Nov 15 2010

Illinois Finding More Ways to Criminalize People: New Gun Laws on the Way…Please Spread the Word


I received the following e-mail from the tireless and dedicated Kathy Bankhead who spent years as the chief prosecutor in juvenile court in Cook County. Kathy is one of those prosecutors who just “gets it.” Anyway this is supremely disturbing news… Spread the word far and wide across the state.

A warning to the wise:
Illinois’ crime rate is at or lower than the crime rate in the 80s according to all objective data. The prison population is down in Illinois as well. You may recall that the State wanted to close a wing of Stateville prison or Pontiac prison in order to save money because the prison space was not needed. You may also remember that Thomson prison was never able to fully open because the anticipated incarceration of “Chicagoans” didn’t happen.

Neither Pontiac nor a wing of Stateville were closed because of community and union concerns and protests about lost jobs and decreased economic opportunities. The feds are buying the Thomson facility which employed 77 people for 136 inmates. No one seems very concerned about that government waste of our tax dollars.

This year a new law named for a police officer who was killed by a gang member on probation for a handgun offense was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. No, it wasn’t a gun control law, like the one the State’s Attorney proposed last year which would have required that lost or stolen guns be reported within 24 hours. It wasn’t a law passed to in order to increase the odds of tracking down and prosecuting gun runners/traffickers. The law had nothing to do with reducing the supply of guns making their way onto the streets and making their way into the hands of the stupid, the scary or the criminal. It wasn’t a law that increased the penalty for being a felon with a gun. It is illegal for felons to possess a gun or ammunition in Illinois.

Gun laws in Illinois: Unless specifically exempted by statute, any Illinois resident who acquires or possesses firearms or firearm ammunition within the state must have in their possession a currently valid Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card issued in his or her name. http://www.isp.state.il.us/docs/ptfire.pdf

Most Illinois laws make it a FELONY to illegally possess a gun in Illinois. (This is not a complete rundown of the law, nor is it intended as legal advice, though it is good advice)

The new law states that any gang member illegally in possession of a gun is guilty of a Class 2 felony which is usually punishable by probation or 3 to 7 years incarceration, must be sentenced to 3 to 10 years in the penitentiary. Probation is not an option. Note: “A [20 year old] West Chicago street gang member today became the first person in DuPage County to be convicted and sentenced under a new state law that makes it illegal for a gang member to have a gun in his possession…[He was] sentenced him to five years in prison…”.

In January 2011 probation will not be available to any person guilty of illegally possessing a gun without a FOID card. It will mean 1 to 3 year prison sentence.

The effect will be increased incarceration of Illinoisans, particularly those from Cook County. This will continue the vicious downward spiral, especially for young men with limited resources/opportunities, of arrest, prosecution, felony conviction, incarceration, parole, further reduced resources/opportunity, recidivism…that increases danger and decreases public safety for the communities from which they come and to which they return, thereby making those communities even less desirable – decreasing resources and opportunities for other young people in the community who then enter the criminal underground economy. Eventually, they will be begin the cycle of arrest, prosecution, felony conviction, incarceration, parole, further reduced resources/opportunity, recidivism…

The purpose of these laws is to decrease gun violence by deterring illegal possession of guns. Interestingly, there has been no educational/informational ads or announcements about these laws and the enhanced penalties. An aggressive public service education campaign aimed at those most likely to be arrested for violating these laws would surely do more to reduce illegal gun possession and the inevitable violence that follows and consequently increase public safety and opportunity for positive individual and community outcomes than imprisonment.

The effect of the new laws will be an increase in incarcerations. The communities whose economies depend on prison populations will be the only ones who benefit in the long run as our prison population and taxes required to maintain them will surely rise.

There has been a lot of talk lately by government officials and community members about “reentry”; I feel a cottage industry about to begin. But that’s a discussion for another time.

It is critical that this information be shared, so that we are able decrease violence, increase opportunity and do not increase the prison population.

What can you do? Please tell everyone, especially young people about the new laws. They are too complex for a full airing in this note, so tell them this:

1. Stay away from guns and ammunition and tell your friends to stay away too, until you are old enough to legally possess them.

2. Having a gun on you, in your house, in your car or the car you are riding in will lead you straight to prison, even if you’ve never been in trouble before.

3. Being in a gang or hanging around with gang members (even your friends) with guns nearby will lead to a long prison sentence even if you have never been in trouble before.

4. If you have a bright future or dream of one, illegal gun possession is the best way to turn your dream into a nightmare. Or, if you have limited resource and opportunities and think it’s tough now, if you think you have few options for success now, get a felony conviction, go to prison and see how much worse it gets for you and your family.

The Illinois State Police used to have a pamphlet on guns laws, but it is outdated. The laws change so fast it is hard to keep up. If anyone has a specific question about gun laws, legal ownership, transportation etc I may be reached at work (773) 783-5100 or by email kathleen.bankhead@cookcountyil.gov.

Please make sure as many young people as you know learn about this and pass it on to young people they know: Facebook, Twitter, email, text message, phone call, announcement in the church bulletin. Get the word out!