Playing the Blame Game in Chicago

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posted on April 20, 2022
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Pedro Szekely courtesy Flickr

As violent crime surges in Chicago, city officials continue to blame the carnage on guns and gun dealers. Both President Joe Biden (D) and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) are eager participants in this dishonest blame game.

In a speech in the Rose Garden on Tuesday, when Biden tapped Steven Dettelbach as his new nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the president once again focused on so-called “rogue” gun dealers, as if legal gun stores are a major cause of violent crime.

Meanwhile, Biden and Lightfoot seldom, if ever, point a finger at hardened gang members murdering each other and innocent bystanders on Chicago’s streets. To them, those committing assaults and murders seem to be some kind of victim of circumstance who wouldn’t ply their criminal trade if not for “evil” guns and the “rogue” dealers who supply them.

The claim that “rogue” gun dealers are causing all of Chicago’s violence doesn’t stand up to a closer look. As of 2020, there were 52,795 federally licensed (Type 1) firearms dealers in the United States, according to the ATF. Investigating these federally licensed firearm dealers is part of the ATF’s job.

In 2020, the ATF initiated compliance inspections (these often target specific dealers after ATF gun traces lead ATF agents to certain stores) in 5,827 of the 52,795 licensed gun dealers. Of these targeted inspections, the ATF recommended that 96 dealers (1.6% of these targeted dealers and 0.18% of all gun dealers) have their licenses to sell guns revoked.

So, in 2020, the ATF recommended that less than two-tenths of one percent of gun dealers should lose their licenses for whatever reason (sometimes simple, unintentional paperwork errors), and President Biden thinks gun dealers are central to a criminal problem?​

Another problem with Biden’s way of thinking lies in his misunderstanding of criminals and how they get their guns to commit crimes. There’s actually research on this topic that Biden could study if he were so inclined, but he apparently chooses not to do so.

A U.S. Department of Justice study conducted in 2016 and released in 2019 tells us all we need to know about the subject. Titled “Source and Use of Firearms Involved in Crimes: Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016,” this research reveals that nearly 290,000 prisoners had possessed a firearm during commission of the crime for which they were incarcerated.

“Among these, more than half (56%) had either stolen it (6%), found it at the
scene of the crime (7%) or obtained it off the street or from the underground market (43%). Most of the remainder (25%) had obtained it from a family member or friend, or as a gift. Seven percent had purchased it under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer,” the study stated.

The numbers support Biden’s “rogue” gun dealers contention even less if you consider all of the prisoners involved in the survey. As stated in the study highlights, “About 1.3% of prisoners obtained a gun from a retail source and used it during their offense.”

It should also be noted that, of those prisoners who reported they “had purchased (a firearm) under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer,” there is nothing to indicate the purchaser was prohibited from purchasing the firearm under either state or federal law at the time of purchase. In other words, the licensed firearm dealers who processed these transactions could very well have been in full compliance with state and federal laws and regulations at the time of the firearm being purchased, thus further negating the Biden claim of “rogue” dealers being the cause for the recent spike in violent crime involving firearms.

Despite those facts, the blame game continues with guns and gun dealers as the main targets. While Biden targets supposed “rogue” gun dealers who research shows aren’t the cause for recent spikes in firearm-related violent crime, Lightfoot’s latest idea is to hold a so-called “buyback” to get “evil” guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals.

An April 4 press release announced a bold “city-led initiative” that will be “getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people.” The release specified: “The city has begun raising money for the [Chicago Police Department] to host what will be the largest gun-turn-in program in Chicago’s history.”

If you find it hard to believe that the average Chicago gang member dedicated to protecting his gang’s drug turf is going to turn in his firearm to the cops for a couple hundred dollars in grocery gift cards, you’re in good company.

Research backs up this common sense. A paper titled “Have U.S. Gun Buybacks Misfired,” authored by Toshio Ferrazares, Joseph J. Sabia, and D. Mark Anderson, and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that such “buybacks” have no measurable impact on reducing violent crime.

“Given our estimated null findings, with 95 percent confidence, we can rule out decreases in firearm-related crime of greater than 1.3 percent during the year following a buyback,” the abstract concluded. “Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, we also find no evidence that GBPs reduce suicides or homicides where a firearm was involved.”  

Meanwhile, Lightfoot’s easy-on-criminals attitude doesn’t spill over to any criminals who might consider her or her family to be potential victims. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Lightfoot has a special police security detail, Unit 544, which was created about two years ago to protect her. The special unit consists of approximately 71 officers, in addition to the mayor’s existing “separate personal bodyguard detail” of 20 officers. 

Based on those numbers, it seems that Lightfoot actually realizes that focused policing can save lives, but apparently only considers a few Chicago lives worth saving—her own and those of her family members.

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