Chicago, Illinois is one of a handful of cities around the country that require all those arrested for a gun-related offense to register with the city. Put in place by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013, the ordinance was billed as a public safety measure. Instead, it appears as if it was nothing more than a “do something” measure designed to get headlines without making any impact on the city’s crime rate.
There were 407 homicides in Chicago in 2014, which was the first full year that the gun offender registry was in place. Since then, however, the number of homicides has remained far above that level. Last year, Chicago recorded 769 murders, and the trend has continued into 2021. Last month the number of homicides was about 46% higher than January of 2020, and number of shootings, carjackings, and other violent crimes are on the rise as well.
So, the registry isn’t making Chicago any safer, and as it turns out, it’s also not being enforced by prosecutors. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, while hundreds of people are arrested for not registering as “gun offenders” with the city every year, it’s incredibly rare for them to face any additional consequences. The Sun-Times took a look at the legal outcomes of 33 individuals arrested in January of 2020 for failing to register with the city. One man received a $500 fine, while the other 32 cases were dropped at the request of city prosecutors.
Asked why lawyers for the city nearly always asked judges to dismiss charges in cases involving gun-registry violations, a spokesman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s law department, responding by email, said, “In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the law department has temporarily halted the prosecution of gun-registry offenses.”
Spokesman Isaac Reichman said that’s how gun-offender registry arrests have been handled since April 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the courts to curtail most activities.
“The city of Chicago’s gun-offender registry is a valuable public safety tool which the law department is committed to enforcing, and the city will resume the prosecution of gun registration offenses once the notice is lifted,” Reichman wrote, blaming the pandemic.
He didn’t address the lack of enforcement before then, although five of the 33 people in the January 2020 sampling also had been arrested the prior year for a gun-offender registration violation, and those cases were dismissed, too.
The Sun-Times notes that one of the arguments by supporters of the registry back in 2013 was that it would help to reduce the crime rate. Instead, the paper has found that many of those arrested for not registering themselves with the city have been accused of other, more serious offenses.
Of the 33 gun-offender registry cases the Sun-Times examined from January 2020, 16 of those defendants have subsequently been arrested on new charges, in some cases for multiple new offenses. Among them:
- Ten have been arrested at least once more for violating the gun-offender registration ordinance.
- Five have been charged with illegal gun possession.
- One was charged with burglary.
- Two were charged with violence against police officers. One of those was [Devaughn] Levi, 37, who was charged with hitting a cop with a car as he tried to flee.
Chicago Alderman Matt O’Shea calls the registry “a colossal waste of resources,” but there’s virtually chance of the ordinance going away. That would require Chicago politicians to admit that they made a mistake in putting the law on the books in the first place, and it would likely cause howls of protest on the part of gun control activists who want to keep the gun offender registry in place.
I’m in agreement with O’Shea that the registry is a waste of time and resources. Why should police make hundreds of arrests each year on the misdemeanor charge if 99% of them are going to be dismissed by prosecutors? It ends up looking like harassment, not a genuine attempt to take violent offenders off the street. The way to reduce Chicago’s violence is by ensuring consequences for those responsible, not maintaining a useless law created in the name of “doing something” instead of something that works.
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