Chicago has a public database of alleged gun offenders, and we’re fine with that

We’re sick and tired of our city racking up dozens of shootings every week. If this database can make even a small dent in the problem, all to the good.

SHARE Chicago has a public database of alleged gun offenders, and we’re fine with that

If you’re charged with a gun crime and have a good excuse — tell it to the judge.

Meanwhile, there’s no getting around this fact: Those charges are public information.

Which is the biggest reason we can’t agree with critics who want Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to take down the city’s recently unveiled Gun Offender Dashboard, an online database listing alleged gun offenders and their bond amounts, if any.

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The criticism doesn’t hold water.

The argument that the information should not be posted because the alleged offenders have not been convicted of a crime? It is routine for the police and prosecutors to release information to the public as soon as people are charged with crimes. 

The database makes clear that these are people who have been charged, not convicted. If somebody wrongly assumes that a person named in the database is guilty, they’re ignoring the clear statement on the home page that ”all named offenders are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

We also aren’t troubled by the fact that the database doesn’t distinguish between charges for violent gun offenses and charges for mere gun possession.

The specific charges — such as reckless discharge of a firearm or unlawful use of a weapon — are posted. There’s no inaccuracy here, no effort to mislead to make a charge seem more serious that it is. The public can read it for themselves and take it for what it is.

Let’s note, too, that illegal gun possession, in and of itself, is no minor offense. A big part of Chicago’s scourge of gun violence stems from too many people walking around with weapons. Sooner or later, all too often, those guns get used for no defensible reason.

As for the argument that people often carry a gun for protection because they live in a dangerous neighborhood or some such — as we said, tell it to the judge. Maybe he or she will go easy.

We strongly support efforts to reduce jail bonds for non-violent offenses. We also understand that gun violence is deeply rooted in larger social conditions, such as joblessness and second-rate schools, and those fundamental ills must be better addressed.

But decent, law-abiding Chicagoans are sick and tired of seeing our city rack up dozens of shootings every week.

If the existence of the Gun Offender Dashboard makes even a dent in the problem, by holding alleged offenders accountable and giving the public information as to how well — or poorly — our local criminal justice system is working, that’s all to the good.

Above all, though, the public has a right to know.

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