CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Urban League has urged lawmakers not to pass legislation that would increase sentences for repeat gun offenders, saying it would only lead to more black people in prison and cost taxpayers millions, while not helping reduce violent crime.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson backed the legislation to increase penalties for repeat gun offenders, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel also lobbied in favor of the measure, but the Urban League said it won’t help reduce gun violence in Chicago.
In testimony submitted on the legislation earlier this year, Urban League President and CEO Shari Runner said the measure “targets people possessing guns, not shooting guns.”
“It casts too wide of a net, failing to consider criminal justice risk factors that have been tied to future violence, such as previous violent acts within the home or neighborhood,” she said.
The legislation would increase the sentencing guidelines for judges handing down sentences for repeat gun offenders. Instead of a range of 3 to 14 years in prison, the guidelines would be 7 to 14 years. If a judge wanted to hand down a lesser sentence, they would have to explain why.
The House approved the legislation on Monday, but the House Black Caucus temporarily held up the proposal, arguing there is no proof tougher sentences would drive down crime, and would only lead to more minorities being locked up. The hold has since been removed, and the Senate is moving forward with likely passage on Wednesday.
The Urban League said mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges decimated the black community, leaving children without parents, and branding young people with criminal records. The group said the gun crime bill — although it does technically impose mandatory minimums — would be more of the same.
Chicago Police First Deputy Supt. Kevin Navarro said race is not the issue.
“I think what it’s going to do is lead to the arrests of the right people: repeat gun offenders, regardless of race, creed, or color. So that’s the important thing,” he said.
The Urban League argued the new sentencing guidelines would only put more black people in prison, and cost taxpayers millions.
Runner also said the legislation doesn’t address the wide availability of guns in minority neighborhoods, or to crack down on illegal gun trafficking.
“This bill, were it to become law, would have no lasting impact on gun violence in Chicago, because it does not address the root causes that underlie violence: gun availability, poverty, trauma and the disinvestments in neighborhoods, schools and services that disadvantage families and communities,” she said.