The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, among the busiest in the nation, must set its priorities to fit the times.
Twenty years ago, the top priority might have been public corruption. Ten years ago, it might have been white-collar crime.
Today, as John Lausch prepares to take over the job, we urge the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago to focus on one priority above all others:
Ridding our city of illegal guns.
Shootings are the scourge of Chicago, so much so that President Donald Trump has mocked our city for its violence, though he has done nothing to combat the problem. But if the U.S. attorney’s office now throws its full resources into taking guns off Chicago’s streets, in a way that the office has promised in the past but failed to deliver on, the city’s murder rate could plummet, our children would be safer, and the president will have done a great service.
Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rightly called out the U.S. attorney’s office here, then headed by Zachary Fardon, for failing to target gun crimes. He called the office’s performance “horrible.” Only a tiny fraction of guns seized by police and federal agents, the mayor complained, resulted in federal prosecutions.
Fardon, who was among 46 U.S. attorneys forced to resign earlier this year after Trump took office, defended his office’s record but, right to the end, few of the gun cases his office prosecuted involved gun traffickers, which amounts to a monumental failure. Gun traffickers, as shown in a Sun-Times analysis, are at the top of the illegal gun-distribution chain.
John Lausch, whose Senate confirmation hearing will be held after Labor Day, must do better.
Chicago ended July with more than 400 murders, on a pace to top last year’s total of 781, which was the first time in nearly 20 years the city had more than 700 murders.
On Thursday, Emanuel renewed his call for a strong federal push to reduce gun violence.
“[I]t is my hope that [Lausch] will use the power of that office to increase the federal prosecution of gun crimes in Chicago and strengthen public safety in our communities,” Emanuel said.
In a March 13 open letter written after he left the office, Fardon linked gun crimes to taunts on social media that lead to shootings by gang members; underfunding of the Chicago Police Department; the neglect of some neighborhoods, creating a sense of hopelessness; cutbacks in staffing at the U.S. attorney’s office, and bail rules that allow those with prior gun and violence convictions to post money bonds.
All of that rings true. We have all seen the mindless gang taunts on Facebook, guns waved before the camera. And there is no doubt the U.S. attorney’s office has struggled with budget cuts. But that is less an argument for not chasing down gun crimes than for setting priorities and putting gun prosecutions first. And the boss in Washington seems to be on board. In March, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told federal prosecutors to prioritize firearms offenses.
Lausch, who was an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago for more than 11 years, has the background to do the job. As a federal prosecutor, he tried more than 20 criminal jury cases, was a supervisor in the office, was violent crime coordinator, and he led the Project Safe Neighborhoods and Anti-Gang programs.
Tackling gun crime in Chicago will be the challenge of his career. Our city is looking to him for a willing partner.
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