Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, seen last year. (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times Media via AP)

After the Las Vegas massacre this month, which ended with 58 people killed and hundreds more injured, a reporter asked the White House whether President Trump’s views on gun control had changed. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, responded by making an argument Trump offered during the campaign almost a year earlier.

“If you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country,” Sanders said at a White House briefing. “That certainly hasn’t helped there.”

The point she was making, and similar ones Trump made during a presidential debate last year, was clear: Even if you impose gun laws, they won’t avert the bloodshed seen in Chicago, which has struggled to combat gun violence in recent years.

But Chicago does not exist in a vacuum. In a new report this week, police and city officials said the majority of what they consider “crime guns” originated outside Illinois.

The report comes as police in Chicago have repeatedly cited illegal guns as one of the key factors driving up the city’s death toll, which has drawn national attention and repeated criticism from Trump.

Between 2013 and 2016, six in 10 illegal guns recovered in Chicago came from outside Illinois, according to the report released Sunday. Neighboring Indiana was the state with the highest share of responsibility, with one in five illegal guns originating there, the report found.

“Crime guns” are described in the report as those recovered by the Chicago police and “illegally possessed, used, or suspected to be used in furtherance of a crime.” The overwhelming majority of all illegal guns found in Chicago were handguns.

“It is self-evident that the availability of illegally circulated firearms in Chicago is directly connected to its deadly street violence,” the report states. “Simply put, each conflict becomes potentially more lethal due to easy access to a gun.”

Eddie T. Johnson, the Chicago police superintendent, said one of the central issues the city faces is that a resident who wants guns can simply hop in a car and head to a nearby state — the Indiana border is a little more than a half-hour drive and the Wisconsin border a little more than an hour.

“Somebody from Chicago could go across the border to a gun show and fill up a duffel bag full of guns and bring them back into the city with no oversight,” Johnson said at a news briefing discussing the report. “So that hurts us.”

While most of the illegal guns in Chicago originated somewhere in Illinois or Indiana, other states producing a share included Mississippi, Wisconsin, Ohio and Kentucky, according to the report.

Gun violence continues to plague Chicago, though shootings and homicides have both declined from last year, when the city had 762 homicides, more than New York and Los Angeles combined. So far this year, more than 3,100 people have been shot in Chicago, down about 500 from the same point in 2016, according to a Chicago Tribune database. There have been 576 homicides in Chicago this year, according to the newspaper’s tally, down from more than 600 at this point last year.

Trump has invoked Chicago’s violence in speeches, interviews and tweets, at times criticizing local authorities and drawing pointed responses.

During one interview earlier this year, Trump called it “a problem that’s very easily fixable” and suggested local authorities were “being overly politically correct.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also tied Chicago’s local policies on undocumented immigrants to the city’s crime rates, a contention that Johnson rejected.

Trump threatened earlier this year to “send in the Feds,” which prompted uncertainty because federal resources already had been on the ground in Chicago and federal authorities regularly collaborated with police. In June, the Chicago police and federal authorities announced plans for an effort to target gun crimes.


A police evidence technician places markers next to bullet casings at a crime scene in Chicago last month. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP)

Chicago is often described as having some of the toughest gun policies nationwide, an image that is outdated and based on laws that are no longer in place, such as a handgun ban that was struck down and a gun registry that was eliminated.

Johnson, who disputed suggestions that Chicago’s gun laws are the nation’s toughest, also criticized what he called an inaccurate picture of the city that has taken shape as media coverage has focused on the city’s homicide rate.

“This national narrative about Chicago, a lot of it is factually incorrect,” he said. “This entire city isn’t on fire. We have certain parts of the city where we have a lot of this gun violence, and those are the parts of the city that we have to focus on.”

But the report ultimately ties the issues together, noting that the parts of the city facing gun violence are also the places where illegal guns are recovered.

“Not surprisingly, Chicago crime guns are recovered primarily in areas of the city with the greatest concentration of gun violence, corresponding to the need for police to focus on illegal gun possession or use,” the report states.

Further reading:

Violent crime and murder went up last year, the FBI says

Chicago’s death toll was so high last year it drove up the murder rate for the country’s biggest cities

Gun violence surges in Chicago, where residents want to show ‘everything is not all bad’

Chicago police, federal officials announce gun “strike force”