We Know Where Chicago’s Crime Guns Come From

 /  Dec. 14, 2017, 11:17 p.m.


Gun violence in Chicago seems to be a timeless topic in public discourse and politics. The stubborn nature of Chicago’s gun violence appears baffling and unsolvable. As gun violence in Chicago grows, the conversation around gun violence remains largely the same. While Chicago’s gun crime appears puzzling, we happen to know a lot about exactly where these guns come from and how they get into the hands of criminals.

In October of 2017, Chicago released its second “Gun Trace Report,” which collects data on recovered crime guns in Chicago with the hopes of better informing policy makers and the public. The first trace report was released in 2014. The trace report is solely based off of recovered crime guns in Chicago, which has remained at a steady 250 crime guns per one hundred thousand residents each year since 2013, which is nearly eight times as many as New York and double that of Los Angeles. In fact, this new report has seen little change since its first release in 2014.

Only 40 percent of guns recovered in Chicago are traced back to a sale in Illinois, while the rest are traced to surrounding states with less comprehensive gun regulations. Most of the guns purchased out of state were originally purchased in Indiana. The report repeatedly points to a lack of gun regulation in surrounding states as the root of gun violence within Chicago.

A source dealer is a licensed gun retailer, not including private sales and personal exchanges. The data on federally licensed source dealers tells a different story. Seven of the top ten source dealers of crime guns are located within Illinois. Six of those seven are located in the suburbs of Cook County. The remaining three top ten source dealers are in northwest Indiana.

So What’s Stopping Lawmakers?

Despite its repeated reference to loose gun regulations in surrounding states, two single stores in Illinois are the retail source of more than 10 percent of all crime guns recovered in Chicago. Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale and Midwest Sporting Goods in Lyons have been the top two source dealers of recovered crime guns in Chicago for the past ten years. The last time the City of Chicago made a public effort to target these shops was in 1998, when family members of gun crime victims filed various lawsuits against Chuck’s Gun Shop. All were dismissed.

The Trace Report also states that for 95 percent of recovered crime guns, the possessor of the gun was not the first purchaser. So, while it appears that comprehensive background checks at Chuck’s Gun Shop and Midwest Sporting Goods would work to lessen gun crime in Chicago, crime guns are very rarely purchased by the individual who commits the crime.

The Report’s Recommendations

The report includes extensive recommendations for gun control policies in order to reduce gun crime in Chicago. It advocates for a Gun Dealer Licensing Act and mandatory audits of gun dealer inventory. This is because the majority of guns that are stolen from licensed firearm dealers are used for crimes in the immediate vicinity of the gun store.

Currently, gun sellers are not required to submit audits or inventory inspections. The idea is that if gun dealer licensing legislation is enforced along with mandatory audits, Chicago police will be more aware of gun burglaries and thus more aware of potential gun crimes in the area. Similarly, the report advocates a Lost & Stolen Reporting Law.

These solutions aren’t new, but curiously enough, they offer no fix for the 95 percent of crime guns that were not used for crime by the first purchaser. Registration of firearms and background checks do not prevent individuals from selling guns to one another. Furthermore, a survey at Cook County Jail showed that the majority of those 95 percent of crime guns come from deals with personal connections: 60 percent are made with cash and 40 percent are traded or loaned. If Chicago is serious about preventing gun crime, Chicago must prioritize the regulation of the secondhand illegal gun trade.


Perhaps the most direct policy suggestion outlined in the report is to create a criminal penalty for private gun sellers who fail to perform and abide by a background check at the time of sale. Illinois has created a system that allows a private seller to quickly check a potential buyer’s Firearm Owner ID (FOID) online to check whether the purchaser can legally buy the firearm. However, without a penalty for sellers who sell illegally to those without a valid FOID card, the system of background checks for private sellers is largely ineffective. Currently, there is no penalty for private sellers who fail to verify a purchaser’s Firearm Owner ID.

On December 6, the US House of Representatives passed the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act,” which allows people with concealed carry permits to carry concealed handguns across state lines. Under this legislation, an individual with a valid concealed carry permit could legally carry a concealed weapon in states other than his or her residency. This bill is considered bipartisan because it also includes a proposal to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which would have prevented the Sutherland Springs shooter from obtaining a gun. This part of the bill would penalize agencies that do not report criminal histories to the FBI. While this could solve for an aspect of background checks, the main problem lies in the fact that private sellers don’t need to conduct background checks. In order for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act’s background check measures to be effective, sellers must conduct background checks in the first place.

Moreover, the report leaves readers with the suggestion that the most effective way to address gun crime in Chicago is on a federal level. The report points to sources outside of the city as prime sources of crime guns within Chicago. Gun control legislation within Illinois will not combat the 60 percent of crime guns that come from outside of the state. Chicago’s gun violence problem should be considered a nationwide problem.

The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.

Ava Sharifi

Ava Sharifi is a first year in the College interested in Sociology and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Ava has worked as an intern with various campaigns in Virginia, most recently Ralph Northam’s campaign for Virginia Governor. On campus, she is an active member of the Chicago Debate Society and works at Ace Tech High School in Washington Park. Ava enjoys kombucha, history podcasts, and her dog Olive.


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