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Violence-Riddled Chicago Hopes Gun Proposals Will Help Shield It

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 6:16 am

As President Obama unveiled his gun control proposals Wednesday, he highlighted mass shootings at schools in Colorado, Virginia and Connecticut. He also mentioned another group of children, not in school — the ones on the street corners of Chicago.

Chicagoan Annette Holt was at the White House during Obama's address. Her teenage son, Blair, was shot to death five years ago on a Chicago bus as he shielded a fellow student from a spray of bullets.

Holt tells NPR she has been waiting for these policy changes since her son was killed.

"After we buried him, we've been on a mission to change what happens to young people, especially in the city of Chicago, because we didn't want other parents to be like us," she says.

There were more than 500 homicides in Chicago last year. Officials and residents in the city are counting on Obama's gun control package to bring that number down.

A few hours after Obama's address, Chicago police officers — in dress blues — filled an assembly hall, and the department's top brass congratulated recruits joining the department.

Leading the event was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the point man for President Clinton's push for gun control in the 1990s and more recently Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel noted that the class was graduating the same day the president was offering them more tools to fight crime.

"We're only as good as we have a comprehensive strategy about putting more police on the street and getting kids, guns and drugs off the street," he said.

Every year, the Chicago Police Department seizes more guns than any other police department in the United States — more than 7,400 last year, Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says. Nearly 300 guns have been collected so far this year. A minority of them are assault weapons, but McCarthy has consistently called for banning those weapons and says the president is right to do so.

"I submit that assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are military-grade weapons that don't have a place in our society, except for in the military," he says.

Activists like Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, says the Obama measures also address an enduring problem for the city: the widespread sale of handguns.

Daley says the group's No. 1 priority for a number of years has been making sure there's a background check for the sale of every single gun.

"We have 120,000 mental health records in the state of Illinois that have not been put in the federal background-check system," she says. "That's not due to ... lack of effort to do it. There hasn't been funding there."

Harold Pollack, co-director of the Chicago Crime Lab, was encouraged, too. He's one of a number of researchers who asked the president to loosen restrictions so researchers would be able to collect more data about guns and homicides.

"We need to investigate when a violent incident occurs to see if there are common patterns with other kinds of violent acts," he says. "And [there are] a number of things where we have not been able to deploy the full force of the research enterprise, of the public health enterprise, to really attack gun violence with the seriousness that this subject deserves."

If there is anything that can help reduce the number of gang-related shootings in Chicago, it's a more scientific approach, says Tio Hardiman, head of CeaseFire Illinois, where former gang members work to intervene in tense situations.

Hardiman says he's pleased with the Obama measures, but he thinks there still needs to be a greater push to treat Chicago violence like an infectious disease, where young people need to unlearn violent behavior.

"Some of the guys that shoot and kill people on the streets of Chicago, their behavior is condoned by their peers," he says. "I've heard people say, 'Look, I'm going to be with you whether you are right or wrong.' "

Perhaps mindful that attitude prevails in some city neighborhoods where guns and gangs prevail, Chicago Mayor Emanuel plans to present a set of his own gun measures to the City Council on Thursday.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As President Obama unveiled his gun control proposals today, he highlighted mass shootings at schools in Colorado, Virginia and Connecticut. But he also mentioned another group of children, not in schools, but he said on the street corners of Chicago. More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago last year, many of them teenagers or young adults who were killed with a gun.

As NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, many in the city are counting on the president to bring that number down.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Raise your right hand and repeat after me.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: A few hours after President Obama outlined his gun measures, Chicago police officers, outfitted in dress blues, filled an assembly hall for a graduation. The department's top brass congratulated the police recruits joining the department. Leading the event was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the point man for President Clinton's push for gun control in the 1990s and more recently President Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel noted that the class was graduating the same day the president was offering them more tools to fight crime.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: We're only as good as we have a comprehensive strategy about putting more police on the street and getting kids, guns and drugs off the street.

CORLEY: Chicagoan Annette Holt was at the White House during President Obama's address. Her teenage son, Blair, was shot to death five years ago on a Chicago bus when he shielded a fellow student from a spray of bullets.

ANNETTE HOLT: I think I've been waiting on this day since my son was killed. After we buried him, we've been on a mission to change what happens to young people, especially in the city of Chicago, because we don't want other parents to be like us.

CORLEY: Every year, the Chicago Police Department seizes more guns than any other police department in the United States - more than 7,400 guns last year. Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says nearly 300 guns have been collected so far this year. A minority of them are assault weapons. But McCarthy has consistently called for banning those weapons and says the president is right to try that.

GARRY MCCARTHY: I submit that assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are military-grade weapons that do not have a place in our society, except for in the military.

CORLEY: Activists like Colleen Daley with the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence says the Obama measures also address an enduring problem for the city, the widespread sale of handguns.

COLLEEN DALEY: We're thrilled.

CORLEY: Daley says the group's number one priority has been making sure there's a background check for the sale of every single gun.

DALEY: We have 120,000 mental health records in the state of Illinois that have not been put in the federal background check system. That's not due to lack of effort to do it. There hasn't been funding there.

CORLEY: Harold Pollack with the Chicago Crime Lab was encouraged by the proposals too. He's one of several researchers who asked the president to loosen restrictions so researchers would be able to collect more data about guns and homicides.

HAROLD POLLACK: We need to investigate when a violent incident occurs to see if there are common patterns, you know, with other kinds of violent acts. And there's just a number of things where we have not been able to deploy the full force of the research enterprise, of the public health enterprise, to really attack gun violence with the seriousness that this subject deserves.

CORLEY: If there is anything that can help to reduce the number of gang-related shootings in Chicago, says Tio Hardiman, it's a more scientific approach. Hardiman is the head of Illinois CeaseFire, where former gang members work to intervene in tense situations. Hardiman says he's pleased with the Obama measures but thinks there still needs to be a greater push to treat Chicago violence like an epidemic.

TIO HARDIMAN: Some of the guys that shoot and kill people on the streets of Chicago, their behavior is condoned by their peers. I've heard people say: Look, I'm going to be with you whether you're right or wrong.

CORLEY: And perhaps mindful that's an attitude in some city neighborhoods where guns and gangs prevail, Chicago Mayor Emanuel plans to present a set of his own gun measures to the city council tomorrow. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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