Fact-Check: Chicago Toughest On Gun Control? Claim Doesn't Hold Up
Facing questions from reporters on Oct. 2 about whether the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history would stir action on gun control, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called up a page straight from the campaign playbook of her boss.
“I think 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. That certainly hasn’t helped there,” Sanders said. “So, I think we have to, when that time comes for those conversations to take place, then I think we have to look at things that may actually have a real impact.”
Sanders’ statement was nearly identical to that of her boss nearly a year ago.
During his third debate with Hillary Clinton in October 2016, Donald Trump used Chicago to bolster his belief in the folly of fighting gun crime with stricter gun laws.
“In Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the United States, probably you could say by far, they have more gun violence than any other city,” Trump said.
Trump was correct that Chicago’s gun violence led the nation. But a check by PolitiFact Illinois revealed that he was wrong by a long shot about the city having “the toughest gun laws in the United States.”
Just about anyone who follows crime trends and gun regulations in the U.S. with any degree of seriousness knows by now that the “Chicago-as-gun-law-Mecca” charge is a canard that lost its last vestige of credibility more than four years ago, when Illinois became the last state in the nation to allow concealed carry of firearms.
Trump, following the rhetorical lead of many other strong gun rights advocates, has over the years frequently pointed to Chicago as “proof” that gun ownership restrictions not only fail to reduce crime, but exacerbate it.
The most stringent gun laws in the U.S. happen to be in Chicago - and look what is happening there!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2014
Sanders took Trump’s illogical and invalid argument a step further. Now Chicago’s handgun ownership history proves that mass shootings committed with automatic weapons can’t be prevented with legal restrictions.
Chicago’s reputation for strict gun laws is rooted in its 1982 ban on handguns. When the U.S. Supreme Court’s District of Columbia vs. Heller decision in 2008 struck down a similar ban in the District of Columbia, Chicago was the only major city left with a blanket handgun prohibition. The distinction didn’t last long.
In 2010, the high court followed up Heller with a ruling in McDonald vs. City of Chicago which nullified Chicago’s ban. At that, the concealed carry of firearms was still outlawed in Chicago as it was throughout all of Illinois.
Two years later, however, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Illinois concealed carry ban as unconstitutional and the state soon after became the last in the nation to approve concealed carry.
As we noted last year in fact-checking Trump’s Chicago-bashing:
With that, Chicago lost its status -- or its stigma, depending on your perspective -- of having the strictest gun possession laws in the United States. In comparably sized big cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the city administers the concealed-carry permitting process. In Illinois, the Illinois State Police processes applications, so it can be argued that Chicago has less autonomy in restricting concealed carry within its borders than do other cities.
We also noted last year that the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for stricter gun laws, found Illinois’ firearm laws too lenient in several ways, all of which still apply:
Illinois’ gun laws still are considered among the most restrictive when compared with other states. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for gun control, gives Illinois a B+ and ranks it No. 8 in the nation on its "Smart Gun Laws" report card. The group lauds Illinois for, among several rules, requiring firearm owners to obtain a Firearm Owners’ ID card that includes a background check and imposes a waiting period on firearm purchases.
But it also knocks Illinois for not requiring registration of firearms, for its lack of restriction on the purchase of multiple firearms and for not allowing local jurisdictions to regulate firearms. In other words, Illinois could make its gun laws much more strict than they are.
Seven states receive higher grades than Illinois in the latest Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence ratings.
In last year’s fact-check, we noted that Trump’s statement also could have been interpreted as Chicago having strict gun laws because it imposed strict penalties on those who violate them or use guns in crimes. Even staunch gun rights advocates have argued that this approach can be an effective crime deterrent where restrictions on lawful gun ownership are both unconstitutional and ineffective.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had for several years pushed unsuccessfully for a new state law containing harsher penalties for repeat gun offenders. A 2014 report by the Chicago Sun-Times found that lenient sentencing for gun offenders was a factor in repeat offenses. That was where things stood when Trump made his statement in 2016.
That changed on June 23, when Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a bill that, among other things, increased the minimum sentence for repeat gun offenders from three to seven years. Thus even the argument that Chicago favors getting tough on lawful gun owners over cracking down on gun criminals no longer applies.
Sanders, fielding questions about the impact of the Las Vegas massacre, pointed to chronic gun violence in Chicago as proof that tough gun laws were ineffective. “I think 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,” she said. “That certainly hasn’t helped there,”
There was a brief time between 2008 and 2010 -- the window during which Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban had been invalidated but Chicago’s still stood -- where that might have been true. But federal court rulings effectively undid city and state laws severely restricting gun use and ownership in the Chicago. When it comes to the concealed carry of weapons, Chicago has less authority to impose limitations than do many other large U.S. cities.
In the thick of the 2016 presidential campaign, we rated a nearly identical statement from then candidate Trump as Mostly False. Since then, similar claims have been uttered frequently by others and repeatedly debunked.
Sanders therefore has had ample opportunity to learn her boss had been flat wrong when making the same claim on the campaign trail. Her revival of the claim, made in the midst of the debate raging over the Las Vegas massacre, is at best intellectually lazy and at worst a deliberate attempt to mislead.
There’s no mitigating factor or missing context here. Sanders’ statement earns our lowest credibility rating, Pants on Fire.