Chicago Police Superintendent: Gun Laws Play Huge Role In Lowering Gun Deaths

Robert Siegel talks to Garry McCarthy, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, about how he plans to address the homicides in his city.

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Garry McCarthy, the police superintendent of Chicago, favors tougher gun laws. The murder rate rose there last year even as it fell in New York. There were 506 murders in Chicago. New York had 414 with a population roughly three times the size. Superintendent McCarthy says he has a plan to fight gun violence in Chicago. It includes some familiar ideas: banning assault weapons and large capacity magazines, universal background checks as well as three-year mandatory, minimum sentences for illegal gun possession. But he told me, the one thing that would make the most difference, not only in Chicago but in the entire country, is requiring that the government be notified any time a gun is lost, stolen or transferred.

SUPERINTENDENT GARRY MCCARTHY: Because in the state of Illinois, somebody who is a legal purchaser of a firearm can go into any gun shop with their FOID card, buy firearms, walk out the door, hand them to whoever they want. There's absolutely no accountability for what happens to that gun. Now, what's the result of that? We had an officer who was shot back in March by the name of Del Pearson. He almost died. He lost three-quarters of the blood in his body. Fortunately, he survived. The gun that was used to shoot Del Pearson, there's one recorded transaction on that firearm. It was bought in Blue Island, Illinois, in 1972 by a 52-year-old woman who died in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2006. Absolutely no record of that firearm since 1972. Where has that gun been? Was it lost? Was it stolen? Was it a store purchase? We'll never know.

SIEGEL: If somebody purchased a gun and did not report it lost or stolen and that gun then were used in a crime, should the person who owned it be held liable in some way for the use of that gun?

MCCARTHY: You know, I guess, you're posing a question that says, should I be accountable for the guns that I buy?

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. Yes.

MCCARTHY: I would say yes, because it's pretty significant to lose a firearm that can cause the death of another. And the fact is the legal gun owner, the person who is not engaged in straw purchasing, will have an affirmative defense, and at the same time, there will not be a pattern where this person has purchased eight guns over five years and lost all five of them or eight of them.

Right now, when we recover a gun at the scene of a crime and I go back to you and I say: Robert, we just recovered your gun. And you say: Oh, thank you. I lost that. And that's the end of the story. That's unconscionable.

SIEGEL: Are law-abiding gun owners in Chicago part of the solution to law enforcement or part of the problem that you face?

MCCARTHY: I think, you know, the - I'm not ready to make a judgment on that because I support the Second Amendment. But what I am willing to say is the fact that reasonability in these gun laws is recognized by reasonable people, many of whom are gun owners. And if there were no special interests involved in this and it was put to a popular vote in this country today, I believe all of these measures would pass. They would pass muster because they're practical.

It's not saying you can't own a gun. It's saying that when you own a gun, there's accountability, and there's responsibility there. And at the same time, when you're not allowed to have a gun and you're illegally in possession of that firearm, there's a certainty of punishment, which is going to have an effect on crime rates.

SIEGEL: You came out of the NYPD. Your father was an NYPD detective.

MCCARTHY: Right.

SIEGEL: And you were in New York during a time when many things were done by the police department that helped bring crime rates down. And I want to ask you, apart from guns, in this case, given the number of killings in Chicago, was Chicago too slow to dispatch more police officers to the places, to the neighborhoods where crime and gun deaths were highest, perhaps away from other neighborhoods or other offenses or away from desk jobs for that matter?

MCCARTHY: I think in the past, we may not have been as focused on it as we are today. The fact is Chicago Police Department has done a good job of reducing crime. There's more that can be done. Obviously, since I ran crime reduction in New York City for seven years, I'm very familiar with what it is that the NYPD does. As a matter of fact, I implemented some of it and created some of it. And others, you know, I adopted, you know, all of it. That's what we're doing here. The fact is there's other things that have to happen if we're going to have a breakthrough and we could really knock those significant numbers down like the city of New York has. And guns laws plays a huge role.

SIEGEL: But there's also a story out of Chicago now that say in response to 911 calls, that policy will be different. There will be either burglaries or car thefts where the - there isn't an imminent danger. You won't be responding in the same way that you have been in order to keep more cops looking after violent crime. Is that one - is that something that might have been done a few months ago perhaps?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's something that I've been working on since I walked through the door. It wasn't as easy as one might think to just say, OK, this is what we're doing. And that's going to be a continuing operation. Chicago Police Department dispatchers are on somewhere in the vicinity of about 70 percent of the calls for service that come into our 911 center. That's way above the national average.

Most departments respond to somewhere in the vicinity of 50 percent. So as a result of that, our officers are responding to 911 calls instead of having patrol time to do aggressive police work to do quality of life enforcement, those things that we know that reduces crime.

SIEGEL: Well, Superintendent McCarthy, thank you very much for talking with us.

MCCARTHY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: Garry McCarthy, who is the police superintendent of Chicago.

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