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U. of C. study bolsters call for stiffer firearms sentences: police supt.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy | M. Spencer Green/AP

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy | M. Spencer Green/AP

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Updated: November 15, 2013 6:16AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s argument for stiffer firearms sentences is bolstered by a new study showing gun possession offenders placed on probation are more likely to get re-arrested for murder than other felons, his police superintendent says.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab studied whether those convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon — a gun possession charge — have higher arrest rates for murders and non-fatal shootings than other felons.

Using Chicago Police arrest data, the study found that aggravated UUW offenders were four times more likely to be re-arrested on murder charges and nearly nine times more likely to be locked up for nonlethal shootings than other felons.

The U of C study focused on all felons — and a subset of aggravated UUW offenders — who have been sentenced to probation between 2008 and 2011 in Cook County. The study tracked any re-arrests within two years of their probation date.

“This data makes clear that we have to treat illegal gun possession as the violent crime that it is,” police Supt. Garry McCarthy said on Friday.

A bill backed by the Emanuel administration and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated UUW from one to three years and would require offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences — a “truth in sentencing” provision.

“No matter how you look at it, this bill will save lives,” McCarthy said. “Every illegal gun on our street is a potential murder and the bill pending in Springfield is narrowly tailored to stop violent criminals.”

State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Chicago) introduced the legislation earlier this year, but it stalled in the General assembly.

Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Illinois, said he remains opposed to the legislation because he’s concerned first-time offenders could get trapped in the same net as felons.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Corrections last week warned of the steep cost of getting tougher on gun-possession offenders.

The department said it would cost about $1 billion to house an additional 3,860 prisoners over 10 years. Those costs would include the $21,000 annual cost of housing each prisoner plus the cost of building new prisons or retrofitting existing ones to accommodate them.

Zalewski has said costs are an important factor to consider, but public safety should be the top priority.

Vandermyde said he doesn’t have a problem with boosting the penalties for felons caught with guns. But he’s worried about first-time offenders getting three-year prison terms.

The Zalewski bill could cause problems for law-abiding people who obtain concealed-carry permits next year, Vandermyde said.

He presented the hypothetical situation of a man with a concealed-carry permit leaving a gun in his vehicle because he and his wife are going into a place where guns are banned.

“Your wife leaves without you, takes the car and gets pulled over,” he said. “Now she is jammed up with a mandatory minimum.”

Aggravated unlawful use of a weapon involves a person who possesses a gun on his person or vehicle, isn’t on his property, and one of the following circumstances exists: the gun is loaded and immediately accessible; the gun is uncased and unloaded, but the ammunition is immediately accessible; or the person doesn’t have a state Firearm Owner’s Identification Card.

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