Anyone caught carrying an illegal gun within 500 feet of any senior housing in Chicago will face fines and, if they do it more than once, possible jail time ranging from 30 days to six months.
The ordinance was a brainchild of Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who introduced it in May 2017 in response to what he saw while visiting a senior home in his ward. The Chicago City Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance on May 25.
During an April 24 meeting of the council's Committee on Public Safety, the West Side aldermen in attendance expressed support for the idea, saying that seniors deserved special protection. At the same time, they acknowledged that laws alone won't solve the underlying issues that are responsible for crime and said that they planned to continue pushing for more jobs and educational opportunities on the West Side.
Taliaferro has said in the past that his ordinance was inspired by seniors who told him that they did no go outside because they were afraid of the drug dealers hanging out nearby.
"It's a common occurrence [the seniors] have to put up and deal with," Taliaferro told the committee. "And one young man clearly had a gun."
Under the ordinance, if a person is convicted of having or selling an assault weapon or high-capacity firearm magazine extension, they would have to pay a fine of no less than $1,000 and no more than $5,000 (in addition to any other charges and penalties they've incurred).
They would also need to spend no less than 120 days and no more than six months in jail. The penalties go up with every repeat offense. The ordinance also imposes penalties for illegally possessing a weapon laser sight, a silencer or a muffler, as well as less severe penalties for owning or selling a weapon that isn't a firearm.
During the Apirl 24 meeting, Talieferro told his colleagues that school safety zones and park safety zones showed that the concept could work.
"We enjoyed the benefits [of] in front of school safety zones," he said. "We enjoyed decreased [crime] in those areas. We also enjoyed decreased crime in the park district."
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said that her ward experienced the same issue, so she fully supported the ordinance.
"We should protect our seniors," she said. "Who is it that's going to protect the seniors if we don't? I am wholeheartedly in support of this ordinance and [I] thank you, Ald. Taliaferro, for your vision to create another tool that can be used to help to support the most vulnerable of our population, our seniors."
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes East Garfield Park, said that he supported that ordinance because he knew from experience that location is important to quality of life.
"Folks on the West Side have a different challenge," he said. "They don't live downtown. You can say all things you want to say, but seniors are terrorized in their own communities. I know seniors who have to call [people], saying, 'Can you watch me as I get in the car?' The West Side is totally different from Gold Coast. [In] the Gold Coast, you don't have to worry about that."
Burnett said that he sympathized with concerns that increasing penalties would increase the number of black youth in jail, which will increase the number of young people who would have trouble getting jobs once they are released.
"It's a challenge for us. We want to help those kids, save those kids,' he said. "But at the same time, we want them to respect the people, respect their neighbors"
One thing he wants to do, Burnett said, is to work with his colleagues to figure out a way "to make young folks know what the laws are" and make them realize that their bad behavior affects their mothers and grandmothers, too.
"By the time they learn the law, they may get locked up," he added. "We need to make sure they know what the laws are right now, so they can have [an understanding] – if they do this, this will happen."
Taliaferro said that he was well aware that law enforcement alone wouldn't solve the problems that create crimes.
"Each and every one of us are concerned that we provide educational opportunities as well, that we provide employment opportunities," he said. "We know law enforcement ain't going to be a cure-all, so we need to continue to push [for] educational opportunities and employment opportunities."
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