Mandatory minimums have not worked before, will not work now

One day after Noel Sanchez, commander of the South Chicago police district, was shot at while on duty Dec. 1, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson called for increased penalties for gun offenses.

It is not difficult to understand where Johnson is coming from or why he said people think violent crimes are a “joke.” Unfortunately, gun-related crimes are commonplace in Chicago. The total number of shooting victims in 2016 reached 4,022 as of November, according to a Dec. 1 article from ABC News.

The logic behind Johnson’s message is that mandatory minimum sentences will make criminals think twice before committing gun offenses, but there’s no reason to think this is true.

Some may be upset that what inspired this suggestion was a police shooting rather than a civilian one. However, what’s more upsetting is Johnson’s failure to come up with a new or effective policy idea to address gun violence.

Legislation for mandatory minimum sentencing for gun offenses was promoted in 2013 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Superintendent Garry McCarthy, but it never gained traction, according to an April 12, 2013, WBEZ article.

Franklin Zimring, a professor of law at the University of California Berkeley who was quoted in the article from WBEZ, said New York City  is often cited as an example of  a city where mandatory minimums worked because the murder rate dropped from 2,250 in 1990 to 419 in 2012.  Zimring points out that mandatory minimums legislation was not signed into law until late 2006, which suggests that other measures taken by New York had a greater effect in reducing crime.

The most famous mandatory minimum sentencing failure was the drug sentencing guidelines passed in 1986 during the War on Drugs. The main criticisms of the guidelines, since amended, is that they contributed to the prison overpopulation problem and failed to reduce the recidivism of drug addicts who were sent to prison rather than treatment, according to a 2009 report from the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Drug Policy Task Force called “The Failure of The War on Drugs: Charting a new Course For The Commonwealth.” 

Even though gun and drug offenses are vastly different crimes, it is reasonable to conclude this policy is not the best choice to reduce gun violence in Chicago. 

If Johnson wants people to take gun crimes seriously in Chicago, he should lead by example. He can show he takes this issue seriously by advocating for CPD and the city and testing solutions that might possibly work instead of resurrecting a policy that never has.