In the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting at a church in Texas, President Donald Trump once again incorrectly referenced Chicago as having the nation’s toughest gun laws as he spoke against stricter gun control measures.
“When you look at the city with the strongest gun laws in our nation, is Chicago. And Chicago is a disaster,” Trump said in response to a question posed by a NBC News reporter. “If this man didn’t have a gun or a rifle, you’d be talking about a much worse situation.”
But local prosecutors and gun control advocates say it’s because of holes in the law that getting a gun here is so easy.
State lawmakers are now considering tighter regulations on Illinois gun retailers.
Forty percent of the guns recovered in Chicago crime scenes over the last four years were originally purchased in Illinois. That’s according to a report by the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
Of the top 10 gun stores where those guns originated, Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale and Midwest Sporting Goods in Lyons were numbers one and two.
Proposed legislation in Springfield targets gun retailers.
“What we want with our Gun Dealer Licensing Act is for people to be good corporate citizens. To make sure you’re not selling guns to people you probably shouldn’t,” said Colleen Daley of the Illinois Coalition Against Handgun Violence.
The act would authorize the state to issue licenses to store owners and require more video surveillance and staff training to be able to detect suspicious purchasers. It would also give local law enforcement agencies the ability to audit gun stores once a year, a task that currently falls to the understaffed Federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“We license every single thing in this state,” said Daley. “Nail technicians, someone who cuts my hair, tattoo artists. We absolutely regulate everybody, but we’re not regulating gun stores in Illinois. And when ATF is not equipped, unfortunately, to do their job, we think it’s the state of Illinois’s job to fill in those gaps.”
But Dan Eldrige, who owns Maxon’s Shooter Supplies in Des Plaines, says the new regulations could put his store out of business, and he believes Illinois is not equipped to inspect the nearly 2,400 gun retailers within its borders.
“If the ATF is under resourced to do this, where is a broke Illinois going to come up with sufficient resources to audit 2,400 (Federal Firearms Licenses) annually?” Eldridge asked.
Maxon’s did not end up as one of the top 10 stores in the gun trace report. Eldridge says his staff is regularly trained on how to spot suspicious customers.
“We will deny a sale to someone who we perceive would be a danger to themselves or someone else,” he said.
To purchase a gun in Illinois, a customer must have a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card and then wait three days from the point of sale before possessing it. The store must keep only a paper record of the sale in the case of an ATF audit. Eldridge says it’s unfair to further regulate gun stores, which he says are following all the existing laws.
“Ninety-four-plus percent of the firearms that are recovered at crime scenes are illegally possessed. They were not originally bought at a gun shop. They were borrowed, stolen, attained through the social network of the criminal. So there’s really no correlation whatsoever between where the gun was originally sold and how it wound up at the crime scene,” he said.
Federal law prohibits any electronic database of gun purchases. Eric Sussman, a prosecutor with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, says that guns should be regulated like cars, which by law must be registered.
“With a vehicle, we can tell within minutes who purchased that car, who they sold it to, who that person sold it to and who the owner is as of the current date,” Sussman said. “Because of the federal law on this subject, we do not have the ability to do that for guns, so in many instances we can’t even find out who the original purchaser of that gun was.”
Sussman says the penalties for a straw purchaser or someone who failed to report a lost or stolen gun are weak. The latter offense carries a fine equivalent to getting a traffic ticket or failing to have a fishing license. He says that makes it all but impossible to stem the tide of legally bought firearms getting into the hands of criminals.
“We’re hamstrung because of the amount of violence that we’re seeing in Chicago, because of the number of guns and because of our inability to trace those guns from the original purchaser who may or may not have purchased that gun legally, two or three steps down to the person who actually uses that gun in a crime,” he said.
Some Illinois municipalities have taken it upon themselves to get tougher with gun stores.
In 2015, the west suburban Village of Lyons passed its own gun shop ordinance, requiring local law enforcement officials to audit the town’s gun shop twice a year.
The owner of Midwest Sporting Goods in Lyons declined an interview but told Chicago Tonight that he believed the ordinance had hurt sales at his store. But Daley says the ordinance is working.
“What we’ve seen is that they’ve stopped 50 suspicious purchasers, whether they were somebody maybe under the influence of alcohol or drugs, somebody who seemed to be not buying it for themselves,” she said.
Daley acknowledges that the Gun Dealer Licensing Act will not be a cure-all for Chicago’s gun violence problem, but says it’s one step in reducing the thousands and thousands of illegal firearms that find their way to Chicago crime scenes every year.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz
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