Chicago Needs Criminal Control, Not Gun Control

November 7, 2023

Guns are not the problem, Mr. Mayor

When it comes to Chicago crime, Mayor Brandon Johnson has developed a grating habit of emulating his predecessor, Lori Lightfoot. Too often during her one term in office, Lightfoot would react to a particularly violent weekend by turning to social media in an attempt to excite the mood of Chicago on expanded hours at the Chicago Public Library.

When three years of feverishly retailing library hours was exhausted, and with her options for deflecting from crime dwindling, Lightfoot's last resort was to issue a loud public call for more gun control. A brazen deflection game which characterized her approach to governing Chicago, Lightfoot’s cynical diversions from crime eventually cost her at the ballot box.

Chicago’s freshman mayor, Brandon Johnson, seems determined to follow Ms. Lightfoot’s path as he faces a city submerged in crime. A man who obviously has not learned from Lightfoot’s errors in judgment, Johnson recently responded to a mass shooting in Lawndale which injured 15 partygoers with a demand for “common sense” gun reform.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, October 29, an armed man wounded nine men and six women aged 26 to 53. Two of the victims were last reported in critical condition. From what Chicago Police have learned, William Groves, a six-time convicted felon with a criminal history spanning nearly three decades, was asked to leave a Halloween party held at Studio 1258 on South Pulaski Rd. According to police, Groves returned armed with a pistol equipped with a 0.357 SIG cartridge. Under current law, Mr. Groves was legally prohibited from owning or possessing either a weapon or the ammunition he used to commit this crime.

Though Johnson was made aware of the mass-shooting incident early Sunday, it took Johnson several hours to prepare a statement, which was issued Sunday evening.

At first glance, Johnson's statement on Chicago’s latest mass shooting is sufficient. Though devoid of any real emotion, Mr. Johnson did give minimal effort in describing the city’s response to the shooting incident. Nevertheless, it did not take long for Johnson to segue from the mass shooting itself to disregarding its significance and shrug off the incident as a symptom of a perilous national disease. The problem here, obviously, is mass shootings are far from uncommon in Chicago.

While Johnson is correct in stating mass shootings are not unique to Chicago, they are more prevalent in the Windy City than elsewhere across the country. The most popular definition of a mass shooting is a single incident in which at least four people are shot. Since Johnson assumed office in May, Chicago has experienced an unsettling 27 mass shooting incidents, which have claimed 19 souls and left another 139 wounded. A 175-day period, simple math reveals Chicago experiences a mass shooting every 6.4 days.

While Johnson’s call for “common sense gun reform” was designed to allow the mayor to strike the pose of avatar of the common good, the mayor's call for gun reform comes with no sense of urgency. Since the first serious attempt in 1934, the National Firearms Act, the federal government, states, and municipalities across the country have enacted countless laws to stamp out crimes committed with firearms by placing restrictions on weapons. In Chicago Municipal Code, the city has regulated firearm possession for years, the last amendment of which took place as late as December 2022.

Although there is no evidence to show more gun control — background checks, registration procedures, or bans on certain kinds of weapons — would have prevented Groves’ crime, Mayor Johnson insisted in his statement the blame for Groves’ mass shooting should fall on guns. While gangs account for most mass shootings and the issue of possible mental illness looms large in any discussion of motive, no proof exists to demonstrate either played a role in Graves’ crime.

Preferring to place the onus for the crime on guns, if we are going to follow Johnson’s logic and blame guns, it is worth pointing out the mayor has been in a position since May to spur the City Council either to debate or act on the need to enact “commonsense” gun reform. Though Chicago has endured 322 homicides and 1,714 shot since Johnson took office, the mayor has not lifted a finger to demand the City Council thoughtfully deliberate gun control legislation or the crafting of a meaningful amendment to Municipal Code in the City Council.

The embodiment of inaction, that Johnson has failed to inspire any change in Chicago’s gun control laws reveals Johnson’s call for “common sense gun reform” was a political choice which allowed the mass shooting to occur.

Mayor Johnson cannot serve two masters

Mayor Johnson’s response to the mass shooting in North Lawndale says a great deal about who he is and where Chicago is headed. Johnson must change direction for his sake and for the sake of Chicago.

Though Johnson places enormous faith in gun reform solving Chicago’s unremitting crime problem, Chicago Police officials say there are sufficient laws controlling guns in place and officers are making gun arrests on a regular basis. Police remove guns from the street daily, at great risk to their lives. The same police officials also state the problem does not rest with enforcement on the streets, but rather with Cook County’s broken justice system, mainly its adamantly uncooperative prosecutor, Kim Foxx. A woman who will forever be associated with rising crime, for seven years Foxx has hamstrung police efforts to bring crime under control.

Though Johnson placing blame on guns for the mass shooting is hardly surprising, it was a failed strategy adopted by Lori Lightfoot. Though Lightfoot tried to defuse the political headaches arising from crime by blaming guns and the state of Indiana, crime and crime alone undid the previous mayor. By the time Lightfoot shifted tack and set herself at odds with Kim Foxx by searing her with criticism over Foxx's selective method of prosecuting, it was too late to undo the damage. Johnson could learn a thing or two from Lightfoot’s colossal error.

To avoid the ignominy Lightfoot suffered only months ago, Johnson does have alternatives, one of which is to review the crime situation and consider publicly criticizing Cook County’s non-prosecutor, Kim Foxx. Johnson should also forego endorsing Clayton Harris III as Foxx's replacement until a moderate Democrat emerges as her possible replacement in the election for State’s Attorney in 2024.

Though rebuking Kim Foxx does pose a risk to Johnson, the benefits outweigh the consequences. It is important to keep in mind Foxx is leaving office at the end of 2024. By criticizing Foxx, Johnson could shift part of the blame for the deteriorating conditions on the streets where it belongs. While criticizing Foxx may incur the wrath of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Johnson has one significant advantage: Preckwinkle is 75, and unlikely to seek another term leading the board. Though criticizing Preckwinkle’s hand-picked choice to lead the State’s Attorney’s office may cause a schism in the friendship between the mayor and Preckwinkle, Johnson must come to the very grave decision of placing a greater emphasis on his political career than appeasing Ms. Preckwinkle.

Owing almost entirely to her refusal to blame crime on criminals, Lori Lightfoot became the first incumbent mayor in 40 years to lose reelection. By the time Lightfoot recognized the ubiquity of guns in Chicago was less problematic than the reduction in criminal prosecutions and minimal penalties imposed on criminal behavior was preventing safer streets, it was far too late for her to recover.

While Johnson was correct to emphasize the impact of gun crime, the mayor has not advanced any comprehensive strategy to defeat rising crime other than calls for gun control or public pleas to “stop the violence.” Johnson has a choice: The mayor either serves voters who voted him into office by accepting criminal prosecutions and stiffer penalties will bring peace to the streets, or he can serve Ms. Preckwinkle. Johnson would be wise to cater to the needs of residents rather than political allies.

Mass shootings in Chicago occur with such a regularity, it is come to be accepted as an intractable feature of modern life in Chicago. All the diversions from crime in the world could not save Lori Lightfoot from the wrath of the voters. Mayor Johnson should take note from the former mayor’s fate.

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