Fact-check: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott misfires with half-cocked shots at Chicago’s ‘tougher’ gun laws
While Chicago’s gun laws may be more strict than some states, Abbott’s statement ignores how regulations have been weakened after federal court reversals of the city’s once-tougher restrictions. He also ignores how the majority of firearms in Chicago are coming from neighboring states where gun laws more reflect those of his own state.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, after a mass shooting at an elementary school in his state, pointed to Chicago as an example of how “real gun laws” fail to protect school children and teachers from shootings.
“I hate to say this, but there are more people who were shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” he said during a nationally televised news conference the day after the shooting.
“We need to realize that people who think that ‘well, maybe if we could just implement tougher gun laws, it’s going to solve it,’ Chicago and LA and New York disprove that thesis. And so, if you’re looking for a real solution, Chicago teaches that what you’re talking about is not a real solution.”
Abbott’s remarks came amid the most recent flurry of demands for tougher gun laws after a gunman at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers on May 24.
Abbott’s remarks also recall a long-repeated Republican talking point that Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the nation. It doesn’t.
PolitiFact has fact-checked multiple claims on this point. In every case, the reporting has shown Chicago and Illinois do not have the strictest laws compared to other states, although they are tougher than in Texas. Federal court decisions have loosened once-tough restriction, and many experts agree additional reform could have a positive impact.
Since it is difficult to parse Abbott’s comparison of all Chicago shootings to shootings in Texas schools — or statewide Texas shooting deaths to various cities — we decided to compare statewide statistics, which in each state he mentioned are influenced most by urban gun violence.
Neither Abbott nor his communications staff returned a request for comment for this fact-check.
Chicago’s gun ban struck down
Chicago’s reputation for strict gun laws is rooted in its 1982 ban on handguns. By 2010, it was the only major city left with a blanket handgun ban.
But the ban was struck down in 2010 in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling McDonald v. City of Chicago, which called such outright bans a violation of the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights. That decision left intact the statewide ban on concealed firearms until two years later when an appeals court declared that unconstitutional as well. Illinois then joined every other state in the nation in allowing licensed citizens to carry concealed firearms.
In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed Chicago had the toughest gun laws in the United States and more gun violence than any other city. That was Mostly False.
The fact-check said cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco do more to regulate the concealed-carry permitting process, while Illinois simply processes applications through the Illinois State Police.
Illinois gets an A- from gun control advocacy group
Despite the 2010 and 2012 court rulings, Illinois still has tougher gun restrictions than Texas.
According to Giffords Law Center, an organization that advocates for gun control, Illinois requires universal background checks, gun owner licensing, lost and stolen firearm reporting, waiting periods and has minimum age laws, open carry reporting, community violence intervention funding, risk protection orders and domestic violence gun laws.
Texas has none of those. The state does however, have child access prevention laws, which Illinois also has.
Gifford’s gave Illinois an A- ranking on its 2021 Annual Gun Law Scorecard — meaning the state has strong laws to reduce the risk of gun-related crimes. Giffords said while some changes were made in 2020, Illinois as a whole can take measures to improve gun control.
Those improvements include: prohibiting the sale of large-capacity magazines and enacting a gun accountability law. The gun control group also suggested Illinois could ban the manufacturing and selling of “ghost guns,” firearms that law enforcement can’t track because they lack serial numbers — an issue Illinois has since addressed in state law enacted this year.
Giffords gave Texas an F rating for weak gun laws, along with Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. The only neighboring state with a better grade is New Mexico with a C.
At the same time, Illinois and Texas are roughly the same when it comes to gun deaths per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2020, Illinois reported 14.1 gun-related deaths per 100,000, compared to Texas’ 14.2 rate, according to the latest available CDC data.
Experts interviewed by the BGA suggest Abbott’s comparison to gun laws in Texas and Chicago are inherently misleading because gun laws in nearby states — such as Indiana and Wisconsin — more resemble those in Texas where less stringent gun laws allow easier access.
“Many factors determine the rates of homicide and violent crime from city to city,” said Daniel Webster, a co-director of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Gun Violence Solutions. “You assess the impact of policies by examining changes in homicides and violent crime after gun laws are enacted and contrast that with changes in places that didn’t adopt the policies.”
A 2017 Gun Trace Report released by the Chicago Police Department shows the majority of illegal guns came to Chicago from Indiana and outside of Chicago’s city limits.
“The majority of illegally used or possessed firearms recovered in Chicago are traced back to states with less regulation over firearms, such as Indiana and Mississippi,” the report said. “More than two of every five traceable crime guns recovered in Chicago originate with their first point of sale at an Illinois dealer.”
The remaining 60% of firearms come from out of state, with Indiana as the primary source for one out of every five crime guns.
“This pattern also highlights Chicago’s challenge to address illegal guns within the loosely-regulated national gun market,” the report said.
Abbott’s claim also falls short when it comes to his comparisons to California and New York.
In 2020, both California and the state of New York had lower gun death rates than did Texas. Both California and New York have tougher gun laws than Texas, and both are surrounded by states with tougher gun laws compared to a large portion of the rest of the country.
Gifford’s classifies California as having the strongest gun laws in the nation.
Abbott said Chicago, New York City and LA are all examples of how tough gun laws do not work.
While Chicago’s gun laws may be more strict than some states, Abbott’s statement ignores how regulations have been weakened after federal court reversals of the city’s once-tougher restrictions. He also ignores how the majority of firearms in Chicago are coming from neighboring states where gun laws more reflect those of his own state, illustrating the impact of the lack of national regulation.
States such as New York and California with lower gun death rates are for the most part surrounded by states with tougher gun laws.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check
The Better Government Association runs PolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.
Firearms Mortality Rates 2020, CDC
2017 Gun Trace Report, Chicago Police Department
What is and isn’t allowed by Illinois’ gun laws, WBEZ
‘Ghost’ busters: Illinois becomes first state in Midwest to ban untraceable do-it-yourself ‘ghost guns’, Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago toughest on gun control? A claim shot full of holes, PolitiFact
Trump no marksman when aiming at Chicago gun laws, PolitiFact
Rauner signs gun crime bill, favored by Emanuel, that cracks down on repeat offenders, Chicago Tribune
Illinois enacts nation’s final concealed-gun law, USA Today
Tracing the Guns: The Impact of Illegal Guns on Violence in Chicago, report, City of Chicago