CHICAGO – Authorities from two high-crime regions of Illinois detailed some out-of-state sources responsible for the illegal flow of guns and the problems with prosecuting such crimes during Wednesday’s first meeting of a legislative group aimed at studying the issue.
Illinois State Police officials told lawmakers that most of the problem isn’t large-scale trafficking operations, but so-called individual straw purchasers. Those people – like a family member or girlfriend – buy guns legally and provide them to criminals and others who are barred from carrying them. In one recent Chicago-area criminal investigation, hundreds of guns came from Mississippi, where gun laws are more lax, officials said. Mississippi and neighboring Indiana are among the biggest suppliers of illegal guns in the Chicago area.
Lawmakers formed the Illinois Gun Trafficking Task Force earlier this year through a House resolution.
“The biggest public health problem we have is gun violence,” said state Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Chicago Democrat who called for the group. “We’ve got to cut off this flow of guns.”
He said the idea is to gather information and understand the problem, both around the Chicago area and around the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis. Legislators will present findings to the state House, Senate and Gov. Pat Quinn as early as November.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said the prosecution rate for straw purchasing is low, in part because those charged with crimes have little incentive, such as a plea deal, to tell authorities the gun’s origins.
“The case of where the guns are coming from dies very early on in the process,” he said. “It’s very difficult to make those cases.”
His region includes East St. Louis, which has long experienced a high rate of violent crime.