Why Aren't Chicago's Tough Gun Laws Working?

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Protesters hold up copied photos of Hadiya Pendleton at the scene where she was killed during an anti-gun violence march and rally Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Protesters hold up copied photos of Hadiya Pendleton at the scene where she was killed during an anti-gun violence march and rally Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

President Obama will be in his hometown of Chicago Friday to talk about his economic agenda and his plans to curb gun violence.

One of the most powerful moments in his State of the Union address Tuesday came when he pointed out the parents of Chicago shooting victim, 15 year-old Hadiya Pendelton, who was shot down while hanging out with some friends.

The President will be speaking at the Hyde Park Academy, just a few blocks from his Kenwood home, and not far from where the shooting took place.

Chicago has one of the highest murder rates in the country, with 506 murders last year, compared to 414 in New York City, which is three times the size of the Windy City.

Chicago also has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Gun stores are banned and so were handguns, until a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned that law.

We discuss the issue of guns in Chicago by looking at both societal issues and gun laws. Mary Mitchell is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Harold Pollack is co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

____Interview Highlights____

Mary Mitchell on the neighborhood where Hadiya was killed:

“If you look at the community where the crime happened, where Hadiya was killed, that is a gentrifying community. In other words, you have lots of brownstones and greystones and high income housing, but you also have low income people who are basically being pushed out of those communities. They are on a collision course with the middle class values and culture... People in those communities who are engaged in criminal activity are now colliding with people who are not involved in that activity."

Mary Mitchell on the effects of getting rid of housing projects:

"You have to have investment in those communities. You cannot move low-income people into a middle-income neighborhood and not have resources follow them. They have no money to go to Boys and Girls Clubs, they are not involved in any positive activities. You have to invest in those communities. A lot of these communities have no jobs. And so what are young people who have been involved in crime - standing on a corner selling drugs - when they get into those communities, what are they going to do? They’re going to do the same thing and engage in the same behavior. So you’re going to have to find a way to redirect that energy and redirect that activity to something positive. And that requires an investment - on the part of private industry, on the part of the churches, on the part of the community groups - it has to be a collaboration that brings all these forces together because you’re not going to be able to arrest your way out of this.”

Professor Pollack on the need to enforce existing laws:

“I do think that the NRA and others are correct that we can be more imaginative and more effective in the way that we enforce our gun laws. So let’s have a realistic conversation about how can we disrupt these underground gun markets more effectively and disrupt the flow of guns.”

“If you commit a crime with a gun [in Chicago], they will really take it very seriously and throw the book at you. But if you are caught with an illegal gun and you are not using it in any other crime at the moment - the police actually in Chicago are increasingly really on to this - but you've got to get everyone in the system - the judges, the prosecutors, everybody - to say that is the foundation of the homicides that we’re facing, is this illegal gun market. And right now it is not always taken with the seriousness that it needs to be, if you catch someone and all they're involved in is gun trafficking and they're not involved in other things. I think President Obama, by directing federal prosecutors, by saying to them, this is a really high priority, that's going to be valuable.”

Professor Pollack on measures like "stop and frisk"

“Stop and frisk can be effective when it's done in a way that has the support and embrace of the community. If you arrest every young person who’s doing something illegal in a community, and people get a sense that law enforcement is bringing tremendous social damage to the fabric of the community, then people are really going to be resistant and they are not going to support things that actually would be valuable to that community that might focus specifically on the guns.”


This segment aired on February 14, 2013.


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