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Are Arrests For Illegal Gun Carrying An Effective Police Tactic?

An article on an increase in Chicago police arrests for illegal gun possession has run into flak from some criminologists.


Last week, The Marshall Project reported that between 2010 and 2022, officers in Chicago made some 38,000 gun arrests, most of them felonies.


The website said that most people convicted in Illinois for felony gun possession don’t commits violent crimes, and most people sentenced to prison for gun possession don’t have past convictions for violence.


The story said that racial disparities in such gun arrests are glaring. Blacks comprise less than one third of Chicago's population, but they were more than 8 in 10 of those arrested for unlawful possession, mostly men in their 20s and 30s.


Arrestees "faced damning criminal records, time on probation, job loss, legal fees and car impoundments," the article reported. It concluded that "these tactics have not substantially reduced shootings in Chicago. In fact, as possession arrests skyrocketed, shootings increased, but the percentage of shooting victims where someone was arrested in their case declined."


Both candidates in the city's coming mayoral election, Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas, bare backing tough-on-gun policies to address public safety.


The article quoted Yale law prof. James Forman Jr. as saying, "People are for ‘gun control’ but against ‘mass incarceration. They haven’t thought about how this particular form of gun control ends up helping to produce and sustain mass incarceration.”


The Marshall Project's "irresponsible article reflects a disturbing deepening of the hard left's opposition to anything related to law enforcement, no matter how urgent the problem or necessary the response," charged criminologist Thomas Abt of the University of Maryland on Twitter. Abt called on journalists to "ask the hard questions. Request data and evidence. Demand workable alternatives. Articles like these are supported with anecdotes and flimsy references to data - do better than this." Abt contended that, "There's a large body of evidence showing that addressing critical high-risk behaviors can pay dividends in terms of reducing shootings and saving lives. Just look at any number of hot spot and problem-oriented policing evaluations - there are literally dozens of them. He continued, "Mass arrests and mass incarceration are never the answer, but left's obsession with only one form of racial equity ... is going to get people killed. It's that simple."

Abt acknowledges racial disparities in arrest numbers, but he argues that they "don't come from the strategy, they come from centuries of de jure and de facto racial discrimination ... All the evidence shows we need targeted law enforcement to complement community-based approaches to be effective in reducing crime and violence, yet some progressives simply cannot accept this."


Peter Moskos of John Jay College of Criminal Justice also was critical of The Marshall Project's approach, tweeting that, "The progressive abolitionists left will chip away at police and prosecution until there is nothing left. Going after gun laws and gun enforcement is probably their most pernicious move. No, enforcing gun laws is not racist like the war on drugs."

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