Chicago has found itself at center stage in the gun debate following recent mass shootings. Many claim that Chicago’s strict gun laws show gun control legislation doesn’t work, because Chicago has one of the highest rates of gun murders of any city.
But for some, Chicago’s “strict gun laws” aren’t strict enough. Many police have come forward to call for changing the law. According to the Chicago police department, tougher gun laws would have prevented 74 individuals from getting shot this year.
The Chicago police aren’t calling for tighter regulations on who can buy a gun, however. Nor are they arguing for restrictions on when or where a gun can be purchased, or what kind of gun you can buy.
Instead, they’re calling for harsher penalties for those convicted of gun crimes. According to the police department, 76 victims and 84 suspects in shooting cases were released from incarceration or on probation for previous gun-related offenses in the past year.
Harsher Penalties for Gun Possession
According to Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police, the department is calling for a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 3 years for gun possession. “I think the data underscore why we need to create a culture of accountability for those who engage in gun violence,” Gugliemi told the Chicago Sun Times.
This year in Chicago, there have been over 2,000 shooting victims and over 370 homicides—roughly 20% more than in 2014 over the same period. The police department has seized over 5,500 firearms this year.
The police department is going to meet with the mayor and other community leaders on how best to address the growing gun crime rate. Guglielmi says the chief focus of the Chicago PD is getting harsher punishments for gun possession.
“We have not quite fleshed out an ideal bill, but the bare minimum is that gun possession should be treated as a violent crime,” Guglielmi said. Speaking for the police, he said longer sentences would do more to deter crime and offer “communities a chance to heal.”
Chicago’s Current Gun Laws
Currently, conviction for illegal possession of a gun in Illinois carries a minimum sentence of one year in prison, and a maximum of three years behind bars. If you are felon in possession of a gun, the punishment is enhanced to a two year minimum sentence with a 10 year maximum.
Possession of an illegal firearm becomes a much more serious crime in the state of Illinois in certain situations. For example, carrying gun in certain public areas, including public school and university campuses, courthouses, parks, city or school buses is punished more severely.
Possession of a firearm in a place that sells alcoholic beverages is a Class 4 felony. It’s also a Class 4 felony to possess a firearm while your face is obscured by a hood or mask. These types of felonies are punishable by three to six years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
The Sun Times released a report last year that the majority of people convicted for illegal possession are more often than not getting the minimum sentence of one year. Felons in possession get an average of four years of incarceration.
This may seem like a significant amount of time to spend behind bars, but it’s not enough for the Chicago PD. In the past, efforts were made in Springfield to impose stricter sentences on Illinois gun owners, but the momentum of that push soon fizzled out. In the current political climate, however, there may be more interest in passing legislation that imposes harsher sentences on gun criminals.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has stated in multiple press conferences that the assertion that Chicago is tough on gun crime isn’t true. For several years, he has been publicly lamenting what he believes are short sentences for illegal gun possession. He often compares Chicago to New York—where the mandatory minimum sentence for illegal gun possession is 3.5 years.
Even anti-gun violence activists seem to disagree with him, though. Gunlawscorecard.org
rates Illinois a B+ based on the strength of their gun laws. Illinois is the only Midwestern state to get above a C by their metric, and every state in Southeast got an F. In other words, compared to many other states, Illinois gun laws are already relatively restrictive.
It remains to be seen whether the Chicago Police Department’s effort to impose harsher penalties on gun crimes will come to fruition. Even if it doesn’t, though, defendants in our state face some of the toughest gun laws in the country.
If you have been accused of a gun crime in Illinois, prosecutors will work tirelessly to put you behind bars. Your best course of action is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.