It's pretty hard to get shot if you're in jail.
That's a major piece of the argument Chicago police made this week when they told the Chicago Sun-Times that tougher gun laws could have saved an estimated 74 people from getting shot and killed so far this year.
According to their internal review, 74 victims of gun violence in the city this year would have still been in jail for illegal gun possession if tougher sentencing rules were in place. Almost everyone charged with the crime receives the one-year minimum, the Sun-Times found, compared to the maximum sentence of three years.
On the other end of the barrel, 86 shooting suspects would also have been in jail on the same charge had they been given harsher sentences.
“The data underscore why we need to create a culture of accountability for those who engage in gun violence,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesperson of the department, of the police analysis.
The implications of the department's analysis are notable because they pit two core progressive talking points against each other.
On the one hand, progressives have long called for stricter gun laws in hopes of cutting down on gun violence in the wake of mass shooting after mass shooting.
On the other hand, many of those same people have also called for a reevaluation of mandatory sentencing laws for nonviolent crimes, which many argue disproportionately affect people of color and lead to mass incarceration of the inner city. (Illegal gun possession is not considered a violent crime.) “It brings compassion into the system,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NY) said earlier this month of a bill he helped draft that would significantly scale back mandatory sentencing laws.
With the majority of Chicago's gun violence concentrated in the majority-black South Side, a higher mandatory minimum for illegal gun possession would most likely affect the city's black community disproportionately. It could mean hundreds of black men receiving longer jail sentences every year.
But according to the police department, if 160 people had stayed in jail for longer last year, the streets would have been that much safer. As such, it seems there's a strong public safety argument to be made for higher mandatory minimums.
Through October 5, there have been 2,249 shooting victims and 370 murders in Chicago this year, a 21% rise over the same period of 2014, reported the Sun-Times.
You can't have it both ways. If you enact strict gun laws, those laws have to be enforced. The reality is that a tough set of gun control laws in a city like Chicago could actually widen racial inequality in the justice system.
With this data in hand, the police department is meeting with Chicago Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders to try to put together a bill that would codify harsher sentences for illegal gun possession.
"We have not quite fleshed out an ideal bill, but the bare minimum is that gun possession should be treated as a violent crime,” Guglielmi said.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.