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Durbin, McCarthy discuss ways to curb gun violence

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy speaks Sen Durbwhile Chicago Police 11th District Commander Eric WashingtChicago Police 8th District Commander David

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy speaks to Sen Durbin while Chicago Police 11th District Commander Eric Washington and Chicago Police 8th District Commander David McNaughton listen, during U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's listening session with local law enforcement officials and experts to discuss ways to combat gun violence in the area. At the Federal Building. Thursday, January 10, 2013. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 12, 2013 2:37PM

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) had just ended a news conference on gun violence in Chicago when he looked at his phone.

Another school shooting, this time in California.

He reopened the news conference.

“How many more children will it take?” Durbin said, urging reforms in gun laws.

Durbin had just spent an hour with top cops in Chicago and Illinois who complained they were doing their jobs but were up against weak laws tracking weapons, light state sentencing, funding cuts and data backlogs. Durbin invited the cops to talk about issues they’re facing as the gun debate rages in the wake of the tragic elementary school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

Chicago Supt. Garry McCarthy pulled out two weapons that his officers confiscated the night before — including an Uzi.

“A military-style weapon, an Uzi, just last night was being fired at our officers in the city of Chicago,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the biggest difference between Chicago and other cities in the nation is one thing: “guns.”

He said the Chicago Police Department often seizes more illegal weapons in a year than any other city. Last year it was 7,400 firearms.

McCarthy argued Illinois wrongly has the reputation for having the toughest gun laws in the country, he pointed to New York State, saying it was far stricter. McCarthy urged laws that track weapons when they’re lost, transferred or stolen to help determine patterns in where illegal weapons are originating. He and other law enforcement officials also urged mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession, as a way to put some of the most dangerous criminals, including gang bangers, behind bars. Gun rights advocates have argued that the tough gun laws in Illinois have done nothing to curb crime.

Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau talked about his office being behind in entering data concerning those who have been determined to be ineligible for a FOID card, including those with mental illnesses. Grau said the state police could use money to help boost that effort. Durbin told Grau to give him a specific number on how much he needed to fix that issue.

Today, there are 1.4 million Illinois residents carrying FOID cards, according to the Illinois State Police. Last year saw more than a 5 percent increase in applications. That bump, along with new state laws in place, has contributed to the backlog.

The Illinois Legislature could not advance legislation banning military-style weapons and high-powered ammunition, failing to get the needed votes in its lame duck session last week. On Thursday, that prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to declare he would push through a local gun ordinance.

Though the national debate has centered on banning military-style weapons, Chicago’s top cops made it clear that there are myriad issues locally. That ranged from the need for strict reporting laws to help track a gun’s ownership to upping minimum sentences for illegal gun possession to boosting state databases to better identify those with mental health issues.

Chicago 8th District Commander David McNaughton voiced frustrations over officers who see people they’ve locked up almost immediately back out on the street. “We get these guys, we catch them,” McNaughton said. “We want them to stay in jail.”

On a national level, Durbin predicted a “close vote” in the U.S. Senate on gun reforms.

“It’s going to be a much more difficult task in the House of Representatives,” Durbin said. “It’s going to take some extraordinary courage for some members of Congress to step forward.”

Durbin said there was undoubted political risk in going against the powerful National Rifle Association.

“It certainly is. I can tell you that. I’ve had their wrath. As a Downstate congressman I was one of the few who opposed them, and they came out to get me and they almost got it done one year,” Durbin said. “They’re pretty tough, they’re pretty organized. They’ve got a lot of money and a lot of emotion in terms of their cause.”

“I sense that we can seize a moment here,” Durbin said. “Based on that terrible tragedy in Sandy Hook to really do something.”

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