Widening of Chicago's gun offender registry law raising civil rights issues

Anyone who commits a violent crime with a firearm in Chicago could end up on the gun offender registry

March 8, 2013

Judith Ruiz-Branch

Flickr/Gregory Wild-Smith

Proposed changes to Chicago’s gun offender registry law have raised some civil liberty issues.

The proposal widens the current law to include anyone who commits a violent crime with a firearm.

Supporters, like Alderman Ed Burke (14th), say that widening the net will help police and parents keep better tabs on gun offenders in their communities.

That’s because new gun offenders under the revised law will be added to an online pool of current gun offenders that is accessible to the public.

Alderman Emma Mitts is on the public safety committee that passed the ordinance.

She wasn’t included in the unanimous voice vote because she left the meeting early. Mitts said this would be a good tool for police, but worried about its impact on citizens.

“I’m sure it would not be good for people of my color,” she said. “It’s just another tool that’s going to be used against them, especially minors.”

Similar to Chicago’s sex offender registry, Chicago residents can search for gun offenders in their neighborhoods by putting their address into a search box on the police department's website.

Search results include a photo of the offender,  details of their conviction and other information.

Matthew Robison is a civil rights lawyer with Barrido and Robison LLC in Chicago.

He said even though offenders will only be on the gun offender registry list for four years, it could have a lasting impact on people's reputations.

“What is placed on the Internet can’t be undone,” he said. “So the question is not as much should we be ostracizing or dehumanizing these people, although that’s a question in it of itself, so much as who it is that we’re going to subject to this.”

Robison said it’s important that there’s a balance between the right of the public to have this information about gun offenders versus the right of gun offenders to live a private life.

“I think what legislators all over the country [need to] figure out where that balance lies,” he said. 

The revised ordinance will be up for a vote at next week’s city council meeting.