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‘Gun Trace Report’ details origins of Chicago guns, possible solutions

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File))

Details on thousands of guns used in crimes and recovered by Chicago Police are being revealed in a new report.

The city’s second “Gun Trace Report,” set for release on Sunday, looks at guns recovered by CPD from 2013 through 2016 — where they came from, who bought them — and offers ways to put a dent in Chicago’s entrenched gun violence.

Out of approximately 27,500 weapons recovered during that period, the report focuses on 15,000 guns — all of which were initially bought legally at more than 5,000 federally licensed gun dealers in Illinois and other states, according to the report.

“It is self-evident that the availability of illegally circulated firearms in Chicago, which exceeds that of many other major U.S. cities, is directly connected to its deadly street violence,” the report – a draft of which was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times – reads.

“Policymakers, law enforcement and community stakeholders must work together to build a comprehensive system that keeps firearms out of the hands of individuals who are at high-risk for violence.”

The report was generated in cooperation between the CPD and the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

The first iteration was released in 2014 and covered the police department’s gun recoveries between 2011 and 2013.

While more expansive and detailed, the 2017 report touches on several of the same issues raised in the 2014 version.

Through Oct. 22, Chicago recorded 558 murders, the vast majority of which were committed with firearms, according to the CPD. Though that pace is slightly down from the historic levels of violence seen in 2016, Chicago recorded more murders in the first nine and a half months of 2017 than in all 12 months of any year between 2004 and 2015.

The new report states that the CPD recovered just under 7,000 guns each year from 2013 through 2016, and is on pace to exceed that in 2017. As was also noted in the 2014 report, the number of guns recovered by the CPD, on a per capita basis, far outpaces gun recovery numbers in New York City and Los Angeles.

City leaders have long bemoaned the relatively lax gun laws in Indiana as a driver of gun violence in Chicago. Indiana does not require background checks when gun sales occur at gun shows or between private parties.

According to the new report, 21 percent of guns recovered in Chicago from 2013 through 2016 were initially purchased in Indiana.

Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for national gun legislation that would create uniform gun laws to prevent people from simply crossing state lines to buy guns in states with more lenient gun laws.

“If you really want a gun, you can just drive over the Indiana border and get whatever you want,” Emanuel said. “That’s why you need national gun legislation that prevents gang members and criminals from getting their hands on an assault weapon that is not meant for the streets of any urban environment.”

As was the case in the 2014 report, more than 9 percent of the guns recovered from 2013 through 2016 were found to have originated from Wisconsin and Mississippi.

“These statistics align closely with those in the prior crime trace analysis…demonstrating the consistency with which firearms enter Chicago from states with little or no regulation over [firearm] dealer sales and secondary market sales,” the report states. “This pattern highlights Chicago’s challenge to address illegal guns with a loosely-regulated national gun market.”

In the last two years, then-candidate and current President Donald Trump and his administration have used Chicago gun violence as a political punching bag, implying that additionally gun ownership legislation would be, essentially, pointless.

“I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t create — or stop these types of things from happening,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said after the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas — the deadliest in modern American history.

“I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there. So, I think we have to, when that time comes for those conversations to take place, then I think we have to look at things that may actually have a real impact.”

Though gun ownership laws are stricter in Illinois than neighboring states, the report found that — as was the case when the 2014 report was published — more than 40 percent of guns recovered in Chicago were originally purchased in Illinois.

The report concluded that of the approximately 27,500 guns recovered in Chicago from 2013 through 2016, more than 1,800 were originally purchased at Chuck’s Gun Shop, located a mile south of city limits in Riverdale.

Most of the guns recovered that were tied to Chuck’s were recovered on the South Side.

Reached by the Sun-Times, an employee at Chuck’s declined to comment.

Other gun dealers with notable ties to guns recovered in Chicago are located in west suburban Lyons, Gary, Ind., Hammond, Ind., and north suburban Lincolnwood.

Straw purchases continue to be a major factor in guns going from the open market to the secondary market, oftentimes stymying police efforts to trace the weapons’ origins.

In instances where someone was arrested and a gun was recovered, the report found the overwhelming majority of guns were not bought by the person arrested.

“In 95% of cases where the CPD was able to identify the possessor of the crime gun, that individual was not the original, lawful purchaser of the firearm based upon the ATF record at the initial point of purchase,” the report states.

Additionally, the report found, 91.6 percent of guns were traced back to an original buyer who was not linked to any other recovered firearms.

Straw purchasers will also sometimes lie to police and say their gun was lost or stolen “as an excuse intended to cut off further investigation,” according to the report.

To stem the tide of shootings, the report recommended Illinois General Assembly pass the Gun Dealer Licensing Act to help curb straw purchasing, impose anti-theft measures and help police in their gun trafficking investigations.

The senate bill was filed Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, in February and has attracted 18 co-sponsors. It passed the Senate in April. It has 30 sponsors in the Illinois House and has a final action deadline of Nov. 10.

The report also recommended that a criminal penalty be applied to private gun sellers in Illinois for failure to check a potential customer’s FOID card prior to any sale. Currently, that penalty only applies to failure to check FOID cards at gun dealerships and at gun shows in Illinois.

Max Kapustin, the Research Director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, said that, while there are short-term changes that could help slow Chicago’s bloodshed, there is no quick fix.

“This is not a problem that appeared overnight,” Kapustin said. “And it will take concerted policy actions to address.”