Lightfoot Warns Gun Traffickers, But Are They Listening?

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool

As Democrats wrestle with soaring crime rates and declining poll numbers on the issue, the White House is trying to reassure worried Americans that they’re on top of the problem (as opposed to being one of the root causes). The Biden administration is rolling out five gun trafficking “strike forces” in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, allowing local politicians like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to try to talk tough on crime.

During a media availability Thursday, Lightfoot said that “weapons of war” have no place on Chicago’s streets, and that the city will work with federal partners to crack down on the flow of illegal weapons.

“It’s about sending a loud and clear message: if you pick up a gun, if you shoot indiscriminately into a crowd, not only are we going to pick you up, not only are we going to take you to federal court, but we’re going to ship you off to South Dakota and you’re never going to see your family again,” she said. “The choice is yours. We have to send a very loud and clear message: if you’re bringing guns into the city of Chicago, we’re coming for you. We’re going to meet you at the border, we’re going to lock you up, and we’re going to send you to federal prison.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland was part of the public relations blitz in Chicago; meeting with Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown, touring a Chicago PD precinct, and meeting with a community violence intervention group during his short time in the city. But while the mayor and AG may have succeeded in generating positive press, their announcement highlighted the deep divide on the Left when it comes to addressing public safety. There are plenty of activists who aren’t happy about the police-centered approach.

The Rev. Marvin Hunter has held multiple news conferences in recent weeks objecting to the strike forces — which many residents believe will flood their neighborhoods with more police — or any solution that relies on police to curb the violence.

He and other residents of the predominantly Black and Latino west side of Chicago said they’re afraid having police focus more on their neighborhoods will lead to “attacks” on Black and brown men and women. Hunter is the great-uncle of Laquan McDonald, who died after he was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer. Corniki Bornds, whose only child was killed in 2017, said a better solution to more policing is to spend more money on education.

“There was a police officer sitting on the corner when my son was shot,” Bornds said. “I don’t see the benefit of it. But if you get in front of it and try to keep bad guys from wanting to kill each other, I think that’s a better place to send resources than to the police. Because the police be there and it doesn’t mean anything.”

There’s definitely a need for proactive efforts that will stop violent acts in the first place, but police still have a fundamentally important role to play even in that situation. I’m skeptical, however, that the focus on “gun traffickers” on the part of DOJ and the city of Chicago is really going to have an impact on violent crime. It’s great for Lightfoot to declare that shooters in the city are going to get “shipped off to South Dakota,” but she actually has to back up her promise with results. Given the fact that the clearance rate for non-fatal shootings in Chicago typically hovers between five and ten-percent, that’s going to be a lot harder than scheduling a press conference.

The smarter strategy (from a crime-fighting perspective anyway) would be to focus on the core group of prolific offenders in Chicago, but that doesn’t jibe with Biden’s focus on “rogue gun dealers” and trying to weaponize the ATF against the firearms industry and legal gun owners. The Democrats’ want to talk tough on crime without saying much about violent criminals themselves, in the hopes that they can both reassure voters that they have a plan while hinting to their base that they’re not planning on flooding high-crime neighborhoods with more police.

I’m skeptical that the Left will actually accomplish either objective. The proof won’t come with high-profile busts or press releases, but with a sustained reduction in the number of shootings and homicides in Chicago. I don’t see that happening with the current strategy, unfortunately, and I suspect that Chicago’s long, hot, violent summer is going to continue despite the tough talk from Lori Lightfoot.