City Clarifies New Gun Law--But Still Won't Say How Often the Old One Was Enforced | Bleader

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

City Clarifies New Gun Law--But Still Won't Say How Often the Old One Was Enforced

Posted By on 07.13.10 at 10:26 AM

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On Monday afternoon the Chicago Police Department provided details on how exactly the city's new gun law will work. This was kind of important since the law went into effect earlier in the day.

What impact—if any—the law will have on crime and violence in Chicago is being discussed and debated around the country, though it wasn't discussed or debated in the Chicago City Council before aldermen passed it 45-0 a few days ago.

Meanwhile, the police department still can't or won't say how often the city's old gun ordinance—the one this is replacing since the Supreme Court came down against it two weeks ago—was actually enforced.

In my story last week on the politics behind Chicago's gun laws, I noted that Mayor Daley, corporation counsel Mara Georges, and police superintendent Jody Weis have all said that the city's 28-year ban on handguns rarely resulted in charges against anyone—"There haven't been many," as Weis put it. They said that when people were caught with illegal weapons in Chicago they were almost always charged with violating various state and federal gun-control laws instead.

In other words, the gun ban that prompted years of hot-blooded rhetoric, thousands of dollars in legal expenses, and countless delays in addressing other potential causes of violence was irrelevant as a law enforcement tool.

Or so it seemed. Over the weekend a reliable source inside the police department told me that the city leaders don't know what they're talking about. The source said that for years cops routinely arrested people for carrying unregistered guns and then charged them with violating the city ordinance. The real issue, the source said, is that officials with the city and the Cook County state's attorney's office decided not to prosecute them for breaking that law.

Unfortunately the officials running the police department won't provide any evidence to show what's really happening. A couple weeks ago I asked the department's news affairs division for figures on the number of people charged with violating the old handgun ban. I was told I needed to submit an official request under the Freedom of Information Act, which I did.

Last Friday I received a response in the mail. "There are no existing documents that capture the information which you seek as a public record."

The letter went on to say that the department didn't keep records showing how many people had violated the ban on handguns because the city's old ordinance required registration of long guns as well. "The City of Chicago's municipal ordinance regarding the registration of weapons applies to all firearms, not just to handguns. Therefore, there is no existing means to determine the number of violations related to handguns."

I think this is a way of saying that the department has been tracking the total number of violations of the city ordinance—for handguns, rifles, shotguns, and everything else—but the department is going to do its best to keep me from seeing them. So I've submitted another FOIA request. I'll report back if I hear anything.

At this point, though, it's almost as interesting that the department machinery that regularly exhorts citizens to share information with police won't provide even basic information about how it's working to fight crime.

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