Jody Weis: We need gun laws that make sense
COMMENTARY BY JODY WEIS February 5, 2013 6:48PM
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Updated: March 7, 2013 6:32AM
The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., is forcing us — as a country — to have a long overdue debate about gun control.
Efforts to enhance background checks and limit the availability of high capacity magazines for assault weapons are both prudent measures that will assist in keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and reduce the lethality of these weapons. However, with 300 million firearms in this country, we must more seriously confront what to do about the guns that are already on our streets, and the offenders who use them.
We need commonsense laws in place for all citizens, while at the same time, focusing the strongest gun control on the criminals that terrorize our neighborhoods on a daily basis. Until we do, all citizens — black, white, brown, rich or poor — will continue to be victims in unacceptable numbers. There are some fairly simple solutions, but we need to commit ourselves to implementing them, and then enforcing them.
People who buy weapons for criminals, and then conveniently claim that these weapons were lost or stolen when they turn up at a crime scene have to be held accountable. I commend both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for proposing measures that will focus on these straw purchasers. Having to report when a weapon is lost or stolen is not unreasonable. To buy weapons for criminals is criminal; we should treat it that way.
When I was police superintendent, and working with the Cook County state’s attorney and lawmakers in Springfield, we were able to push through two laws requiring mandatory imprisonment for individuals caught with illegal weapons. Chicago leads the nation in recovered illegal weapons, and we average more than six shooting incidents a day. Individuals who use illegal weapons to terrorize our communities should be behind bars. Unfortunately, for some judges, “mandatory” doesn’t always mean mandatory.
We cannot arrest ourselves out of a crime problem; but at the same time, we need to support the men and women of law enforcement . . . so long as they continue to arrest violent offenders who are then — almost immediately — back on the streets, we will never be able to stem the tide of violence. Recently, Preckwinkle suggested establishing a “gun court.”
Having one court hear all of the gun offenses in Cook County would provide for more consistent sentencing; offenders convicted of a gun offense with mandatory prison time would go to jail. This would send a clear message while also showing a united front between the police, prosecutors and the courts to combat this insidious gun violence.
The plague of gun violence that infects too many of our communities is not one that can simply be solved by more arrests, and we must recognize that some communities are disproportionately affected both by the gun violence and historic attempts to police the problem. Nor can we regulate our way to a violence-free world — not with 300 million guns in America — and not with some people who are just evil.
As a country, we need gun laws that make sense. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the criminals are the ones responsible for nearly all of this senseless violence. Let’s make it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns, and if they do, let’s punish them in a way that will both get them off of our streets and serve as a deterrent. Doing so will make all of our communities safer. We have the laws — we need the will.
Jody Weis is the former superintendent of the Chicago Police Department and a retired special agent in charge of the FBI in Philadelphia.