Obama gun control plan raises hopes in Chicago


chicago guns

The superintendent of Chicago police produces a brown bag with a flourish. Inside is what he sees as part of his city's problem.

Part of the reason, he thinks, that 506 people were shot dead last year, part of the reason police seized 7,400 illegally held guns in 2012, part of the reason that since the Newtown massacre of school children more than 20 people have been shot dead in Chicago.

I'm keeping it vague because the number keeps changing - I know it was 24 last Thursday and at least three have died since then.

Superintendent Gary McCarthy produced a short, stubby weapon.

Interpreting the second amendment

"We had some of our gang officers witness a hit-and-run and when they went to stop the vehicle, a man leaned out the window and fired an Uzi-type firearm at the officers," he said.

"This is what we are talking about: the weapon is a 9mm with an extended clip with at least 30 bullets. A military-type weapon on the streets of Chicago."

He is flanked by four other colleagues in dark uniforms heavy with gold braid and badges.

They have been invited to a meeting on gun control by Democratic senator for Illinois, Dick Durbin.

Tim Makris, co-founder of Sandy Hook promise: "We want to encourage a national discussion"

They all hope the shock of the horrific Newtown murders will jolt America into tightening its gun laws.

They will be listening eagerly to President Barack Obama's proposals on Wednesday.

Chicago is at the heart of the debate.

While the names Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, are engraved on the world's imagination, the slow, steady drum beat of killings in this city add up to a Newtown-sized massacre every three weeks.

It was this city that tried to impose a ban on handguns and had it struck down by the US Supreme Court two years ago.

This has had huge implications. It used to be possible to argue that the constitution's second amendment meant what it said: that Americans had the right to bear arms because "a well-regulated militia [is] necessary to the security of a free state".

Some used to argue that now America has the biggest standing army the world has ever known it was a little bit redundant.

That doesn't now hold water. The Supreme Court ruled that it did indeed mean Americans had the right to own guns for their own protection.

Chicago is central in another way too. Those who are against gun control say this city has the tightest gun control laws in the country, proof positive that such restrictions do not touch the crime rate.

'Drawing the line'

The lawmen around the table reject that. They say that they need new laws, which are little more than common sense.

Police cord across a street where a shooting has occurred in Chicago, Illinois 8 January 2013 Chicago has seen more than 20 shot dead in 2013

It should be a legal requirement to report the theft or loss of a gun.

There should be background checks for everyone who buys a gun - with no loopholes for gun shows.

There should be mandatory minimum sentences for having an illegal gun.

They think it is ridiculous that a state card, needed to buy a gun, can be revoked for the mentally ill or criminals but there is no power to seize their guns.

But above all, Superintendent McCarthy says assault weapons should be banned.

"The second amendment gives us the right to bear arms. But in a civilised society we all understand we shouldn't have hand grenades, rocket launchers, mortars and cannons, right?

"So the question becomes where do we draw the line?"

He points at the short gun lying on the table. "This is not a reasonable gun to be on the streets of our nation. AK-47s with rounds that can go through the engine block of a car, they are military grade weapons, they are unreasonable in a civilised society."

The Illinois State Rifle Association's Richard Pearson says this is wrong, and the last time there was a ban on assault rifles it did not work.

"It didn't do anything. It showed that in some places, the crime increased," he says.

"When you take firearms away from honest citizens, only the criminals have them. It's not something people want to think about, it's not supposed to be that way."

Congressman Bobby Scott believes reforms on background checks and mental health provisions are likely

He adds: "One of the things that needs to happen in Chicago is private gun ownership needs to go up. That will stop a lot of these home invasions. The way you control these things in the initial stages is let people be armed."

The sheriff for Cook County, Thomas Dart, a rising Democratic politician, seems weary and frustrated at this line of argument.

He is responsible for law enforcement in the US' second biggest county, which covers much of Chicago and some suburbs. He tells me he feels like he is in a time machine going back to repeat the same old arguments.

"I was talking with the National Rifle Association for years, and I thought it was one of those monumental wastes of your breath," Sheriff Dart says.

"Because, can you conceivably give me one reason why this weapon should be allowed? And they would come up with some outrageously ludicrous scenario that had black helicopters woven in somewhere.

"But some of these people, the foil is on their head too tight, because discussion just gets to be so pointless."

The frustration, the mutual misunderstanding and the anger on both sides gets deeper.

But Chicago's senior police officers hope the president's proposals will eventually make a difference on their streets.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

Could Greece prompt wholesale change in Europe?

The triumph of Syriza in Greece could lead to renewed tensions - and widespread political change - across Europe, says Mark Mardell.

Read full article

More on This Story

US gun debate

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    29 Minutes ago
    None were committed with an assault rifle. An assault rifle is fully automatic with semi-auto capabilities or burst fire. An AR-15 is just a semi-auto that looks like the military's M16. Owning an assault rifle requires, at a minimum, a federal firearms license.


