SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Firearm traffickers in Illinois will be punished with sentences of up to 30 years in prison under legislation Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Tuesday, a move aimed at curbing Chicago's rampant gun violence.
The new law seeks to address a problem that has vexed prosecutors in recent years: Criminals skirting Illinois' strict gun policies by purchasing firearms in other states where little screening is required. Investigators say more than half of the firearms recovered in Illinois crime scenes are traced back to other states.
There have been more than 442 homicides in Chicago so far in 2016 and the vast majority involve firearms, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. There were 468 homicides in all of 2015.
Under the new law, a first conviction for trafficking guns will carry a sentence of four to 20 years in prison. A subsequent offense will be punishable by up to 30 years.
"There's never been a major focus on who arms the shooter," said Rep. Jim Durkin, the House Republican leader and a sponsor of the bill. Now, he said, "they're going to be held accountable and they're going to be sentenced in a very strong fashion."
In a statement, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the law "a step in the right direction."
The proposal drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois, which argued the sentences are too severe and that there is already a federal law on the issue.
But Brandon Nemec, an assistant state's attorney in Cook County, said the federal law applies only when someone actually transfers a firearm to someone prohibited from possessing one. The new law will allow prosecutors to charge people whom investigators found had "the intent to deliver."
Durkin said prosecutors can only charge traffickers now for being a felon in possession of a firearm or for not having a gun permit.
"That doesn't get the job done," he said. Currently, those offenders can get as little as a year in jail, and as much as 14 years, depending on their criminal history.
Nearly 60 percent of the firearms used in crimes in Chicago were bought in other states, according to a 2014 report from the mayor's office, which blamed "weaker gun laws" in those places. About 20 percent came from Indiana, where no permit is required to buy firearms and private sellers don't have to conduct background checks.
Every state in the country supplied at least one gun that was used in a crime in Chicago, the report found. Indiana is the largest supplier, followed by Mississippi and Wisconsin, which are responsible for 6.7 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.
In Illinois, gun purchasers need to obtain a permit — a process designed to disqualify felons, those with mental illnesses and domestic abusers among others.
"All of our communities are at risk of gun violence. We in Illinois are suffering," Rauner, a Republican, said before signing the bill in Chicago. "Our children are at risk, innocent people at risk."
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