Illegal guns get into Chicago through lone dealers, not large trafficking organizations, and that makes any legislative action taken to stop the flow totally impractical, according to Chicago police.
Police researchers say that most illegal guns come from nearby states like Indiana and Iowa after being stolen or resold by their original owners, according to a Tuesday report from the Chicago Sun Times. In this way, the trafficking of firearms is different from the trafficking of illegal substances, which relies heavily on national and even international crime organizations. As a result, the arrest of individual gun dealers does virtually nothing to stop the flow of illegal firearms.
“You are a single salmon swimming upstream at Niagara Falls,” Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Sun Times. “If your policing strategy is to decrease the number of guns in your city, good luck, because there are too many guns out there. It’s better to go after the person with the gun.”
Police operations to take down these individual drug dealers usually take the form of sting operations and bribing street level offenders for information.
In one case, a police informant convinced a dealer, John Thomas, to broker a gun sale bigger than any he’d sought before. He sold seven guns, all of which were obtained illegally: four handguns, two semi-automatic rifles, and one shotgun. The buyer paid $7,200. “The most money I’ve seen or made,” Thomas said.
Many argue that it’s unclear whether these methods effectively combat gun sales or simply create more incentive to get in the business.
“You have this specter of whether it’s creating crime, which is troubling to a lot of people,” Katharine Tinto, a law professor who studied the investigative tactics of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the Sun Times. “It’s not as if you’re trying to get someone [who] you know is a violent gun offender. You’re going after someone and purposely trying to entice them into doing a felony.”
President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force in June. The group consists of ATF agents and counterparts from the CPD and Illinois State Police, who will work to investigate shootings and gun traffickers through ballistics technology.
Sessions has faced criticism for not including Chicago on a list of cities that will receive guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) about long-term strategies to fight violence. However, the DOJ already coordinates with the city under a program called the Violence Reduction Network, which began in 2014.