Updated: March 17, 2013 6:17PM
This week, Chicago Police arrested the gang members responsible for the senseless murder of Hadiya Pendleton. It is an inescapable fact that if the proposed three-year mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (AUUW) had been in effect last January, the individual responsible for Hadiya’s death would have been in jail and Hadiya would be alive.
Her murder demonstrates more clearly or decisively than any statistic the need for strengthened legislation on mandatory minimum sentencing for illegal gun possession. The proposed legislation would ensure “truth in sentencing,” requiring offenders to serve a minimum of 85 percent of their imposed sentences, so the severity of the punishment matches the severity of the crime.
I have seen firsthand the effectiveness these sentencing laws can have in the effort to reduce gun violence in a big city. After a similar mandatory minimum law was enacted in New York, offenders began serving their full sentences while the murder rate and prison population fell by double digits.
Contrary to what’s widely reported, our sentencing and gun laws remain woefully insufficient and neither Chicago nor Illinois enjoy the strictest gun laws in the country.
A recent analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab found that, despite an average sentence for a gun crime of about two years, offenders serve only about one year in jail. As a result of good behavior credits, many gun offenders will serve no more than 50 percent of the sentence imposed, or less than six months for a serious gun crime. We have seen AUUW offenders serve as little as 61 days in prison of a one-year sentence.
In addition, we know that the murderers of today often become the victims tomorrow. Failing to ensure that offenders serve the proper time for past gun offenses not only increases the likelihood that a violent offender will become the perpetrator of a gun crime, it also increases the likelihood that he may become the victim of an impulsive retaliatory gang shooting.
Unfortunately, examples are plentiful. Francisco Perez was arrested in November 2010 for illegal possession of a firearm by a street gang member. Instead of going to jail for at least two years, he was out on the streets after just six months, and less than a year later, he was arrested again for being involved in a gang-related shooting that resulted in murder.
Gregory Bland was sentenced to one year in jail for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. Instead of being in jail for several years, exactly one year later he was arrested again for attempted armed robbery.
And of course, we cannot and must not forget Hadiya.
I am proud of the work the Chicago Police Department has done to take illegal guns off our streets. But the fact is, if we had stronger gun laws, such as the requirement to document the loss, theft or transfer of a firearm, we could prevent straw purchases and would not have to remove so many guns from our streets. But getting guns and making arrests for these crimes is not enough. Gun offenders must serve their time. Once we close this gap in the criminal justice system, we will be closer to ending gun violence in our city.
Common sense gun laws, such as mandatory minimums and requiring the reporting of lost, stolen or transferred guns will slow the flow of illegal firearms to our streets while ensuring certainty in sentencing for criminals. These laws, coupled with the investments we make in preventive and mentoring programs for our most at-risk kids, work. They save lives.
That should always be our goal.
Garry McCarthy is superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.