A week ago, the National Rifle Association told doctors to mind their own business when it comes to guns: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane,” the NRA tweeted.
That was about as stupid a thing as the NRA has ever said, which is some trick. As if spilled blood respects lanes. As if we don’t ask doctors every day to save us from guns.
On Monday in Chicago, as if to mock the NRA, America’s gun violence lurched right smack into the doctors’ lane. A man with a gun went to Mercy Hospital on the South Side and opened fire, fatally wounding Chicago police Officer Samuel Jimenez and two female hospital employees: a doctor and a pharmaceutical assistant. The shooter is now dead, too.
Tell us again, NRA, how this is not the business of doctors. Tell us how it’s not the business of every fed-up American.
“We’re all in this together as human beings who just want to live and come home to our families,” tweeted Dr. Eugene Gu, a Tennessee physician, castigating the NRA just hours after the Mercy Hospital shootings. “Enough is enough.”
And nothing will change, we would add, until all of us, “together as human beings,” make it happen.
Toward that end, it was heartening to read in the Sunday Sun-Times that the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, which in recent years has done too little to counter the scourge of illegal guns, is stepping up its fight.
As Frank Main and Jon Seidel reported, a Sun-Times analysis of court data found that the number of people charged locally with federal gun crimes rose by 75 percent from March 2016 to March 2017, and that number rose another 29 percent over the next year.
In the past two years, more gun defendants have been charged in federal court in Chicago than in Los Angeles, though L.A. has a larger metro population.
We don’t know what kind of gun or guns was used by the killer at Mercy Hospital. For all we know, it was purchased entirely legally.
But we do know that much of Chicago’s gun violence can be blamed on the unusually large size of its illegal gun market, made possible by lax gun laws in neighboring and nearby states.
Criminals who can’t buy guns legally in Illinois have no problem buying guns illegally that originated in other states.
Chicago and Illinois can’t change the laws in other states. What we can do — and have longed called for — is to more aggressively prosecute gun crimes at the federal level and hit repeat offenders with those stiffer federal sentences.
Finally, that’s happening, and we urge U.S Attorney John Lausch not to let up.
According to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, the 5,000 people at highest risk of being involved in gun crimes — just 0.2 percent of population — account for about 17 of all homicides. According to a report the crime lab released last year, in 90 percent of all Chicago homicides, a gun was used.
Clearly, if we can change the behavior of that small group through targeted prosecution, the number of gun crimes should decline.
In Washington, Democrats who gained control of the House on Nov. 6 are planning to make universal background checks their top priority. But nobody expects such a bill to get through the Republican-controlled Senate.
House Democrats also plan to push legislation targeting gun trafficking, which has more Republican support and is seen as something that would be of greater benefit to Chicago. But the prospects for even that bill passing in the Senate are slim.
That’s why local efforts, such as the ramped-up federal crackdown on gun crimes, must continue.
Chicago’s homicide rate from guns in 2016 was five times higher than New York’s rate, but our city’s homicide rate from weapons other than guns was just barely higher than in New York — less than one percent.
Chicago is not a more violent town, it’s just awash in illegal guns.
Lausch, who was sworn into office in November 2017, said his office is focused on making “impactful” cases in those parts of the city that suffer the most shootings and murders. In practice, that might mean filing a gun charge to get a particularly violent individual off the street, or as part of a larger effort to take down down an entire gang. Lausch’s office is coordinating its efforts with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which also prosecutes gun crimes.
It’s important that career gun criminals are hit with longer sentences, as a matter of making our neighborhoods safer and deterring others from carrying guns. Last year, we noted that gun offenders in New York state are locked up for a minimum of 3½ years, but the average for first-time gun offenders in Illinois was less than a year — and repeat offenders were serving less than two years.
Across the country, gun violence was among the top three concerns voters cited from spring through Election Day, according to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly’s office. And you can bet it will be a top issue, perhaps above all others, in the Feb. 26 mayoral and City Council elections.
In 2017, 650 people were killed in Chicago. And as of Nov. 11 of this year, another 488 people have been killed.
The total is trending downward, but tell that to the victims of the Mercy Hospital shooting, and to their crying families.
Gun violence remains our city’s shame.
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