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Jody Weis wasn’t the only ex-city official that new police chief Garry McCarthy attempted to distance himself from on Monday. He also signaled a distaste for the gun control policies of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“My goal is to bring the gun debate back to the center,” McCarthy told aldermen. “I think that we have abolitionists on one side and I think that we have NRA and those kind of folks on the other side, and frankly it’s too polarizing a debate, and 95 percent of the country is somewhere in between.”
That is not something that would have been uttered by a Chicago public official a month ago. Daley was a relentless advocate of tough gun control laws—one of the “abolitionists” McCarthy referred to—and he tolerated no open dissent in city government.
Nearly every year he was mayor, Daley responded to the annual warm-weather surge in violence by calling for tougher gun laws at the state level. When reporters questioned him about crime, he would go off on rants about guns, the NRA, access to guns, gun manufacturers, and Supreme Court justices who didn’t see it his way. Daley and police officials, including Weis, boasted of how many guns they seized off the street—an average of nearly two dozen a day, at last count—but ducked and dodged (and sometimes did other strange things) when asked what that said about the effectiveness of local gun laws.
Daley ordered city lawyers to fight a challenge to Chicago’s 28-year-old handgun ban all the way to the Supreme Court, even after justices had struck down a similar law in Washington, D.C. When the court essentially knocked down Chicago’s ordinance last year, he muscled the City Council into enacting a replacement within four days—even though law enforcement officials rarely use the local laws.
The city ordinance remains one of the strictest in the country. It allows gun registrations, but limits possession to the home and requires owners to undergo classroom training, travel outside the city for time on a range, and submit to a third background check (two were already required under state law).
Daley’s fire and ire on the subject extended into his last press conference with reporters this spring, when he railed against supporters of a proposed state conceal-and-carry law. “Go to your church and someone sitting next to you has a loaded weapon—if that’s want you want in your country, I feel sorry for you,” he said.
Rahm Emanuel hasn’t signaled a major change in policy. The plan released by his transition team—which he calls the “scorecard” for his administration—promises to “strictly” enforce the city’s law and to press for stronger gun control legislation at the state and federal levels.
The report also pledges to step up efforts to trace illegal weapons and to track information about gun crimes and gun offenders. “Data will be made available to the public through existing technology platforms,” the report says.
McCarthy appeared to take a bolder step in his testimony before the council’s public safety committee Monday. “The Chicago Police Department does an incredible job of getting guns out of criminals’ waistbands—every year this city basically leads the country in gun recoveries,” he said. “That’s not good enough. The question is, what do we do after that?”
He said there were plans in the works for stanching the flow of illegal weapons into the city. But, he added, “that’s something I can’t go into right now unless you want to take a lot more time.”
The aldermen didn’t.
Still, 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke had another question about gun enforcement a little later. Burke noted that last year the council passed an ordinance requiring the police department to create a gun offender registry. Like similar databases for sex offenders, the registry would keep a log of the whereabouts of anyone convicted of city, state, or federal gun laws. The idea was taken from similar efforts in Baltimore and in New York City, where McCarthy was a cop for 25 years.
The only problem, Burke said, was that the Chicago Police Department has yet to implement the ordinance.
“I was actually one of the big proponents of that philosophy in New York City—I’m a big believer in it,” McCarthy said. “We all know that it’s a small percentage of the population that commits a vast majority of the crime. Anything that we can do as far as interceding in gun violence, we need to do.... I have the experience, I know what we did in New York, and want to be able to do it here and I will do it here because I think it’s a critical component of what we do.”
That’s when McCarthy offered his unsolicited thoughts on the “polarizing” debate that he says has taken over discussions about gun policy. He said he wanted to look at the issue differently.
“I think that we can protect the Second Amendment rights of people to bear firearms while at the same time preventing the illegal flow of firearms into our urban centers and killing our children,” he said. “That’s a pretty wide gap, and there’s someplace in between that we can come as a country.”
McCarthy noted that he’s the chairman of a policy committee on gun control for the Major Cities Chiefs Association. "That’s one of the things I’m committed to. And with a platform like Chicago, Illinois, I think we can bring attention to the matter and get something done.”
He didn’t specify what that something would be.