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As Chicago’s gun violence rate rises, the city proposes controversial solutions

Gun violence in Chicago has reached catastrophic levels as every day sees more victims
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City of Chicago have earned the ire of gun aficionados across the country for proposed solutions to rampant gun violence in the city. In the face of a widespread gun control debate that is raging in this country in the aftermath of such mass atrocities as the Sandy Hook massacre and the seventy-four other school shootings that have followed it, Mayor Emanuel has proposed a far-reaching ordinance that would prohibit gun stores from operating in most parts of the city and require those stores to videotape every gun sale.

Mayor Emanuel’s plan follows the January federal court decision holding that Chicago’s long-existing ban on gun stores violated the Constitution. The court ordered the city to propose less wide-sweeping restrictions, short of a ban, by July 14th. Instead of appealing this decision (perhaps knowing that such a challenge would be fruitless and expensive), Mayor Emanuel decided to find refuge in one of the sneakiest and cleverest avenues for essentially banning the presence of certain businesses without actually banning them—zoning regulations.

Under the mayor’s proposed ordinances, new special-use zoning laws would prohibit the operation of gun stores in 99.5% of Chicago, quarantining them to small pockets of the North, West, and South Sides. Furthermore, gun stores would be banned from all storefronts within 500 feet of a school or park. Clearly, Mayor Emanuel vividly remembers (as everyone should) the ease with which young gunmen have been able to get their hands on firearms in the past.

Furthermore, gun sellers would be required to conduct quarterly audits of all gun sales, allow police to inspect their records, and agree to operate under a police-approved security plan before they can even open their doors. Janey Rountree, the major’s deputy chief of staff for public safety, claims, “There is no question it will be the smartest, toughest regulation on gun stores in the country….It’s designed to prevent gun trafficking and illegal sales in these stores.” Rountree’s comments and other details can be found at http://politics.suntimes.com/article/chicago/plan-city-gun-shops-would-limit-sites-require-sales-be-taped/tue-05272014-1201am.

The mayor’s proposal obviously seeks to tackle the challenge of second-hand, underground gun sales. Gun stores must videotape every sale so every customer can be identified on sight, and employees must receive training on identifying potential “straw purchasers,” meaning not the ominous Wicker Man but rather people who legally purchase large quantities of firearms only to resell them to those who cannot buy guns for themselves, i.e. criminals. Under Emanuel’s proposal, gun stores in Chicago could only legally sell one handgun per month to any individual buyer. Violating stores would be subject to a revocation of their license and a ban on operation in the same location for three years. More details about the mayor’s plan can be found at http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-chicago-gun-control-20140529-story.html.

Gun control is inevitably one of the most heated and divisive subjects to bring up at any dinner party across the United States, and Mayor Emanuel’s plans for Chicago’s gun retailers join an existing program that is no less controversial. The Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has created a regional gun crime hub known as the Chicago Crime Gun Intelligence Center, where officials from numerous agencies can collaborate in the investigation and prosecution of gun crimes. Details about this initiative can be found at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-law-enforcement-touts-crime-gun-intelligence-center-in-chicago-20140605,0,309857.story.

After the unveiling of the NSA surveillance program last year, Americans in general have associated any kind of surveillance with an Orwellian notion of a dystopian future where voyeuristic government lackeys watch every mundane activity in every private home in the country. The Chicago ATF program, however, merely takes Mayor Emanuel’s goal of tracking straw purchasers from the gun shop to the streets. While the mayor’s proposed ordinances would help identify such straw men, ATF’s surveillance monitors those illicit sellers in action and pinpoints exactly to whom those guns are being sold on the street.

However, while Mayor Emanuel’s plan is an innovative yet tough approach to a complicated and at times devastating problem, ATF’s surveillance program is not without some much-deserved criticism. The most obvious limitation of the surveillance program is its geographical confines. Thus far, the initiative extends only to those neighborhoods that have traditionally been blacklisted as “high crime.” As gun crime spreads throughout the city like a poison, however, more abundant surveillance is necessary (an expansion that will not come without some kicking and screaming).

Furthermore, while the goal of inter-departmental collaboration is admirable and, goodness knows, absolutely necessary, a sudden improvement in the ability of government agencies to work together may be approaching a level of wishful thinking that Southerners would call “pie in the sky.”

Regardless of any individual opinion concerning gun control or surveillance in general, the city of Chicago needs solutions to its rampant gun problem, and it needs them yesterday. Every day, Chicagoans wake up to news of another shooting, more murders, and disturbingly prolific crime rates. Tragedies become increasingly more prevalent and, worse still, random.

On Tuesday, June 10th alone, one man was killed and four others, including a young child, were shot in Chicago. Brett Ewing was murdered in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. He died after suffering critical injuries in a drive-by shooting on West 72nd Street, an indiscriminate event that also resulted in the wounding of a four-year-old boy. Ewing and his young companion join four other individuals who were injured in drive-by shootings in Logan Square, Wicker Park, and North Lawndale. More details can be found at http://abc7chicago.com/news/1-dead-4-hurt-in-chicago-shootings/107431/ and http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/06/10/woman-killed-man-wounded-in-south-side-shooting/.

Yesterday’s many shootings are in no way unique in Chicago. Each day sees new crimes, new murders, new tragedies. News coverage in Chicago often fails to identify the victims by name, perhaps under the delusional but oh-so-much more comforting notion (popular not only in the Windy City but in the world over) that an unnamed victim is a nonexistent victim. The Chicago Sun-Times publication Homicide Watch Chicago seeks to counteract this unfortunate media trend by commemorating every victim and following every case. Its efforts can be viewed at http://homicides.suntimes.com/. However, one lone conscientious publication cannot counter the otherwise prevailing notion that making violence forgettable is the only way to cure it.

Now, it is nothing short of painfully obvious that both Mayor Emanuel’s ordinance proposal and ATF’s gun trafficking surveillance program will garner vehement criticism. Recent sensationalistic coverage pinpointing the mayor as a liberal anti-gun activist include Breitbart News’s story at http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/05/27/Emanuel-Pushes-To-Ban-Gun-Stores-In-99-5-Percent-Of-Chicago and the appropriately named AmmoLand’s story at http://www.ammoland.com/2014/06/rahm-emanuel-pushing-one-gun-a-month-purchase-limit-for-chicagoans/#axzz34Mscqefn. But as crime rates continue to rise throughout the entirety of the city, Chicago has reached a point where it can no longer bury its head in the sand.