Operation Push debates gun control & violence prevention

Operation Push debates gun control & violence prevention

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

With just a few of the nearly 7,500 illegal guns that were seized in the past year on a table in front of them, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, along with clergy, community activists and victims of violence gathered on Saturday at the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition headquarters to discuss the gun violence that has made Chicago the subject of headlines internationally and to exchange ideas on how to reduce the violence and the weapons on the streets.

McCarthy and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were joined at the Saturday morning forum by Annette Holt, the mother of Blair Holt, a 16-year-old gunned down in 2007 by a reputed gang member who opened fire on a CTA bus crowded with students on their way home from Julian High School, ex-alderman and radio show host Clifford Kelley, and the Rev. Otis Moss, pastor of Trinity United CHurch of Christ, as well as other clergy and people whose families have been impacted by violence.

"I've been a police officer for almost 30 years," McCarthy said, "and everybody says to me, ‘what's different about Chicago?' It's real simple -- guns are what's different about Chicago. Every year the Chicago Police Department seizes more guns than any other police department in the country." McCarthy said Chicago police officers seized 7,400 guns last year, "and every one of those is an armed confrontation with a criminal."

McCarthy brought a few of those seized guns to the PUSH headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., and they remained on display throughout the debate.

McCarthy and Kelley both said they were members of the National Rifle Association in their youth, at a time when, according to Kelley, the focus of the organization was responsible rifle ownership and gun safety.

Weighing the desire for gun control with concerns raised by law-abiding gun owners, McCarthy said, "I think there is a middle of the road solution – the 2nd Amendment says you have the right to bear arms. We know, as a reasonable people, that doesn't include hand grenades and rocket launchers."

He said the five things that can be done to control out of control gun violence were:

• Banning assault weapons,

• Banning extended magazines,

• Universal background checks for anyone who buys a firearm in the U.S.,

• Mandatory reporting of the sale, theft, or transfer of any firearm, and

• Mandatory minimum sentencing for illegal gun possession.

"All five of these points are reasonable, they do not tell somebody you cannot own a firearm," McCarthy said. "They will prevent the illegal sale and illegal transfer of firearms into gangbangers' hands that is wreaking havoc" throughout the country. Reflecting on the event that has spurred such discussion of gun violence and how to stop it, McCarthy said, "unfortunately it takes a tragedy like Newtown to occur to raise our consciousness."

McCarthy said he was not in favor of concealed carry, even when it is mentioned as a possible deterrent to crime. "When people say concealed carry, I say ‘Trayvon Martin,' he said. "The answer is not more guns."

That opposition to concealed carry, as well as any measure to arm more people, was echoed by Moss, who said, "we already have concealed carry in our community. People are concealing and carrying and shooting. Concealed carry does not make us safer. More guns do not make us safer. What makes us safer is economic opportunity, what makes us safer is homeownership.

"You want to stop violence?" Moss said, "you transform economic opportunity and the violence will stop."

He added the response to the city's violence might be different if it were happening in a different community, or if the victims were different. "If there were too many guns in the hands of wealthy white children we'd have a different response," Moss said. "Death is death, and all life should be elevated no matter the color of your skin."

McCarthy noted that in some communities that are beset by the worst violence, there is a widespread distrust of police, based on some past treatment of people in those communities by the police, therefore it's difficult to simply ask people to reject the "no snitch" culture, "I'm not here to defend the indefensible" actions of some police officers, he said, but McCarthy stressed that, "you are not a snitch if you are a witness or a victim to a crime."

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