New York and Los Angeles beat out Chicago as the nation’s most populous cities. But Chicago has more guns on the streets, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told CNN.
That was his answer when CNN host Jake Tapper asked on April 2, 2013: With some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, why are your homicide rates still so high?
Without uniform gun policies — say, in neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin — weapons still flow, Emanuel said.
"We take more guns off the streets than New York or L.A.," he said.
Emanuel, who formerly was President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff, is part of a group of mayors that’s fighting for stricter national gun laws.
We were curious: Does America’s No. 3 most populous city take No. 1 in gun seizures?
We talked with Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman in Emanuel’s office. He said the city uses the comparison with New York and Los Angeles to demonstrate that Chicago’s strict gun control rules won’t work by themselves.
(Opponents of gun control measures argue the city offers evidence that such laws don’t work, period.)
New York and California both have stricter gun control laws than Illinois. Guns cross into Chicago not just from Indiana and Wisconsin, but from areas right outside the city.
"Chicago is not an island," McCaffrey said.
In the first six months of last year, the city — not counting gun buybacks or turn-ins — seized 3,912 guns. That’s as many as New York and Los Angeles combined, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which got numbers from the cities’ police departments.
In Chicago, police picked up illegal weapons at crime scenes and traffic stops, found them with search warrants and investigations, or heard about them when people called 911 to report a "man with a gun" or "shots fired."
In the same months that Chicago recovered 3,912 guns, Los Angeles got 2,296 and New York 1,385.
That wasn’t an anomaly, according to Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who has testified before Congress in favor of strengthening federal measures to reduce gun trafficking.
For several years under the Clinton administration, an effort to fight youth crime collected gun-tracing data for major U.S. cities.
"I can tell you that Chicago consistently recovered more guns than any of the other cities, N.Y.C. and L.A. included," Webster said.
We pulled those reports from 1998, 1999 and 2000. Chicago recovered and traced more guns than either New York or Los Angeles in all three years. In 1998, it picked up 16,222 weapons — more than the two larger cities together.
Webster points out that the city has a lot of gangs, and gangs and guns go together. Its police department cracks down on illegal gun possession, making arrests more likely. And Illinois gun control laws aren’t nearly as strong as those in New York and California in deterring gun trafficking into the city, he said.
Webster told House Democrats in March that studies show state gun laws are undermined by gaps in federal law — people buy guns in states with the weakest laws to sell in states with the toughest laws.
The same idea works for counties and cities.
In Chicago, all it takes is a drive outside the city limits, the New York Times reported, such as to Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Ill., the source of more than 1,300 weapons seized in Chicago since 2008.
The same store was identified as a key source of crime guns in a New York Times piece in 1999.
Emanuel, arguing for stronger federal laws to help Chicago tamp down on gun crime, said, "we take more guns off the streets than New York or L.A." Gun seizure data gathered by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and a federal youth crime initiative show just that. We rate his statement True.