Chicago criminals are finicky about how they get their guns, according to a new study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
In a survey of almost 100 detainees in the Cook County Jail, few said they get firearms at gun shows or through the Internet, said Harold Pollack, co-director of the crime lab. They also said they don’t normally steal guns or buy them at a licensed store.
“Some of the pathways people are concerned about don’t seem so dominant,” Pollack said.
Most of the inmates said they had a gun within six months of getting locked up. And most said they got the weapons through personal connections because they feared getting caught in a law-enforcement sting or being robbed by a stranger.
“What the police are doing is having some effect,” Pollack said.
Still, the men said they were less concerned about getting caught by the cops than being put in the position of not having a gun to defend themselves and then getting shot, Pollack said.
“Many gave some version of the phrase ‘I’d rather be judged by 12 than be carried by six.’ ” Pollack said. “We have to figure out swift and certain but not overly severe consequences for getting caught with a gun that are meaningful to the perpetrators that might consider carrying them.”
Pollack, Philip Cook of Duke University and Susan Parker of U. of C. were the authors of the study, which was published online Friday in the Preventative Medicine journal.
Researcher Alisu Schoua-Glusberg led a team that conducted anonymous, face-to-face interviews with the men in the fall of 2013. The sheriff’s office selected inmates who were facing gun charges or whose criminal background involved gun crimes.
About 70 percent said they got their guns from family, fellow gang members or through other social connections. Only two said they bought a gun at a store. It’s unclear how many of those surveyed were felons, but they can’t hold a state firearm owner’s permit — so they can’t legally purchase a weapon at a store.
Most of the men said they had possessed semiautomatic handguns and preferred magazines with a capacity of 30 or more bullets. Only a handful said they had possessed military-style assault weapons such as an AK-47.
Those surveyed might prefer handguns with a lot of ammunition because they aren’t good marksmen, Pollack said. The survey showed the men don’t normally practice on targets and don’t have a lot of knowledge about their weapons, he said.
The inmates also told the researchers they typically kept a gun for less than a year, fearing that keeping it long could pose a legal liability. “Dirty guns,” those fired in a crime, could become evidence in a police investigation, according to those interviewed.
Some of those surveyed said people with legal permits to own a firearm buy guns for everyone in the neighborhood who wants one. Sometimes, gang leaders pick someone to go out of state to buy guns. Two inmates said corrupt cops take guns and “put them back on the street.”
The researchers are now studying how gun traffickers obtain the weapons they supply to the criminals on the street. Research has shown most guns recovered in crimes in Chicago originally were sold by a handful of suburban Cook County gun shops, with Indiana being the largest out-of-state source of crime guns here.
Read the study below.