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Mayor Seeks Big Fines For Gun Offenses Near Schools

CHICAGO (STMW) -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to keep gunslingers away from public schools, buses and Safe Passage Program routes by creating a city ordinance with stiff fines for weapon offenses.

The proposed ordinance comes on the heels of CPS' closing of 49 elementary schools under a plan to tackle low enrollment, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Most of the schools are on the West and South Sides.

The closings have prompted CPS to expand the number of protected Safe Passage routes that students take to school. Parents are concerned that their children will have to cross gang boundaries on their way to new schools.

The ordinance, which the mayor intends to introduce Wednesday to the City Council, would create new "school safety zones." Anyone convicted of possessing a gun, ammunition or another "dangerous weapon" in a zone would face a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 for the first offense and a mandatory 30 days in jail.

A second offense would carry a fine of $5,000 to $15,000 and a mandatory three months in jail.

A third offense would carry a fine of $10,000 to $20,000 and a mandatory six-month jail term.

The zones would cover property within 1,000 feet of a school — including parks — during school operating hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. They also would include safe-passage routes and buses during those hours.

A city ordinance violation carries less potential time behind bars than a misdemeanor or felony conviction.

"We are always going to seek the highest level of charging for any crime," said Steve Georgas, deputy chief of patrol for the Chicago Police. "But if the state's attorney does not agree, this gives us another tool."

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who plans to sponsor the ordinance, said gang members "need to understand schools are off-limits." He said the stiff fines could serve as a deterrent.

"Efforts to increase the costs — in this case literally — of the decision to carry a gun illegally in public seems like a useful thing to do," said Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

But Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Illinois, blasted the proposal as a "feel-good announcement that will not achieve anything."

Vandermyde said anyone who obtains a concealed-carry permit in the future would be exempt from the ordinance. That would leave criminals who have not obtained their guns legally, he said.

"Do you honestly see judges issuing $10,000 fines to gang-bangers?" he said. "Judges are letting gang-bangers off the hook with felony UUW [gun possession] convictions."

Vandermyde also wondered whether the city could legally impose a fine larger than the $2,500 maximum fine for the more serious crime of misdemeanor gun possession.

"Every time Chicago has crossed the line, we have shown we will take them to court," he said.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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