The deadly shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday was bound to produce some misinformation about guns and gun control, but no one captured the mindless regurgitation of National Rifle Association talking points quite like Sarah Huckabee Sanders who, after telling reporters the White House wouldn’t be talking about gun control, proceeded to condemn gun control. And not by the usual vague falsehoods, like regulations never work or motivated mass murderers will always find a way to kill, but by invoking a very specific, often-repeated and easily disproved claim involving Windy City violence.
“I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country,” the White House press secretary told reporters on Monday. “That certainly hasn’t helped there. So, I think we have to, when that time comes for those conversations to take place, then I think we have to look at things that may actually have a real impact.”
Now, the rising violence part of that claim is more or less true, but the strictest gun laws in the country? Perhaps one could have made that argument at one time but not in years — thanks in so small measure to legal challenges endorsed by the NRA. While it’s true that at one time Chicago banned handguns, that law came off the books after the Supreme Court’s McDonald v. City of Chicago decision in 2010. In 2012, the ban on concealed-carry in Chicago and the rest of Illinois was removed, too. All that leaves is the residual permitting process for concealed-carry (which some cities like New York and San Francisco administer but which Chicago doesn’t; Illinois, like Maryland, handles such permits on a statewide basis) and Cook County’s ban on assault weapons (more on that in a moment). So, toughest in the nation? Not at all. Not as wide-open as Nevada? That’s true but, unfortunately, not what Ms. Sanders said.
This is no small quibble. Chicago residents could more rightly claim that lax gun laws in surrounding states have made their city more vulnerable to violent crime. Even before the city’s gun laws were lifted by the courts, studies showed that around one in five guns recovered from city crime scenes could be traced to neighboring Indiana. A 2015 study went further, finding that nearly two-thirds of guns used gang-related crime (and close to one-third in crime not involving gangs) came from outside the state. The problem with city, and to a lesser degree, state, bans isn’t that restrictions aren’t effective, it’s that they are rendered less effective by states that make it too easy to acquire guns that are then easily transported from one place to another.
That’s why a law like Cook County’s ban on assault weapons is destined to have a modest impact. State laws are better, and federal regulations have the best chance of success. It’s notable, for example, that the Las Vegas shooter didn’t possess actual automatic weapons (at least by police accounts to date), which are tightly regulated by the federal government. He did bring devices to make his semi-automatic rifles fire faster, which are not regulated. See the difference?
So why did Ms. Sanders repeat the canard about Chicago being the gun-grabbiest place in the country? It might be because the city’s violence has gotten so much attention — although, to be fair, Baltimore has a much higher murder rate at 51.2 per 100,000 residents last year compared to Chicago’s 27.9. Only St. Louis was higher than Charm City at 59.3. But more likely the reason is that the press secretary was merely repeating the “alternative facts” her boss tossed out almost exactly one year ago. In his third debate with Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump said Chicago had the “toughest gun laws in the United States” and “more gun violence than any other city.” Chicago did have too many murders, but it didn’t have the gun laws then and it still doesn’t have them on the books today.
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