children grow up amid crime and violence. You wonder if they stand a chance. Lavontay was killed along with his uncle, Lezarek Collins, who police have identified as a gang member, in an apparent ambush attack in an alley. Collins had been paroled from prison last summer after serving about four years for burglary.

Chicago’s gun violence has many causes, many of them beyond the reach of straight-forward solutions, but illegal guns in dangerous hands are a scourge we can do something about. We just don’t. On the contrary, our nation is going the other way. Republicans in Congress this week killed a rule that kept guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and they are in the process of legalizing silencers on guns. Nobody but James Bond or a hired killer needs a silencer.

Chicago is “awash” in guns, as Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation, wrote in a recent op-ed, as part of the Sun-Times “Silencing the Guns” series. Last year alone, the Chicago Police recovered more than 8,000 guns. And in part because there are so many guns, Alberding wrote, Chicagoans are seven times more likely to be shot and killed than residents of New York.

Illinois could make a huge dent in intrastate gun “straw purchases,” in which guns are bought legally and sold almost immediately to some mope on the street, by licensing and regularly inspecting gun stores in Illinois, but the gun lobby won’t allow it.

In a similar way, Congress could demand that people who buy guns at garage sales and gun shows be subjected to criminal background checks. That might stem the flow into Chicago of tens of thousands of illegal guns from Wisconsin and Indiana. But the gun lobby won’t allow that, either. The gun lobby loves guns. It does not necessarily love Takiya Holmes.

We strongly support a bill pending in the Illinois Senate, sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, that would pressure judges to send repeat gun offenders off to prison for many more years. Don’t buy for a second the argument that this would do nothing to deter gun crimes. Research shows it would. If you agree with us, get a good photo of Takiya, Kanari or Lavontay, put it on a picket sign, and get down to Springfield.

And if President Donald Trump really means it when he says he’ll “send in the feds” to quell the violence in Chicago, here’s what he can do: Appoint a United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois who is committed to dramatically amping up gun crime prosecutions.

Children are dying. We can save them.

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