Police chiefs issue joint plea for background checks for all gun sales

Senior law enforcement officials at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago link access to firearms and an uptick in homicide rates across urban areas in the United States this year.

Jim Young/Reuters
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy attends a news conference at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago, Ill., Monday.

Aware of the influence of the gun lobby, and inaction in Congress, police chiefs from across the United States are demanding universal background checks for firearms purchases, citing support from the majority of American people in opinion polls.

Senior law enforcement officials at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago link access to firearms to an uptick in homicide rates across urban areas in the US this year.

Calling it “the simplest thing in the world,” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and his colleagues told reporters at a news conference that they were not anti-gun, they just want to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of those with criminal backgrounds.

Chicago has more shootings and killings than other large cities like New York and Los Angeles, Superintendent McCarthy said, and is a city that seizes illegal guns at a much higher rate, and that is what made him so passionate about coming up with a potential remedy.

Behind the chiefs are a diverse range of law enforcement groups that have come together on the issue. Among them, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and groups representing women, Hispanic, and African-American leadership in law enforcement, as well as campus security administration.

Licensed dealers are already required to perform background checks, but the regulation does not apply to private sales or gun shows, which account for up to 40 percent of gun purchases, according to the chiefs.

The police chiefs are asking for expanded mandates on background checks so anyone who buys a firearm is checked, and for a more robust network of records to guarantee all agencies have the same criminal and mental health backgrounds.

According to a Gallup poll published last week, 55 percent of Americans preferred tighter regulations on gun sales, a policy the National Rifle Association generally opposes. Those who are pro-gun often cite Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms in opposing background checks for gun buyers.

At a closed-door meeting held at The Justice Department last week, mayors and police chiefs met to come up with solutions to the steep rise in crime. FBI Director James Comey said the "very disturbing" homicide rate has law enforcement urgently looking for reasons why the increase is happening now, and why it is seen in cities that otherwise do not appear to have much in common.

"It's happening all over the country, and it's happening all in the last 10 months," Comey told the House Judiciary Committee.

Washington, D.C., counted 88 homicides in 2012, and 128 have already happened this year. In Chicago, there have been 385 murders as of Oct. 18, an increase from 323 on the same date last year. Police in New Orleans report an increase, too, from 71 in the first half of 2014 to 92 in the same time period this year.

It is worth noting that while the steep increase in murder rates is troubling, the fact that it comes on the heels of years of declining violent crime makes it appear particularly stark.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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