JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - When Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot mentioned Mississippi and Indiana as states with lax gun laws that contribute to the gun crime in her city, she was quoting from a Chicago study done in 2017.
We spoke with federal authorities in Mississippi who were able to break down the actual numbers.
Lightfoot talked about how 60 percent of guns seized in violent crimes -- the ones that could be traced -- came from out of state. But that means 40 percent of the traceable crime guns in Chicago came from Illinois.
“Our historic tracing numbers support that most states are their own biggest source area, so Illinois, Chicago is no different,” said ATF Supervisory Special Agent Jason Denham. “So it’s not, I guess, misguided for the mayor to look beyond her own geographic region and also address the problems that are elsewhere and want to do something about it.”
But officials like Denham say the numbers may not be quite as shocking as the study makes them sound. Indiana and Mississippi are listed as the second and third highest suppliers of crime guns of the 27,000 cited in the 2017 study, but in that study, only 12,000 of those guns were traceable. Altogether, 756 were traced to Mississippi – only 2.8% of the full 27,000 that were seized.
That other 15,000 that couldn’t be traced is a wild card that could skew the study either way.
“And yet some want to claim that Mississippi is a major source of illegal guns in Chicago, and I don’t think any statistician in the country is going to say that less than three percent is a major source of anything,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst.
There are connections between Mississippi and Chicago dating back to the two generations between 1940 and 1980, during which around 8 percent of Mississippians moved to Chicago. Family connections were established, but so were substantial connections to the street gangs in Mississippi.
“A lot of those parent organizations are in Chicago, so beyond the family you have just some very dynamic relationships and some very directional relationships,” said Denham.
“There are connections between those gangs in both states and the city,” Hurst said. “And there’s no doubt that some of those guns that come from Mississippi are going to Chicago and they are being distributed to the gangs.”
But while the research is used to blame states with more lax gun laws, Denham says that Mississippi, like other states, places great effort into policing our own borders and prosecuting offenders.
“We focus in Mississippi on our own borders... We view the trafficking of firearms as a major problem, any gun, one gun is a federal crime trafficked out of state,” said Denham. “It’s a very complicated issue, it’s a manpower-intensive issue, it’s an important one. It’s one of our highest priorities, but there are many things that have to be in place to adequately and accurately do it.”
Trying to stop gun trafficking, one of the main duties of the ATF, has to be a constant, around the clock effort, he said.
“Trafficking guns in particular, it’s water through a dam,” Denham said. “When we address one part of the regulation of firearms and individuals have a strong desire to acquire firearms, they’re going to move in a different direction, so the trafficking firearms really requires us to be all places attacking all elements of that system.”
And Hurst is quick to point out that Chicago’s population and Mississippi’s population are close to the same size.
“In states like ours where we have the utmost respect for the constitution, especially the second amendment, we see that our violent crime rate is significantly lower than the city of Chicago,” Hurst said. “Chicago’s violent crime is 3-4 times larger than the state of Mississippi’s.”
However, that doesn’t apply to Jackson.
“The percentage in Jackson is about two times higher than the percentage in Chicago,” said Hurst. “Murder rate.... on the trajectory that we’re on, it’s significantly higher than Chicago.”
Hurst said that’s why he’s such an advocate for Project Eject, which targets not only gang members with guns, but also drug users, domestic abusers and the like.
“All of those things, focusing on those types of violent criminals will reduce the amount of gun violence not only throughout the City of Jackson,” said Hurst. “But I hope it will have a ripple effect throughout the country.”
Denham said the program is definitely making a dent in the southern part of the state.
“It’s a deterrent value to know that the federal government is here, if you are caught as a felon in possession, you may be going to the county jail for six months, you may be going to federal prison for five years,” he said.