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When professing his belief in protecting the Second Amendment, Donald Trump often has invoked Chicago as a place that proves gun regulation does not equate with reduced gun crime. He’s been making this claim longer than he’s been a candidate for president:
In his final debate with Hillary Clinton on Oct. 19, Trump repeated this statement: "In Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the United States, probably you could say by far, they have more gun violence than any other city."
For Chicago, 2016 has been a year of record gun violence. The pre-Halloween weekend was the deadliest of the year, with 17 people killed. "There have been at least 638 homicides so far this year, 217 more than this time last year, the data show. At least 3,662 people have been shot in the city, 1,106 more than during the same period last year," the Chicago Tribune reported on Oct. 31.
As of Aug. 30, Chicago had more homicides and shootings than New York and Los Angeles combined.
But does Chicago really have what Trump calls "the toughest gun laws in the United States?" The Trump campaign didn’t respond to requests for documentation. So to find out, we’ll look at "gun laws" from two angles, possession and sentencing of gun offenders.
For two years, Chicago did have the toughest gun possession law in the country. In 1982, the city banned possession of handguns by civilians, joining Washington, D.C., in prohibiting handgun possession. But the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia vs. Heller decision ruled the D.C. law unconstitutional, making Chicago the lone holdout among major cities for handgun prohibition. (A handful of Chicago suburbs had enacted bans along with Chicago’s.)
But the Heller decision paved the way for the 2010 McDonald vs. City of Chicago decision that extended the Heller decision -- which had overturned a law specific to the District of Columbia -- to states.
That meant Chicago no longer could ban handgun possession. Chicagoans, however, still faced stricter gun laws than residents of other major cities because Illinois was alone among states in not allowing concealed carry of firearms.
Illinois became the last state in the nation to adopt concealed carry in July 2013, eight months after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s ban on concealed carry was unconstitutional.
With that, Chicago lost its status -- or its stigma, depending on your perspective -- of having the strictest gun possession laws in the United States. In comparably sized big cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the city administers the concealed-carry permitting process. In Illinois, the Illinois State Police processes applications, so it can be argued that Chicago has less autonomy in restricting concealed carry within its borders than do other cities.
Illinois’ gun laws still are considered among the most restrictive when compared with other states. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for gun control, gives Illinois a B+ and ranks it No. 8 in the nation on its "Smart Gun Laws" report card. The group lauds Illinois for, among several rules, requiring firearm owners to obtain a Firearm Owners’ ID card that includes a background check and imposes a waiting period on firearm purchases.
But it also knocks Illinois for not requiring registration of firearms, for its lack of restriction on the purchase of multiple firearms and for not allowing local jurisdictions to regulate firearms. In other words, Illinois could make its gun laws much more strict than they are.
Another way to interpret Trump’s statement is that Chicago’s gun laws are strict because they impose strict penalties on those who violate them.
But here, too, Illinois falls short -- much to the chagrin of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Emanuel has argued for years that sentencing guidelines for gun offenders in Illinois are too lenient. The Chicago street gang members who have propelled the city to the top of the gun violence list, Emanuel has said, face harsher punishment from their gang leaders for losing a gun than for getting arrested with one.
"Let me remind you what one admitted gangbanger said in 2012 to a reporter. This is what the gangbanger said: that his gun possession arrest was a joke. Gangbangers know how to manipulate the criminal justice system, and they know its weaknesses first-hand," Emanuel said in a major speech Sept. 22 to address public safety in the city amid public furor over the Laquan McDonald shooting. "Our criminal justice system is fractured, and it is undermining Chicago’s neighborhoods."
A Chicago Sun-Times analysis a year earlier had found that gun sentences for Chicago offenders were more lenient than elsewhere:
In Chicago, felons illegally possessing a gun typically get four years, the Sun-Times found — toward the low end of the state sentencing guidelines.
And those are the sentences judges hand out, not the actual prison time.
Most people convicted of these gun crimes serve less than half of their prison terms because of "good time" that inmates can get credit for under state law, in addition to credit for time held in the Cook County Jail while awaiting trial.
New York, by comparison, has a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 3 1/2 years for simple gun possession.
In 2013, Emanuel pushed unsuccessfully for the Illinois General Assembly to impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes. The effort was blocked by lawmakers concerned that it would lead to increased incarceration of young blacks and Latinos.
Donald Trump said, "In Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the United States, probably you could say by far, they have more gun violence than any other city."
Chicago once had very tough regulations against guns, but they’ve been considerably watered down after the Supreme Court ruled that cities can’t ban handguns.
Additionally, the state at one time didn’t allow concealed carry, and now it does. Its rules for allowing concealed carry are more relaxed than in California or New York -- states that allow local jurisdictions to regulate concealed carry within their boundaries.
Nor are penalties for violating gun laws in Illinois the toughest in the United States. Mandatory minimum sentences make New York state’s laws tougher than those in Illinois.
Trump’s statement contains an element of truth -- Chicago leads the nation for number of gun-related crimes this year -- but it ignores the fact that a U.S. Supreme Court decision and a change in state law brought Chicago in line with other cities on handgun rules.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
ABC7 Truth Squad report , Oct. 20, 2016; accessed Oct. 20, 2016
Just Facts gun control section on Chicago, accessed Oct. 20, 2016
The problem with using Chicago to make the case against gun control, Oct. 6, 2015, Bloomberg News, accessed Oct. 20, 31, 2016
Gun laws not nearly as strict as made out to be; sentences lighter, Associated Press, Oct. 8, 2015; accessed, Oct. 20, 24, 31
http://gunlawscorecard.org/, accessed Oct. 31, 2016
Does Chicago have the strictest gun laws in the country? It’s complicated, DNA Info, Oct. 27, 2015; accessed Oct. 20, 24, 31
An Illegal Gun is Seized by Police Every 72 Minutes in Chicago: Top Cop, DNA Info, Aug. 31, 2015; accessed Oct. 20, 24, 31
Tracing the Guns: The Impact of Illegal Guns on Violence in Chicago, report, City of Chicago, May 27, 2014; accessed Oct. 20, 24, 27, 31
Illinois enacts nation's final concealed-gun law, USA Today, July 9, 2013; accessed Oct. 20, 31, 2016
Background on McDonald v. Chicago decision, Legal Information Institute, Cornell University School of Law; accessed Oct. 31, 2016
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, public safety speech, Sept. 22, 2016 (transcript posted by DNA Info); accessed Oct. 27, 31
Gun shy: Lighter sentences in Cook County fuel lock ‘em up debate, Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 29, 2014; accessed Oct. 20, 31
Chicago Tribune, Weekend marks deadliest of year with 17 fatally shot, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 31, 2016; accessed Oct. 31, 2016
NBC5 Chicago, Chicago Has Recorded More Murders So Far This Year Than NYC and LA Combined, Data Shows, NBC5 Chicago, Aug. 30, 2016, accessed Oct. 31, 2016
District of Columbia v. Heller, U.S. Supreme Court decision, June 26, 2008; accessed Oct. 31, 2016
Carrying a Concealed Weapon Information and Application, City of San Francisco; accessed Oct. 27, 31
Carry a Concealed Weapon (CCW) Application Guidelines, Los Angeles Police Department: accessed Oct. 27, 31
New York Police Department, Handgun Permit Application, New York Police Department; accessed Oct. 27, 31
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