Getting a gun in Chicago quick and easy
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter August 25, 2012 12:28AM
“Two hands on the weapon, arms straight out,” as demonstrated in this file photo, is how Chris shoots his gun. | Getty Images
28% That’s the increase in Chicago’s murder rate compared with last year.
That’s the increase in Chicago’s murder rate compared with last year.
19The number of people shot in Chicago on Thursday night.
- Photos: The Top 10 firearms used in a crime within a year of purchase
- Photos: The Top 10 recovered firearms, regardless of date of purchase
Updated: January 24, 2013 10:38PM
Want to know how to get a gun?
Just ask Chris.
The skinny teen attends high school in Chicago and is a talented athlete. But he’s also a notorious gunslinger.
As a shooter in a South Side gang, he can get his hands on a gun as quick as you can get a burger at a fast-food restaurant.
“I will make a call and say I need a gun. I will ride down the street on my bike and get it — five minutes.”
The Chicago Sun-Times sat down with Chris for a lesson on how gangs get guns. Armed gangs like Chris’ have driven up Chicago’s murder total 28 percent above the tally at this time last year. And Chris is on the front lines of the shooting.
“For your ’hood, you can’t stop [getting] guns because it’s war season. A gang need any gun it can get,” said the teen, who has worked as an informant for police and asked for anonymity. The Sun-Times is identifying him by an alias.
He knows men whose full-time job in the underground economy is to buy guns from suburban stores and illegally sell them to criminals.
Chris calls them the “gun guys.” The cops have another name for them: “straw purchasers.”
“Gun guys” have clean records allowing them to obtain Illinois firearm owner’s identification cards. With FOID cards, they can legally buy guns at stores in the suburbs.
Then they illegally sell them to gang members banned from owning guns because of their criminal backgrounds.
Most of the guns recovered in crimes in Chicago were bought in suburban gun stores, according to a new University of Chicago Crime Lab study of police gun-trace data.
The police sometimes interview the people who originally bought the guns. Often, police are simply told the guns were stolen from them.
But authorities say most straw purchasers are lying when they say their guns were stolen. It’s hard to catch them unless they confess to the crime.
“It can be a man or a girl, but it’s mainly a guy,” Chris said of the straw purchasers he knows. “Somebody that got a gun license, they buy the gun, scratch off the serial number and sell it to you.”
Chris said the big drug dealers in his neighborhood have the cash to pay straw purchasers for guns — more than $600 for a decent semiautomatic handgun, a markup from the retail price.
But Chris doesn’t sling dope. He doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t have the money to pay a “gun guy.”
So he and his crew look elsewhere for guns.
Their demand for handguns is insatiable because cops seize them or they have to ditch them after they commit crimes with them.
“Say one of your guys gets bumped [arrested] with a gun,” Chris said. “Now your gang need another gun. It’s a lot of people who get bumped, a lot of people who get caught. The chances are like 50-50. If I get caught, I’m gonna need another gat.”
“Or you may have people who did a murder and want to get rid of their gun,” he said. “Now they get another gun and you take theirs.”
Chris said one major source of guns in his neighborhood was a ring that burglarized suburban gun stores.
In January, one of those stores, Maxon Shooters Supply & Indoor Range in northwest suburban Des Plaines, was looted of about 200 guns after thieves broke in with a sledgehammer, police said.
Lots of those guns wound up in the hands of gangs on the South Side — including people Chris knows.
“They sold people the guns — and when those people got caught, they snitched,” he said.
Police have arrested the suspected thieves, including some members of the Gangster Disciples street gang. But police are continuing to try to track down all the guns, officials said.
Another source of stolen guns is “the freights,” Chris said.
He was talking about the freight trains parked on easy-to-access rail yards on the South Side.
“You bust the lock,” he said. “Once you get in there, you may get the wrong thing. You may get shoes or something. You feel me? But you keep trying. We tried it before and we know what kind of containers they in. They’re carrying all type of handguns — in crates.”
But the revolver Chris most recently acquired came from yet another “hot” source: a friend who stole the gun from a relative who legally registered the weapon with the city.
The friend lent the revolver to Chris, but he never gave the gun back.
“It’s a grimy world these days, I won’t lie,” he said. “I told my friend I lost it, but I kept it for myself.”
The gun had a serial number on it, so Chris scraped it off with a screwdriver. The cops can’t trace the weapon back to the original owner without the serial number, he explained.
“I don’t want no one to snitch on me,” the teenager said.
He’d like a ‘Nine’
A revolver isn’t the weapon of choice for Chris or his gang buddies.
They prefer “nines” — 9mm semiautomatic handguns — but they’re harder to get.
“It can hold like 17 shots,” he said. “A revolver only holds six shots. And I like the grip on a nine. I don’t like the revolvers, but that’s what I’ve mainly been getting. People holding on to their nines.”
Chris said his crew members hide their weapons in their homes, but keep them “steady moving” to different locations to avoid police seizures.
Anyone in the gang can use one of the weapons, Chris said. Five of his crew members also have guns, he said.
The crew needs its weapons about three times a week, he said. Sometimes, it’s for self-protection.
Sometimes it’s to go shooting at rivals — or “drilling,” as he puts it.
Other times, the young gangsters simply pose with their guns in homemade rap videos they post on Facebook and YouTube.
Chris credits the Chicago rapper Chief Keef with inspiring him to carry a gun and use it over the past year.
“I wasn’t doing this before I started watching the videos. The females want to see you be a tough gang-banger,” he said.
Unlike the Hollywood caricature of a gangster who points his pistol sideways to fire at his rivals, Chris said he knows how to shoot correctly.
“Two hands on the weapon, arms straight out,” he said.
In his neighborhood, nobody calls the police when he practices with his gun in his backyard.
“What are they going to say, like, ‘I just heard a random shot?’ ”
He said he takes the gun with him when he and his friends are venturing into the neighborhoods of rival gangs. He calls his rivals “ops” for opposition.
“If I’m going to go over there and kill somebody, if we’re going to go over there and drill or if we’re trying to get past the ops to go downtown or the beach, we [have] our guns,” he said.
Guns or games?
Chris said he wants to leave gang-banging and concentrate on sports — and his dreams of attending junior college.
Often, he escapes his neighborhood to hang out with high school friends who live in places where he won’t cross paths with his gang rivals. He and his high school friends shoot hoops instead of guns.
“Everybody wants out of this,” he said. “Everybody would love to live in a mansion, move out of town and live in the suburbs.”
But the reality is that retribution is a powerful force that keeps gang members like him from changing their ways.
It motivates Chris to keep hanging out with his crew members in the ’hood — even though cops, ministers and other authority figures have encouraged him to get out of the gangster life.
He notes that four of his friends have been killed in gang shootings.
“You want to shoot back,” he said. “You want to go over there and drill.”
Asked whether he would feel bad if he fired at a rival and hit a child, he quickly answered:
“I ain’t gonna think about it. If it’s his nephew or something, he gotta feel the pain because he put his nephew there. If you a gang-banger, why you have a little kid with you?”
Chris said he doesn’t think the police will ever rid the streets of guns in Chicago — unless legislators make getting caught with a firearm punishable with an extraordinarily harsh sentence, such as life in prison.
He said his first gun-possession arrest, which resulted in probation, was a “joke.”
He was standing with his crew when police stopped and frisked them and found a gun on Chris.
The arrest taught him how to avoid getting caught with a gun, Chris said.
Now when he goes on the street and needs a gun, a girl carries it for him in her purse.
Chris said he’s confident he and his crew will always be one step ahead of the police.
“You’ll never stop us from getting guns,” he said. “You feel me?”