Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he supports more thorough background checks and a standard on federal gun prosecution Tuesday night during a South Side panel discussion with policymakers and scholars about the politics of guns in America.
The public meeting was on the eve of President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden’s announcement of a comprehensive gun control package, that calls on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban and law requiring background checks on all gun buyers. The sweeping gun control plan also included 23 executive orders that call for, among other things, additional provisions on background check for gun purchasers, improved access to mental health care, and an end to the ban on federal research on gun violence.
The package comes on the heels of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, which Obama has said was the worst day of presidency, among other recent mass killings with guns.
“My view is whatever you can do by executive order take care of it,” Emanuel said to veteran journalist Tom Brokaw, who moderated the University of Chicago Institute of Politics’ event.
It would be within the president’s authority to require U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to hold each U.S. Attorney’s Office to a standard on gun prosecution, Emanuel added.
“They should be measured and have to report and that is within the executive authority, because you have gun laws that sit on the books and do not get prosecuted while we’re adding other ones,” he said.
Emanuel added that he supports federal comprehensive background checks for buying a gun with a five-day waiting period, regardless if it’s a handgun, AK-47 rifle or an Uzi submachine gun, despite where it was purchased.
“I don’t want any criminal access to those guns or whatever type of gun they get,” Emanuel said, adding that comprehensive background checks would stand constitutional muster.
“I also believe it would pass the political test of can you build a bipartisan majority, and that would fundamentally tighten up a lot of part of lose ends that every law enforcement officer, regardless of suburban, rural, urban, would want today.”
Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, agreed with the mayor and said closing the background check exemptions would make huge progress against gun violence.
But he added that increased law enforcement efforts to crack down on underground gun markets and illegal gun trade are underappreciated in the discussion.
“The way that we do law enforcement in the United States right now, it’s very disproportionately locally driven,” Ludwig said.
“So what happens when you have something like the Great Recession? You have cities all over the country having to scale back, because they can’t run budget deficits. That’s exactly what you don’t want to do is have to scale back local employment during an economic downturn,” he added
Steven LaTourette, a former Republican congressman from Ohio, added that gun violence will get better if Congress and the president will “have the courage” to deal with the fiscal cliff and the budget deficit, leading to more services such as mental health and law enforcement investment.
Steve Chapman, editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune, said it’s important to focus on criminals and the people with records carrying guns illegally.
“What I’m afraid we’re going to do with things like the assault weapons ban, limits on magazines that you are going to do things that have an affect almost exclusively on people who are ... law abiding gun owners,” he said. “We’re going to waste a lot of time and effort on things that are actually going to have very little pay off.”
On the state level, Emanuel recently okayed the proposed legislation of two lawmakers that looks to add restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine sales while also requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to state police.
State Sen. Antonio Munoz and State Rep. Edward Acevedo’s pending bill also includes tougher punishment for people with clean records who purchase a gun for someone else.
The General Assembly is tasked with lifting the state’s ban on concealed carry after a three-judge panel in the 7th District U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it unconstitutional in December. Lawmakers have 180 days to create legislation.
Earlier this month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked that all 10 judges in the 7th District Court of Appeals rehear the case.
Emanuel is expected to introduce his own gun control measure at today's City Council meeting. He has also called for the city's pension funds to divest from any companies that may manufacture or sell assault weapons.
About halfway through the program, Brokaw asked how many of the audience members have fired a gun.
At least one person in each row of the performance hall at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts raised their hand.
“More than I was expecting,” he said.