Sen. Durbin talks gun control strategy in Chicago

CHICAGO – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy continued their push for tougher gun laws Friday, bringing along the parents of a girl whose shooting death in January put the city at the center of the national debate on firearms.

Nathaniel Pendleton said he was encouraged that the straw-purchase bill that is named after his daughter, Hadiya Pendleton, has a chance of becoming law after it was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

“I hate to say this because of my daughter, and I hate to be here for that reason,” said the father at a news conference at the police department headquarters, “but if something can come out of this, I’m grateful.”

At the same news conference, Durbin said he was encouraged that, when it came to the straw-sales bill, he didn’t detect significant resistance from Republicans.

“The others weren’t vocally negative,” he said about GOP members of the judiciary committee. “I don’t see strong opposition on this bill that I do on other aspects [of gun control.]”

But he said he was unsure whether various gun-control proposals making their way through Congress would stand a better chance of becoming law if they were introduced separately or all bundled into one bill.

“We are going to need to think this through,” he said.

Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student, was shot and killed in January by, allegedly by a man who, police say, mistakenly believed someone in a group of people she was with was a member of a rival gang. The shooting made headlines around the world, in large part because the girl was shot about a mile from President Barack Obama’s house and because the girl had recently returned from Washington, D.C. where she performed as a majorette during some of the president’s inauguration festivities.

Since then, first lady Michelle Obama attended the girl’s funeral in Chicago and Nathaniel and Cleopatra sat with the first lady during the president’s State of the Union address.

“We need to get common sense laws on the books,” Cleopatra Pendleton, Hadiya’s mother, said at the Friday news conference. “I want to appeal to Congress to let this go through.”

The bill Durbin is pushing would crack down on so-called straw purchasers, those people who buy guns legally and then provide them to criminals and others who are not legally allowed to carry them. Under the bill that both Durbin and the other Illinois senator, Republican Mark Kirk, supported, straw purchasers could be sentenced from 15 to 25 years in prison. The bill also would create the first federal statute that specifically criminalizes firearm trafficking.

“By taking steps to dry up the flow of illegal weapons to dangerous drug gangs, it is my hope that we will make our neighborhoods safer without compromising the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Kirk said in a statement.

In Chicago, where the number of homicides climbed past the 500 mark last year, McCarthy has championed tougher laws regarding straw purchasing, saying that such purchases are largely responsible for illegal guns spilling into Chicago — home to one of the strictest gun-control laws in the nation — and other nearby communities.

Durbin pointed to data that shows that around 10 percent of the guns used in crimes in Chicago came from Mississippi and that another 30 percent of those guns used in crimes came from the suburbs around Chicago.

McCarthy, whose force seized 7,400 guns last year — more than any other U.S. city — said that Chicago needs such federal legislation to slow the flow of illegal guns into the city and into the hands of violent street gangs.

“Chicago is not an island,” he said Friday. “With different laws throughout the country, we will be hard pressed to prevent that transfer of guns (to Chicago).”

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