In case you didn’t notice it on social media, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has gotten into a bit of a spat with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. The subject is guns and gang violence, something that Ms. Lightfoot is finding to be a largely intractable problem in the Windy City, though some modest decreases in murders have been recorded in the past few months. Rather than sticking to Twitter to hash this out, the mayor landed herself an op-ed slot in the WaPo this week to stake out her case against Cruz.
The mayor starts out well enough, quoting one of Cruz’s tweets about how she should focus more on locking up violent criminals and preventing convicts and felons from illegally obtaining firearms. In other words, enforce the laws we have on the books rather than dreaming up new restrictions to inflict upon the law-abiding. They both seem to agree on at least part of that position. But Lightfoot then goes a bit off the rails, claiming that the real problem isn’t Chicago. It’s Indiana.
Sixty percent of firearms owned or used illegally recovered in Chicago come from outside Illinois. These guns don’t recognize state lines or city boundaries. Cruz said the five U.S. cities with the highest murder rates “have had Democratic mayors for decades and aggressive gun control policies — none seems to be working.” He’s making my case for me: As long as people can drive from Illinois to Indiana and purchase a personal arsenal without a background check, Chicago’s gun laws will always be as weak as those of the closest permissive state.
The consequences of this situation are deadly. A gang member from Chicago bought at least seven illegal guns from someone in New Mexico. Two of those guns were used to commit homicides in the city, including the execution of a 9-year-old boy, Tyshawn Lee, in 2015. Tyshawn’s death was preventable.
Whew! Where to even start with this mess. First of all, if sixty percent of the illegally owned guns used in Chicago crimes come from outside the state, that means forty percent were obtained in Chicago/Illinois. That’s nearly half and it’s a lot, so I wouldn’t be bragging too much about that number.
Up next is her bizarre claim that people can go to Indiana and “purchase a personal arsenal without a background check.” I’m not sure if any of Mayor Lightfoot’s aides have mentioned this to her but background checks are federally mandated. Some states may add layers above and beyond the federal requirements, but Indiana requires background checks like every other state. Sadly, criminals frequently go to people without an FFL to obtain their illegal firearms for some strange reason. That’s kind of the point Cruz was making.
To support her case, Lightfoot cites the trial of Anthony Morgan, a Chicago gang member who purchased seven weapons in New Mexico, two of which (that we know of) were later used in gang murders in Chicago. What she fails to note is that Morgan was unable to legally purchase any weapons without a background check either. The man in New Mexico purchased them for him and shipped the guns to Illinois. It was a completely illegal straw purchase, so no new law would have prevented it. Ony enforcing the existing laws and stopping such purchases would have slowed down Morgan’s gang.
She then goes on to blame the federal government for “loopholes” in gun laws, again suggesting that disqualified people are buying weapons without a background check in a willy nilly fashion. She also tosses in complaints about how Republicans haven’t banned “assault weapons.” As has been repeatedly pointed out, the number of people killed each year by rifles of any kind, not just “assault rifles,” is less than the number of people who are beaten to death by someone using their bare hands. Gang members tend to eschew rifles, preferring something easier to conceal and dispose of. That’s why they almost always use handguns.
I commend Mayor Lightfoot for at least working on this problem and the reduction in homicides seen in Chicago this summer. But if she really wants to get into a debate on whether or not our current gun laws are being enforced and if new laws would make any difference, she needs to do better than this.