CHICAGO IS INFAMOUS for its legacy of gangsters and organized crime, which used to thrive with just a few winks and nudges from the city’s corrupt political bosses. Today, a modern form of this has sprung up in the Windy City—only this time, the victims are law-abiding gun owners.
Under Mayor Richard Daley’s supervision there is now an elite police unit dedicated to confiscating guns -- The Chicago Anti-Gun Enforcement Unit (CAGE). The Chicago Police, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office, and the Illinois State Police operate CAGE in joint harmony. According to the Illinois State Rifle and Revolver Association (ISRA) CAGE is now targeting law-abiding citizens who own guns rather than chasing illegal gunrunners.
The people being targeted are not career criminals, but citizens who have previously registered firearms in compliance with state and local laws, and then have forgotten to either re-register the firearm or keep their Chicago Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card current.
CAGE went to court and was successful in obtaining a list of every American who purchased more than one handgun in the course of a week. The list includes not only names and addresses, but also information about those firearms. Additionally CAGE is compiling a list of families with more than one member holding a FOID card. Armed with that information they visit gun shops to discover what those persons purchased. By reviewing the information contained on state and federal forms filled out by the purchaser, CAGE is creating a registration list.
With this information CAGE can compare the Chicago gun registration list against FOID cardholders. They are obviously looking for gun owners who have not re-registered their firearms within the proscribed time or have let their FOID cards lapse. Their first arrest was of a person who had originally registered his legally-owned firearms, but later forgot to re-register and let his FOID card lapse. This peccadillo—a mere paperwork violation—is hardly the work of a career gunrunner.
Mayor Daly and his CAGE unit aren’t the only ones targeting gun owners. Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan is trying to make a name for himself in law enforcement circles by conducting his own sting operation against private-party firearms sales. Ryan has been pushing his agents to violate Illinois law in order to get people to sell them "illegal" firearms over the Internet. Could this "tough-on-crime" charade be a political ploy by Ryan? After all, in Illinois primary elections are in March and 2002 is an election year.
According to the Associated Press, Ryan’s agents were able to procure some firearms: a semi-automatic pistol and two so-called assault weapons. However most of the cases could not be prosecuted either for a lack of evidence, or because Ryan violated an Illinois law prohibiting entrapment operations. The sting, which resulted in only one conviction -- Christopher Tocco of Goodrich, Michigan who pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a machine gun--has been severely criticized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which was excluded by Ryan. Maybe Ryan did not want BATF to know he was following their playbook, which was responsible for the tragedy at Ruby Ridge almost 10 years ago.
It’s no wonder that public opinion of law enforcement is not very high these days. In order to increase prosecutions, law enforcement officials instead look for the easy mark. After all, finding the real gun traffickers--who don’t apply for FOID cards--or criminals who use guns illegally, involves real police work. It’s much easier to read computerized printouts of lawful gun owners, who unwittingly let their FOID card lapse.
This sheer laziness might be understandable if only the real criminals weren’t under their very noses. The Chicago Police Department had been unable to catch a bandit who was stealing firearms and other goodies from their storage area for years. Only recently did they discover the bandit was the police department janitor.
In Chicago they appear unable to catch the real crooks--so instead they are working hard to criminalize law-abiding gun owners. Perhaps Chicago’s political bosses think the city’s residents should get some "law enforcement" for their tax and graft payments. But like in the days of Al Capone, that money doesn’t buy very much.