The mass shooting at an Oregon community college last week thrust the debate over the nation's gun laws to the center of the presidential race. At least some of the Republicans who are running have pointed to Chicago as proof that gun control doesn't work.
The city has a reputation for having some of the country's strictest gun laws, yet it has experienced an increase in homicides and shootings this year, which Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina say proves their point.
"If you look at places like Chicago ... it's got some of the single toughest gun laws in the United States and it's a disaster," the billionaire businessman Trump said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," in August.
Christie, who is New Jersey's governor, echoed the sentiment Sunday, telling ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that homicides are up in cities like Chicago and New York, which he said have "some of the most aggressive gun laws."
Meanwhile Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, said last month that "Chicago would be an example" of how places with some of the most "stringent gun control laws" also have the "highest gun crime rates in the nation," according to Factcheck.org.
But Chicago's gun laws aren't as tough as their reputation suggests. They once were, but courts have overturned or gutted many of them in recent years, forcing a city that once banned handguns and gun shops to allow both of them.
Chicago's Vanishing Gun Restrictions
Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was determined to keep handguns out of residents' hands, and he fought every legal challenge to Chicago's gun restrictions during his 22 years in office. But the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a big blow to Chicago's gun laws in 2010 when it struck down the city's handgun ban.
Chicago quickly enacted a gun ordinance that proponents said included some of the nation's toughest regulations, but it was forced to scrap some of the provisions that most angered gun rights advocates.
Then after a federal appeals court struck down Illinois' last-in-the-nation concealed carry ban in 2012, gun rights advocates took aim at Chicago's decades-old ban on gun stores. The city lost that fight, too, and last year passed an ordinance allowing gun stores.
Where Are Today's Guns Coming From?
Even though gun shops can operate within Chicago's city limits now, none have opened up yet. That means that every gun that is owned legally or illegally in Chicago came from somewhere else. Just how many is unclear, but Chicago's police department seizes more illegal weapons than any other in the nation — nearly 20 a day for a total of 5,500 so far this year.
So, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed an ordinance to allow once-banned gun stores in the city, he simultaneously released a city report that blames gun sales elsewhere for much of Chicago's street violence.
According to the report, nearly 60 percent of recovered guns that were used to commit crimes in Chicago from 2009 through 2013 were first sold in states with more lax gun laws. Neighboring Indiana was far and away the biggest source, with 19 percent of all recovered guns having been sold there first. But they came from far and wide, with Mississippi being the second biggest source, at 6.7 percent.
The pipeline of guns from other states remains open, despite the lifting of many Chicago gun restrictions. Just days ago, a Chicago man who pleaded guilty to helping purchase 43 firearms from gun shows and individuals in Indiana to sell them on Chicago's South Side was sentenced to nearly three years in prison.
Angry about what they describe as a flood of illegal guns into the city, several Chicago residents filed a lawsuit this summer against three Chicago suburbs accusing them of lax oversight of local gun shops that they say have been an easy source of weapons for criminals who bring guns into the city.
Crime, But Enough Punishment?
Anyone who has attended one of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy's news conferences about gun violence knows it drives him crazy to hear about how Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the U.S. He says it simply isn't true.
What is true, he says, is that even when people are arrested for possession of illegal guns, they don't stay locked up for long. McCarthy, who spent the bulk of his career on New York City's police force, points out that former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was sentenced to 20 months in prison after he accidentally shot himself in the leg with an illegal gun. By contrast, he says the sentences being meted out in Chicago courtrooms are typically no more than six months.
An analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times bolsters McCarthy's argument that courts in Cook County, where Chicago is located, aren't nearly as tough on illegal gun possession as they might be. For example, the mandatory minimum prison sentence for illegal gun possession in New York is 3.5 years, but such a conviction in Cook County carries a minimum sentence of a year in prison and judges stick to that minimum term most of the time, the paper found.
That may not change anytime soon, either. Two years ago, several black Illinois state lawmakers blocked a bill backed by McCarthy and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would have imposed stiffer prison sentences on those convicted of illegal gun possession. The lawmakers viewed it as little more than a recipe to lock up more blacks and Latinos.