Suburban gun shops at close range
Chicago has one of the toughest gun laws in the nation. But our investigation has found handguns readily available at close range, just beyond the city limits, in the suburbs.
The I-Team has been on the trail of illegal guns for several months. We have spent days staking out several suburban gun stores, then following customers back to their homes in the city. City residents are making easy, perfectly legal retail gun purchases in the suburbs that become illegal once they cross the city line.
Delores Bryan is a widow who lives in Chicago. With a handshake from a clerk at Chuck's Gun Shop in Riverdale, she's a gun owner, too.
"They didn't tell you at the time that it is illegal to have a handgun in your house?" ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie asked.
"They didn't discuss that with me," Bryan said.
It has been illegal to register a new pistol or revolver in Chicago for 25 years. But that city ordinance hasn't stopped Chicagoans from buying handguns in the suburbs and keeping them in their homes. Some of them end up being used to commit stickups and murders.
"About 70 percent of the guns that are recovered in crimes in Chicago and the suburban areas come originally within the State of Illinois," said Andrew Traver, ATF special agent in charge.
Thirty-seven Chicago public school children have been killed by guns since the beginning of the last school year. Chicago policeman Michael Ceriale was murdered in 1998 by a gang shooter with a gun that originally came from a suburban store. As each victim falls, families, activists and survivors take aim at suburban gun shops.
The I-Team watched three suburban gun shops located within a mile of Chicago's border to see how easy it could be to get a gun into the city. Storeowners know whether buyers are from Chicago because all state firearm owners registration cards require addresses.
We saw Chicago residents visiting suburban gun stores and returning to the city with gun cases, paper bags and boxes. Some wouldn't talk about what they bought or where they would be taking it.
One gun store shopper arrived in a school bus owned by a company that serves the Chicago Public Schools. A few admitted they kept guns or ammo in Chicago.
Twenty-six-year-old Chicagoan Jason Cunningham owns a 9mm handgun.
"You know it's illegal in Chicago to own a gun?" Goudie asked Cunningham.
"Okay. But I also previously used to be a security officer also," he replied.
"But you know it is illegal to own a gun in the city of Chicago?" Goudie tried again.
"Umm, yeah, sure I know that," Cunningham admitted.
Cunningham's mother said her son was never a security guard. And his grandmother said he bought the gun for just one reason.
"But he's never used it. He bought a gun because he lives in the ghetto," she said.
Bryan said she bought her gun for self defense.
"I had a gun, but somebody broke in and took it," she said. Her previous gun was a 32, she said.
The owner of Illinois Gun Works in Elmwood Park, a half block from the Chicago border, says he cannot and does not sell handguns to Chicagoans because Elmwood Park has an ordinance prohibiting it.
"Basically, all we can do is turn them away," said the store's Don Mastrianni. "They get upset because it's more a question of their rights being violated."
"There are some that make an effort to try to at least inform the people purchasing weapons that they are not supposed to bring them into the city," said Cmdr Nick Roti, Chicago police gang intelligence.
There are many other suburban stores that will sell to Chicagoans. In the past five years, police have recovered 6,000 guns in Chicago purchased by Chicagoans from suburban stores.
"I don't think you can deny that proximity is a big reason why there is that relationship," said Tom Mannard, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.
According to federal reports, one south suburban store led the nation in the number of guns that ended up being used in crimes: more than 2,300 in a four-year period.
"Every other bad guy wants a Glock .40 or a Glock .9," said Michael Casali, ATF special agent.
Guns seized by more than 100 police departments across the state are traced at the ATF center in Chicago. The traced guns are then charted to help local police detect concentrated areas of illegal guns. Cook County Commissioner Larry Sufferdin is pushing an ordinance that would restrict the location of suburban Cook County gun stores from being within a mile of schools and parks. Sufferdin said most gun shops would be closed down by early next year if the ordinance passes.
"When you see the number of the children and others who are being shot on the streets and you realize where these guns are coming from, we have to take a stand," he said.
The owners of Chuck's Gun Shop in Riverdale and Shore Galleries in Lincolnwood both declined to be interviewed for this story. But both men maintain they follow all state and local gun laws.
i-team, chuck goudie
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