By: Sean Hemmersmeier
“Should Governor Rauner support Illinois legislation to ban firearm bump stocks and strengthen penalties on illegal gun traffickers?”
This will be a referendum question Illinois voters will see on the November ballot. This referendum revolves around whether or not the laws surrounding gun trafficking are strong enough. It does not focus on personal handgun laws or regulation on buying guns.
The need for the referendum could be attributed to the national perception around Chicago being one of the most violent cities in the U.S. But Chicago is not even the most violent city in Illinois; Rockford takes that distinction with an average 78 violent crimes per 100,000 citizens, according to FBI data. Another reason that this referendum is on the ballot could be the amount of homicide victims in Chicago and Illinois and the number of people who have been shot.
This graphic comes from Trace.org and shows homicides rates in America.
Overall, Chicago ranks in the middle when it comes to homicides per capita with an average of 24.1 homicides per 100,000 people. St. Louis has the highest murder per capita rate, which, in 2017, was 66.1 murders per 100,000 people. So the actual homicide numbers in Chicago are not shocking, but what is shocking is the amount firearm incidents within the city. According to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Jackson, there have been 5,600 illegal guns seized from the January of 2018 to August 6th of 2018.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 2,467 people have been shot since the start of 2018. The Sun-Times has reported that there have been 455 homicides in Chicago in 2018, and of those deaths, 396 of them were gun related.
Those numbers are lower than 2017, as this time last year, the total number of people who were shot was 3,097. The total average number of people shot in Chicago shot since 2012 is 3,033 people per year. These gun statistics are surprising, since Illinois ranks 40th in easy access to guns and ammunition among states, which shows that Illinois has strict gun laws. The reason for the high gun related crime numbers? Illinois is the state with biggest import of illegal guns.
The state of Illinois had the most gun source dealers in the U.S., with 6,026 that were reported from 2013-2016. The next highest state on that list was Indiana, with 3,124 source dealers. That statistic comes from the 2017 Gun Trace Report that was conducted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and the Chicago Police Department.
Current trafficking laws in Illinois ban buying firearms with the intention of selling to people who are prohibited to own a firearm, committing fraud when purchasing a firearm, and altering serial numbers on firearms. So voting “yes” to this referendum would tell Governor Rauner that there is public support to strengthen these laws and the resources that are given to enforce these laws.
It is rare for someone to actually be prosecuted with a gun trafficking violation. Often times, when an illegal gun is found, only the person in possession of the gun is charged. Also, out of all the gun charges in Illinois, in 2017, 73% of them were Felon In-Possession charge. The 2017 Gun Trace Report says that, of everyone charged with illegal possession charges, 94.7% were not the first person purchaser of that gun. Unfortunately, illegal guns are often trafficked before they are seized by the police.
Most guns that are acquired outside of the legal channels are guns that come from out of state. The Trace Report, for example, shows that 60% of illegal guns seized in Illinois came from out of state. A reason for that high number of guns being imported from other states is the lack of federal regulation, according to the Giffords Law Center: “there is currently no federal anti-trafficking law.” The mayoral report also blames the high number of gun imports on surrounding states that have weak gun regulation laws such as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Kentucky.
The root cause of the firearm trafficking problem in Illinois could be a reason to vote “no” to this referendum. To reduce the majority of trafficked guns, there will need to be federal regulation, or surrounding states will need to change their gun laws. Rauner has no control of either of these solutions, since he can only make recommendations to other states and the federal government. Voting yes would only influence Illinois laws and regulations and, according to the mayoral report, other states and federal regulations are to blame.
This referendum is non-binding and no further action will need to be taken, no matter the outcome. A “yes” vote would show the governor and other lawmakers that Illinois citizens want further progress into regulating guns. A “no” vote would show citizens are content with the current trafficking laws and how the government is dealing with illegal firearms within the state.