CHICAGO – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin campaigned in his home state Friday for gun control legislation he co-sponsored in Washington this week, including an assault weapons ban.
The Illinois Democrat, who was joined at a Chicago news conference by the city’s police superintendent, acknowledged that it will be difficult to get the legislation passed but said he is optimistic nonetheless. He echoed a sentiment many others have expressed over the past month: that the slayings of 20 small children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school was the “tipping point” that should persuade lawmakers to enact tougher gun laws.
“What will it take to move Congress when it comes to sensible gun laws? It took Newtown, Connecticut.,” Durbin said. “Now the conversation is much more serious and the opportunities are dramatically better.”
In addition to the assault weapons ban, Durbin has proposed a bill that would crack down on so-called straw buyers, or people who buy guns on behalf of people who aren’t allowed to own them.
Durbin is among several prominent Democrats following President Barack Obama’s lead in pushing for tougher gun laws. Obama has cited the gun violence in his hometown of Chicago as part of his push to tighten the nation’s gun laws.
In Washington on Friday, Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago reintroduced the Trafficking Reduction and Criminal Enforcement Act, which is designed to hinder the illegal gun market by improving gun tracking data.
Illinois’ other U.S. senator, Republican Mark Kirk, is working with Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Joe Manchin of West Virginia on legislation targeting gun trafficking.
“Proud to partner w/(at)Senator Kirk to introduce the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act next week — common sense bipartisan gun safety reform,” Gillibrand tweeted Thursday. Kirk’s office confirmed the senator’s involvement Friday.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sent a proposal to the City Council that would increase jail time for anyone who fails to report their guns have been lost, stolen or sold, while Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle introduced an ordinance that calls for a $1,000 fine to anyone who doesn’t report the loss, transfer of theft of a firearm within 48 hours.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who has placed greater emphasis in recent weeks on showing off the illegal firearms, including assault weapons, that his department has been seizing, said a federal law on straw buyers is needed because the state law is so weak.
“The requirements to make a case for straw purchasing are so stringent that it’s almost irrelevant,” he said. You basically need an admission (of making a straw purchase) to make it happen.”
After Durbin said the straw buyer bill would include a maximum 30-year prison sentence, McCarthy said that even though city residents are required to report the theft of a firearm, the maximum penalty is only six months in jail, “which is something a criminal laughs at.”
McCarthy said there is no doubt that tougher gun laws translate into fewer guns on the street. He said thn laws in New York City, where he was an officer for years and which is home to more than twice as many people as Chicago, are a big reason why police seize far more guns each year in Chicago than in any other city.
“This year through Sunday we seized 450 firearms,” he said. “New York City seized 99 during that same time frame.”