Editor’s note: This opinion piece has been revised to include a significant correction. Senate Bill 337 has not yet been sent to Gov. Rauner’s desk for his signature.
The Chicago Police Department took more than 5,000 guns off the streets in the first half of this year. That colossal number is probably surprising to many people, given that we continue to witness bloody weekend after bloody weekend.
We are engaged in a real-life and deadly game of whack-a-mole, with large quantities of illegally possessed guns either coming in or remaining on the streets of our distressed, under-resourced communities at the same time that some guns are being removed by the police.
The vast majority of these guns were sold by gun dealers to “straw purchasers,” people who buy guns not for their own use, but to resell on the street to people who cannot legally buy them. Once the straw purchaser sells a gun, that same gun can trade hands dozens of times through additional illegal sales, lending and theft.
The state should no longer tolerate these sales. They frustrate the police, of course, but also the more ethical gun store operators who can’t distinguish between a legitimate buyer and a straw purchaser. Senate Bill 337, which was approved by the Legislature on May 30, would reduce the flow of guns bought solely for the purpose of committing crimes.
The bill, however, has not been sent to the governor’s desk, though the standard 30-day period for doing so has passed. The governor has stated he will not sign the bill, claiming it would hurt businesses while doing nothing for public safety. He should reconsider and be prepared to sign the bill when he receives it from the Senate.
Known as the Combatting Illegal Gun Trafficking Act, Senate Bill 337 mandates that gun shops take real steps to safeguard against straw purchases. Gun dealers would be required to keep their inventory safe from burglars and smash-and-grab robbers, create and retain accurate and complete records of gun sales that could help police investigate and arrest straw purchasers, maintain video surveillance of purchases, and train employees on how to identify these straw purchasers.
Fifteen states, including New York and California, have enacted similar laws.
Deterring straw purchases in Illinois won’t end the violence in our neighborhoods, but it is one necessary step to reducing the bloodshed.
By adopting the policies in SB 337, Illinois can take action to get more guns off the street and save lives. Because the bill’s sponsors addressed many of the concerns raised by some gun store owners, the bill won bipartisan support from legislators throughout the state.
The NRA continues to oppose the bill, but this simply is not a Second Amendment issue. Senate Bill 337 does nothing to prevent the lawful sales of guns, and an insistence on perfection can’t be allowed to impede real progress.
As a society, we have moved far past the point where we can wait for any single all-encompassing solution to the bloodshed. We must move forward where we can when we can.,
The violence is too high, and the stakes are too great.
Sharone R. Mitchell Jr. is Deputy Director of the Illinois Justice Project (www.ILJP.org)
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