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Rahm adding substance to debate

Monday, Oct 28, 2013

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Back when Richard M. Daley was Chicago’s mayor, hizzoner would hold a big, splashy press conference every year with cops and prosecutors and crime victims to unveil his new state gun control legislation.

The Chicago media poobahs would shout their huzzahs, the NRA would fume and raise tons of money from angry members and then Daley would quietly go back to his job as mayor and nothing much would ever happen in Springfield.

Rahm Emanuel is not Rich Daley.

Mayor Emanuel’s Statehouse lobbyists are engaged in serious talks with the NRA and even the more strident Illinois State Rifle Association (something that Daley would never do, and vice versa) to try and work out a compromise on legislation to force convicted gun possession violators to remain in prison for a lot longer than they already are. Emanuel himself is said to be actively involved by phone.

It still remains to be seen whether Emanuel can succeed where Daley routinely failed. Some legislators said last week they believed the sides were closing in on a deal, but the NRA still had some objections.

The basic disagreement is over first-time offenders. Emanuel initially wanted some first-time gun possession offenders to do guaranteed prison time. The harsh reality is that too many people are getting light sentences for gun offenses, and then they’re coming out of prison to commit more gun crimes. The NRA, however, worries that otherwise innocent, law-abiding citizens who make a harmless mistake could wind up doing hard time.

One of the compromises currently on the table would force state’s attorneys to initially charge some first-time offenders with a misdemeanor but allow prosecutors to go through a detailed “felony review” process which could result in much more severe criminal charges.

But the NRA frets that hardline anti-gun Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez would abuse the process to lock too many of the wrong people behind bars.

Indeed, word from inside the talks is that the NRA brought up an example of a man with an out of state gun permit who has been fighting off a Cook County felony weapons possession charge for two years. The charges were reportedly dropped when the state’s attorney was put on the spot during negotiations.

The NRA understandably worries that Alvarez, who once said “I don’t believe that people should own guns,” and “I would favor a law that no one could ever buy a gun,” will continue playing hardball with gun owners who don’t have criminal records.

The NRA also finds itself in the somewhat unusual position of being allied with several African-American lawmakers who oppose additional mandatory minimum bills after seeing thousands of their constituents disproportionately locked up under current mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

But all of this is the way things work on just about everything else. It’s how things eventually get done. People on all sides with strong positions sit down and find a way to compromise. But up until last spring’s concealed carry negotiations, which were forced on Springfield by a federal judge, that hadn’t really happened on gun-related issues.

If they do come to some agreement, the next hurdle will be Gov. Pat Quinn. The governor has historically been loathe to offend African-American voters, so he has maintained an unusually low profile on Emanuel’s mandatory minimum proposals, not wanting to get caught in the middle.

Quinn told the Illinois Radio Network that he wanted a ban on high capacity gun magazines included in the sentencing bill discussions. Such a provision would be a deal-killer for the NRA and Quinn surely knows this.

The danger here is if Quinn tries to use a carefully crafted bill to grandstand on gun control, as he did this past summer with his splashy veto of the concealed carry bill after refusing to participate in the negotiations. If Gov. Quinn uses his amendatory veto powers to insert the magazine ban, he could quite probably tube the whole thing.

Then again, if somebody is murdered by a repeat gun offender after Quinn vetoes the bill, the heat on the governor would be enormous, and a vindictive Emanuel would undoubtedly fan the flames. Quinn needs to tread carefully here.

* The Tribune had a different take

State lawmakers routinely paid little notice to former Mayor Richard Daley’s annual requests for tougher firearms laws, especially by the end of his tenure. While Emanuel’s rhetoric may be even louder, his effort is obstructed by a variety of factors: incarceration costs, geography, race, conflicting academic studies and the unknown effects of a new Illinois law allowing qualified gun owners to carry firearms in public. […]

No matter how negotiations turn out, the politically mindful Emanuel is in a position to gain at least a short-term victory. If lawmakers fail to act, Emanuel can blame the General Assembly for the city’s struggles in dealing with violent gun crimes. Should lawmakers reach a deal, the mayor can claim an important crime-fighting tool, though its actual effectiveness won’t be known for years.

“All of us are fully aware of that. That is what we all talk about,” state Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, said of the political realities behind Emanuel’s gun-sentencing effort. The legislature’s black caucus is opposed to the mayor’s proposal as offered, however.

“We are 100 percent against the violent criminals who plague our communities,” Dunkin said. “We don’t want to see these urban terrorists. We detest them like a cancer … and we want them out of our community quick, fast and in a hurry. Locked up and in jail. But a mandatory minimum sentence across the board would have too many unintended consequences for nonviolent people.”

