Last week a lawsuit that was filed in Chicago in 2018 was given the green light to proceed in the Federal courts which could possibly provide a new and different approach to reducing gun violence beyond what has now become a rather hackneyed and useless argument about how gun violence is a ‘public health threat.’
The suit names the Governor of Illinois and the Illinois State Police as defendants. It claims they are violating the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) because gun violence in Chicago creates emotional trauma that is responsible for ‘trauma-related disabilities’ in children, chief among them being cognitive and emotional functions which control learning and the ability to communicate properly with other kids. It’s a class-action suit brought by the mother of a 9-year old boy who saw his father gunned down in the street, and includes many other children living in what can only be described as Chicago’s war zone; i.e., the neighborhoods that have seen over 500 murders this year alone.
The suit names the Governor and the State Police as defendants because it argues that the gun violence which violates the ADA is the result of lax enforcement of the laws that cover the behavior of gun retailers around Chicago, thus resulting in guns that are first sold legally but then trafficked illegally into the neighborhoods where so many shootings take place. The suit lists 11 remedies that should be instituted in licensed gun shops, including the installation of video systems, inventory audits and more training of store personnel.
This lawsuit builds on a state law, ‘Combating Illegal Gun Trafficking Act,’ which took effect at the beginning of this year and requires all gun dealers in Illinois to install security systems, keep more comprehensive records of sales and submit to annual inventory audits, as well as only hiring staff who are licensed to own guns. The lawsuit basically claims that the state government and the state police have been lax in enforcing this new law, the proof cited is the extraordinary level of gun violence on the Windy City’s streets.
The problem with this lawsuit is that it assumes a causal connection between how well the government fulfills its regulatory responsibilities as listed in the law which took effect at the beginning of this year and the level of gun violence which occurs on the West Side and South Side of Chicago every day. In other words, if gun violence continues at its current horrific pace, this must be somehow tied to lax enforcement of the new law. The lawsuit cites data which shows that 40% of the ‘crime guns’ picked up by the Chicago P.D. were first purchased in gun shops located in suburbs around the city; hence, with stronger enforcement this flow of guns into high-crime neighborhoods would go down.
Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn’t. Like so many other laws which seek to prevent a specific commodity from reaching a specific market, the Illinois gun dealer law doesn’t take into account the issue of demand. And as governments have discovered since the sixteenth century when the Valois Monarchy tried to regulate the commerce of salt, if people want something badly enough, they’ll find a way to get around any law which tries to control supply.
This is the reason that I refer above to the ‘hackneyed’ arguments about gun violence being bandied about by my friends in public health. Because again and again I hear the gun-control community demanding that we enact stronger laws to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ But what if the size of the wrong-handed population keeps going up?
As long as songs like ‘Bullets Ain’t Got No Name’ are best-sellers on the hip-hop charts, the idea that guns will somehow disappear from high-violence neighborhoods because we pass another regulation is not only a joke, but demonstrates just how far away from reality the discussion about gun violence has moved.
Want to get rid of gun violence? Get rid of the you-know-whats, okay?