CHICAGO – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned John Lausch, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Kristen de Tineo, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and Dr. Debra Houry, Acting Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the first witness panel of the Senate Judiciary Committee field hearing entitled “Combating Gun Trafficking and Reducing Violence in Chicago.” Among his questions, Durbin asked U.S. Attorney Lausch about straw purchasing and how prosecutors too rarely bring straw purchasing cases to court because federal law currently treats it as a paperwork offense. Durbin noted that the urgency of Chicago’s gun trafficking problem was made clear on August 7, 2021, when a man with a gun that was straw-purchased from Indiana shot and killed Chicago Police Department (CPD) Officer Ella French and wounded Officer Carlos Yanez Jr. during a traffic stop.
“I’m told that many times the U.S. Attorney’s office doesn’t prosecute these crimes because the penalties are so low and they are just taken as book-keeping violations,” Durbin said. “Explain to me your attitude toward that and what you’ve done about it?”
U.S. Attorney Lausch said that he views straw purchasing as a “serious crime.”
Durbin has a bipartisan bill with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, which would create a federal crime with significant penalties for straw purchasing a gun.
Durbin also pressed Ms. de Tineo, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Division for ATF, for an explanation as to why the Chicago Field Division conducted significantly less gun dealer inspections in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 than other field divisions. According to ATF records, in FY 2020, the ATF Chicago Field Division conducted 86 firearms compliance inspections of Federal Firearms Licenses (FFLs). Of those 86 inspections, 45 FFLs had no violations, but 41 did find violations of firearms laws or regulations. The Kansas City and Dallas Field Divisions each conducted more than 850 inspections in FY 2020.
Ms. De Tineo noted that COVID-19 restrictions and illness made 2020 a difficult year for inspections for the Chicago Field Division.
Durbin also raised the issue of ghost guns, like the gun that was reportedly used to murder Woom Sing Tse in Chinatown last week.
“In 2016, there were two ghost guns that were recovered in Chicago. In 2020, there were 139. Last year, you told me when we met in October, you told me that this year, out of 10,000 crime guns recovered by CPD, 375 were ghost guns. So from two in 2016 to 139 in 2020, to 375 this calendar year so far… is this a trend we should be worried about?” Durbin asked.
Ms. de Tineo agreed that this is a trend we should “keep our eyes on.”
Durbin also addressed the issue of gun thefts from federally-licensed firearm dealers. In 2018 and 2019, gun dealers reported 770 burglaries involving a total of 10,142 stolen guns to ATF. Durbin has introduced legislation with Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), the SECURE Firearm Storage Act, which would require gun dealers to secure their inventory after business hours to decrease the theft of these guns.
Finally, Durbin asked Dr. Houry, Acting Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about CDC’s understanding of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how witnessing traumatic experiences—like gun violence as a child—creates stress that can harm the brain’s development and can contribute to the likelihood of mental illness, drug use, and the cycle of violence.
“When I sat down with the counselors of these students [at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Facility], I said ‘who are these kids? How do they end being involved in gangs and killing people?’… They said there is one reoccurring theme—over 90 percent of them were victims or witnesses to trauma,” Durbin said. “Dr. Houry, you also said that violence is preventable, the question I want to ask, is trauma treatable?”
Dr. Houry responded that trauma is not only treatable, but that it is also preventable. She mentioned the important use of trauma-informed care in schools and community organizations, and the benefits of a public health approach to create environments that help children cope with the emotional scars of trauma.
Earlier this year, Durbin introduced the bipartisan RISE from Trauma Act, which would increase funding for community-based efforts to prevent and mitigate the impact of trauma. The Senate is currently considering the House-passed Build Back Better Act, which includes provisions based on Durbin’s legislation to address community violence and trauma in health care, education, social service, and other settings.
Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.