For Dunkin and other black lawmakers, the issue of gun violence is outweighed by a deep-seated mistrust of prosecutors using their discretion to pursue cases requiring automatic prison sentences rather than allowing judges to have some ultimate leeway. The city’s African-American community has seen high incarceration rates as well as a return of released offenders from prison unable to find employment, so black lawmakers traditionally support tougher regulations and restrictions on the availability of firearms. That approach has been gutted by the state’s new concealed carry law that prohibits larger cities including Chicago from enacting their own gun laws.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


17 Comments
  1. - c - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 9:56 am:

    i’m sure quinn will stick his nose in and kill the entire thing off.


  2. - x ace - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 9:59 am:

    Perhaps if the Cook County ” anti- gun” State’s Attorney’s Office would just enforce the current laws properly and effectively then all this talk and compromise on “new laws” would be unnecessary.
    Downstate prosecutor’s seem to do a pretty good job of separating the minor stuff from major crime within the framework of the existing laws. And on the major stuff they seem to get tough sentences compared to Chicago .

    So why doesn’t the Cook County State’s Attorney just look at the State statistics and get off their duffs and start seeking tough sentences ?


  3. - Demoralized - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 10:21 am:

    Nothing is easy in this state when it comes to guns. There’s about as much trust between the parties as there is between the Israeli’s and the Palestinians. There’s about as much chance of solving the differences between the parties involved in the gun debate as that too.


  4. - RonOglesby - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 10:29 am:

    As they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows!


  5. - MrJM - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 10:54 am:

    “I don’t believe that people should own guns,” and “I would favor a law that no one could ever buy a gun”

    Setting aside those damning quotes, can anyone point to any events or occasions that mandatory minimum proponents could point to as evidence of the trustworthiness of Cook County State’s Attorney?

    Even one?

    – MrJM


  6. - John Boch - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 11:07 am:

    Nice piece, Rich. Well stated.


  7. - Logic not emotion - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 11:27 am:

    MrJM: Any system that results in something like the following merits review…

    http://www.myfoxchicago.com/story/23470922/edward-hambrick-freed-from-jail-after-gun-law-ruled-unconstitutional


  8. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 11:53 am:

    === Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez would abuse the process ===

    This is why we can’t have nice things.


  9. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 11:54 am:

    Anita has lost the trust of many leaders in both parties.

    It is bad when any elected official loses public trust or skews the system to benefit friends. It is worse when that official is sworn to uphold and enforce the law.

    Skew the system? Lose trust.

    Lose trust? The system bogs down and progress stalls.

    Anita needs to go.


  10. - crazybleedingheart - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    It’s a great question, isn’t it, MrJM? Forget the other 101 counties (most of which don’t seem to want or need this law in order to prosecute illegal guns) - if the single states attorney ASKING for this law can’t be trusted to administer it, what’s the point of further “discussion” among legislators, the NRA, or anyone else?


  11. - Rollo Tomasi - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 12:28 pm:

    Rahm does not to be mayor of Chicago. It’s is only a weigh station on his road to the White House. If Hillary would announce today and pick him as the VP he’d be gone in a heartbeat. So he needs a issue he can champion. Remember never let a crisis go to waste. Even if it means taking health care away from 95 year olds. Meanwhile his brother Ari is cleaning up in Chicago while Rahm is Mayor.


  12. - wordslinger - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 12:50 pm:

    –Meanwhile his brother Ari is cleaning up in Chicago while Rahm is Mayor.–

    Huh?


  13. - MrJM - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 1:29 pm:

    WS,

    Ari Emanuel is the CEO of William Morris Endeavor, which co-owns Lollapalooza.

    You can read about Lollapalooza’s “most favored festival” status (which preceded Rahm’s election) here: http://capitolfax.com/2012/01/31/is-lollapalooza-stiffing-the-state/

    and here: http://chicagoist.com/2012/03/15/city_extends_lollapalooza_until_202.php

    – MrJM


  14. - wordslinger - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 1:35 pm:

    Thanks, Mr.JM


  15. - walkinfool - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 2:32 pm:

    Rahm pulls all available levers.

    Daleys believed they owned the only one.


  16. - Just The Way It Is One - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 5:57 pm:

    That’s REALLY interesting info. about the Mayor’s Brother Ari’s connection to Lollapalooza…and the first time I ever heard, read, or speculated about the blatant NEGATIVITIES of such a connection–i.e. even if it’s not illegal, it SURE doesn’t look GOOD at all for Mr. “Reformer” Rahm!!!


  17. - RNUG - Monday, Oct 28, 13 @ 6:17 pm:

    MrJM’s link back to Rich’s former thread was very interesting, especially the comment by Yellow Dog Democrat about it being illegal to charge admission fees in public parks and citing the cases.

    I can attest that Conservation enforces that rule at folk music festivals I’ve attended in State parks; the fest organizers can only ask for contributions … they can’t charge an admissions fee.


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