The current United States Attorney General, a fellow Chicagoan, visited home last month, but it wasn’t to see old friends. Merrick Garland, the 86th Attorney General, was here to help the city stop the startling rise in gun violence this year. Turn on the local or national news each week and there will inevitably be a story about the number of people shot or killed in Chicago that past weekend. Take for example the Fourth of July weekend where at least 108 people were shot and 17 people killed. The nation is once again noticing shootings and murder are up in Chicago. Why is this happening? What do the leaders in the criminal justice system have to say about this? More importantly, do they have any solutions?
WHAT IS THE INCREASE
There have been 1,892 shootings through the end of June this year. This is almost a 12 percent increase compared to the same six month period in 2020 and a 53% increase since 2019. As for murders, there were 336 homicides in the first six months of the year, just two more than at this point in 2020, which was 33 percent more than 2019’s 252 homicides.
WHY IS THERE AN INCREASE?
That depends who you ask. The State’s Attorney, the Mayor, the Police Superintendent and the Chief Judge all point fingers at each other and offer their own hypotheses for the gun violence.
Are fewer people being charged with gun offenses such as Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon, Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm or other gun offenses? How about for First Degree Murder and Second Degree Murder? Or is it a problem of policing? Are the Chicago Police failing to do their job? Then again, is it the Courts? Are they letting too many violent offenders back on the streets? That depends who you ask.
COOK COUNTY STATE’S ATTORNEY
In Illinois, there is no offense of possession of a gun. Instead, it is called Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Unlawful Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon. According to Kim Foxx’s Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon is a “nonviolent” offense. These firearm offenses are designated as “nonviolent” because the firearm is not used or fired.
The number of arrests for these “nonviolent” Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon offenses has been going up over Kim Foxx’s time in office. Since 2014 the number of arrests for Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon has more than doubled. Of the 35,000 felony cases filed last year, 5,457 of them were for Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon. That is a significant number of people.
The State’s Attorney’s Office suggests that part of the increase is police arresting people who have never been arrested before. They also suggest that an increase in these types of arrests criminalizes people who have otherwise clean records by turning them into felons. According to their office, from 2011 to 2016, first-time Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon arrest never exceeded 300 a year. Each year since then has seen a dramatic increase. By 2020, there were more than 1,400, with this year on pace to exceed that number.
If that is the case, then many of these arrestees likely have Firearm Owner Identification cards (“FOID”). If you are arrested for Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon and you have a FOID card, but not a Concealed Carry License, you can be charged with a felony regardless of whether this is your first arrest. The key difference, however, between this type of Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon but without a FOID card is that you are eligible for probation. If you are arrested for an Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon without a FOID card, you are facing a class 4 felony conviction with a minimum of 1 year in prison regardless of whether or not this is your first arrest.
As the State’s Attorney’s Office points out correctly these “nonviolent” gun offenses have been on the rise. On the other hand, so-called “violent” gun offenses, according to their office, have been on a downward trend, as well as the rate at which the Chicago Police are solving these violent offenses such as Aggravated Discharge, Vehicular Hijacking, or First Degree Murder. For example, CPD made arrests in 44.5% of murder cases in 2020, down from 50.3% in 2019. Given the rise in the arrest of first-time offenders and the downward trend in arrests for “violent” offenses, the State’s Attorney’s claim that the police aren’t arresting the “right people” could have some merit. This claim is bolstered by her office’s data showing they are approving felony charges for 95% of violent gun offenses.
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