    Clearly, those guns of other description need to be controlled too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Tuscon, Oak Creek, and Fort Hood. Do you know what all these shootings have in common? None were committed with an assault rifle. An assault rifle is fully automatic with semi-auto capabilities or burst fire. An AR-15 is just a semi-auto that looks like the military's M16. Owning an assault rifle requires, at a minimum, a federal firearms license.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    564.Rod Donovan
    1 Hour ago

    I thought the caliber of bullets made the weapon more deadly, not a flash suppressor(does not blind the user), or hand guard(does not burn the user), or laser sites(used to target the intended, not non-intended)....


    If you can't place the shots where you want them to go, the size of those that miss really does not matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    Curtain 2012: It would make it faster for the shooter to take well aimed shots in poor light, so the gun would be more deadly.( about a flash suppressor)

    I thought the caliber of bullets made the weapon more deadly, not a flash suppressor(does not blind the user), or hand guard(does not burn the user), or laser sites(used to target the intended, not non-intended)....

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    "The second amendment" was an alteration (amendment!) to the US constitution. So there have been at least 2 amendments… So why not a 3rd to deal with changed conditions? The term "to bear arms", if taken literally, could be interpreted as proclaiming a US citizens right to possess any weapon, up to and including nuclear. Which of course was not a concern when the 2nd "amendment" was included.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    " Please can a US citizen explain how hunting with an automatic rifle will help you catch your prey?"

    Well Duh! If you miss him the first time, you can still try 29 more times...Ahh, you English!

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    There is nothing 100% in life except taxes and death. A lot of you believe that gun control is the answer. It is not. It is the judicial system letting loose of those accused of gun crimes. There is no crime enforcement these days. Criminals do not obey the laws. I will not be at their mercy. I don't care what anyone says. I am a law abiding free man, and plan to stay that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    I'm with Chris Rock on this. If the supreme court judges you have the right to bear arms then so be it.... Now set a tax on bullets of $10000 each. Everyone's happy except the muppets who want to carry a suitcase of assault weapons into a school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    I am also left wondering why the guns have more right to survive than I do. Why the mentally ill, who are far more likely to be the victims of gun violence than perpetrate it are the target of the NRA, why anyone can go to a gun show and buy a weapon at a gun show or from someone else and turn it around and sell it to a criminal without a background check (you don't suppose this happens . . . nah)

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    @555: No, actually it is you that does not understand why we have our II Amendment. In the days it was written, we had a bring-your-own gun army. "A Well-Ordered Militia, Necessary for the Security of A Free State" is the part of that amendment that is not quoted by the NRA. We have abolished slavery, made natives people, acknowledged women's right to vote. With our volunteer army, this can change

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    More Gun Control?
    FAILED: War on drugs
    FAILED: Crackdown on illegal immigration
    FAILED: Alcohol prohibition
    FAILED: Government.
    Full automatic weapon permits available through A.T.F. for a one time fee of $200. WHAT???
    Until human we all change there is no change. It is impossible to effectively regulate the human mind at home or world wide. Many have tried all have failed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    In the UK over the centuries we have had rafts of laws and principles, reflecting historical experience. Unlike the US we have worked hard to adopt some and remove others to reflect the reality of today. If the US believes in unchanged thinking how dare it presume on the views of Muslim fundamentalists and their much longer held views. This hypocrisy is extraordinary

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    Brits don't understand why our constitutional amendment allows citizens to own guns.When it was written, our forefathers crafted documents they hoped would defend their colonies from being reabsorbed by English force and obliterated. Many colonists here from other countries had experienced intolerable action by governments against unarmed citizens. Private arms defend somewhat against tyranny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    @552. Agree. Most of that is already in place.

    Enforcement may help to keep them from wackos out to do mass killings but it will have absolutely no effect on our murder rates in Richmond or Chicago which are completely different scenarios.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    It's very interesting to read opinion from overseas about this debate, but lost in the discussion here is that Chicago has the most restrictive gun laws of any U.S. city -- and they don't work. More people died there in the first six months of 2012 than American troops in Afghanistan. Gun control laws only affect the law abiding. That's, as they say in your neck of the woods, a 'home truth'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    550 - if it is the gun and not the person, why not institute greater checks more regularly regarding someone's sanity and if someone lives with a person not allowed to have a gun should they be allowed one? also, why are automatic rifle necessary, except in a military situation (which wont happen in the continental USA)?

  • Comment number 551.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    I live in Richmond California where murder rate per catipa is double Chicago which is way down the list. I'm surprised it's getting this attention.

    Most murders here are gang related and gun laws will have absolutely no effect. In fact arguments can be made it will increase as guns go under ground like drug dealing.

    It's the people not the gun. The gun is an easy out of responsibility,

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    I had a chat with an a person who has lived in the USA since the 70s. It is a cultural thing that British people don't get, because we see weapons as dangerous and want to remove as many as possible. I can see the argument for hunting rifles (bolt action), shotguns and some semi-auto hand guns. Please can a US citizen explain how hunting with an automatic rifle will help you catch your prey?

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.


    Bow and arrow v assualt rifle which is more deadly? Hmmm tricky..... Does the bow and arrow come with a high capacity quiver and can the archer get off 2 arrows a second at a velocity of 3000fps and a range of 1/2 a mile?

    Actually I think I may have spotted a flaw in your argument.


Page 1 of 29



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.