Could Stiffer Penalties for Illegally Carrying a Gun Reduce Violence in Chicago?

Post Date: October 17, 2013

(Atlantic Cities) — Legislation meant to curb Chicago gun violence has split politicians and divided criminal justice experts. 

At issue is a bill before the Illinois legislature that would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for people caught illegally possessing a firearm. The proposal would push the minimum up from the current one year, with a requirement that they serve at least 50 percent of their sentence, to three years, with a requirement that offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. This new law is needed, says University of Chicago Crime Lab Director Jens Ludwig, because current sentencing practices aren’t deterring crime. For instance, Ludwig writes in a recent memo [PDF] that out of all the people in Illinois who are charged with illegally carrying a firearm and then put on probation, “over 63% of these probationers are re-arrested for some crime within 12 months, with 7% re-arrested for a violent crime specifically.” 

Here’s how complicated the divide over this issue has become: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez all support the bill. The NRA, the John Howard Association of Illinois (which “promotes public safety through cost-effective prison reform”), Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and University of California Berkeley Law Professor Franklin Zimring (who is also the former director of U. Chicago’s criminal justice program) oppose it.  Read more