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News and notes on guns in America

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Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson speaks at the release of the Gun Trace report at police department headquarters on Sunday, October 29. (Credit: Timothy McLaughlin)

A Quarter of Chicago’s Crime Guns Were Sold By Just Ten Dealers

This story was updated to include comment from Midwest Sporting Goods.

CHICAGO — A small number of gun stores located in suburban Illinois and neighboring states, like Indiana, are responsible for selling a disproportionate number of guns used to commit crimes in the city of Chicago, a report released on Sunday said.

The city’s second Gun Trace Report, based on trace data from 2013 to 2016, found that 10 gun stores accounted for almost 25 percent of the roughly 15,000 crime guns recovered by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). The report was a collaboration between the Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, the CPD and the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

“In an unfortunate but persistent reality, certain retailers and jurisdictions disproportionately account for the guns trafficked into Chicago that sustain its illegal gun market and associated violent crime,” the report said.

The term crime gun refers to a firearm recovered by Chicago police that was illegally possessed, used, or suspected to be used in committing a crime.

Guns found at Chicago crime scenes were first sold by about 5,000 federally licensed dealers from across the United States, but most guns were sourced to Illinois retailers and those in adjoining states.

The two single largest sources of Chicago crime guns over the four years covered by the report were dealers well known to authorities and to antiviolence activists. Almost a thousand guns that turned up at crime scenes were linked to Chuck’s Gun Shop located on Chicago’s Southeast Side in the suburb of Riverdale. Midwest Sporting Goods on the West Side in the suburb of Lyons supplied nearly 700 crime guns.  

The two stores “provide a strikingly large portion of the total number of traceable crime guns,” the report said. The shops were the retail source of more than one in 10 crime guns recovered in Chicago.

Chuck’s was closed on Sunday and could not be reached for comment. The shop’s owner, John Riggio, has previously declined repeated requests for comment from The Trace.

The data used in the report “seems exaggerated,” Midwest Sporting Goods said in an emailed statement on Monday. The shop said it attempted to access the data used to compile the city’s previous trace report, issued in 2014, but said that, after a lengthy process of filing Freedom of Information Act requests it described as a “runaround,” it did not receive a response from the CPD.

Chicago suffered through a surge in deadly gun violence last year, with over 762 killed, a two-decade high. Around 90 percent of those homicides were committed with a firearm. The number of murders has fallen slightly to 569 from 613 over the same period last year, according to police data.

 Chicago police seized just under 7,000 illegal guns per year over the past four years. In 2016, when adjusted for population, the city recovered six times as many guns per capita as New York and 1.5 times as many guns per capita as Los Angeles. More than 90 percent of crime gun recoveries were handguns.

The city’s continued struggle to address gun crime has made it a frequent target for President Donald Trump, his administration and conservative commentators, who have singled out the city as having tough gun laws that fail to curb crime.

At a news conference on Sunday, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson rebuffed the claim that the city’s restrictive gun laws somehow contributed to the violence.

“This national narrative about Chicago, a lot of it is factually incorrect,” Johnson said. “Somebody from Chicago can go across the border to a gun show and fill up a duffel bag full of guns and bring them back into the city with no oversight. So that hurts us.”

Johnson said the passage of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act could put a dent in gun crime. The bill, which was passed by the Democrat-controlled State Senate in late April and is now in the House, would crack down on gun stores by requiring video surveillance of sales areas inside shops to deter straw purchasing, as well as background checks and training of employees.

Emanuel passed a similar ordinance for the city of Chicago in 2014, and the city remains without a gun store. Last year, Illinois adopted a bill targeting repeated gun offenders.

The National Rifle Association opposes the gun dealer bill, saying it creates, “onerous mandatory regulations, fees potentially in the thousands of dollars and excessive amounts of red tape”  that would force the closure of gun shops and prevent new ones from opening.

In 2015, Lyons passed an ordinance requiring Midwest Sporting Goods to maintain a “do not sell” list of customers whose weapons have been traced to a crime. In its statement, the shop said it has worked with the municipality to comply with the regulations. The gun store complies, the statement said, with all trace requests and refers any suspected straw purchasers to the police.

Just over 40 percent of traceable crime guns recovered in Chicago were sold by an Illinois dealer, the report said, followed by neighboring Indiana, which accounted for 21 percent of recovered crime guns. Three of the top 10 source dealers were located in Indiana in the cities of Hammond, Gary, and Griffith, all of which are just over the the state line from Illinois.

The third-highest contributing state was Mississippi.