What’s the root cause of Chicago’s gun violence crisis? Guns.

Dueling op-eds published last week considered whether a “war on guns” — namely tougher mandatory sentences for repeat gun offenders — is the right strategy for combating Chicago’s gun violence epidemic. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez argues that the “revolving [prison] door” for gun offenders is to blame for Chicago’s gun violence. Public Defender Amy Campanelli challenges her, predicting that this “war on guns” will fail much the way the “war on drugs” has.

Both Alvarez and Campanelli make valid points. But both ignore the most obvious root cause of Chicago’s gun violence crisis: guns.



Unlike illegal drugs, guns are legal products and may be lawfully owned by persons who are not prohibited by law from possessing them. But because of weak gun laws, guns are readily diverted from legal users to the illegal market. Research from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the University of Chicago Crime Lab make clear there are multiple ways guns are diverted to the illegal market. They are stolen; they are sold or traded in off-the-books transactions without a background check on the buyer, often in person at gun shows or online; they are sold by gun dealers to straw buyers.

Each of these pathways is preventable. Gun owners should be responsible for making sure the buyer can pass a background check and should be held accountable if they fail to do so. Likewise, they should be required to notify law enforcement if a gun is lost or stolen and held accountable for failure to report. Gun dealers must be liable when they look the other way and sell to straw purchasers.

There is empirical evidence that stronger gun laws reduce the diversion of firearms to illegal users and save lives. Despite this, most of these laws do not exist in Illinois — or if they do, they’re toothless. Lawmakers in Springfield are sitting on a bill that would give Illinois the ability to encourage better business practices among gun dealers and hold corrupt dealers accountable. Choking off the pipeline of illegal guns would curb the war that is raging in the streets of Chicago. Already this year, the Chicago Police Department has recovered more than 5,000 guns — a nearly 25 percent increase over last year, more than New York City and Los Angeles combined.

A war on guns would mean getting serious about the sources of illegal guns. That battle cry is long overdue.

— Tom Vanden Berk, CEO emeritus, UCAN Chicago, and founder, Illinois’ Gun Violence Prevention Political Action Committee

Chicago Tribune


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As the Lake County State’s Attorney, I am honored and humbled every day to lead the fight against crime, and to strive to ensure equal and just treatment under the law. I have been an attorney for twenty-two years – and each of those years has made me a stronger and smarter advocate for people, for ideas, and for the principles that unite us all.

I am so proud to lead an office of 140 dedicated colleagues who serve the public by prosecuting crime, advocating for victims, and planning crime prevention programs. I am also proud to work with hundreds of Lake County police officers on a daily basis to connect with every community and to develop comprehensive, holistic plans to respond to the mental health and economic crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one particular day, July 4, 2022, I was saddened, inspired, and motivated by the bravery of so many people. We will always stand with the victims and honor the police and other first responders who ran toward the danger. Just as so many heroes that day thought only of themselves, I also witnessed the prosecutors in my office answer the call to serve survivors and their community – even on one of its darkest days.

Every moment that I have been your legal representative, I have worked tirelessly to oversee prosecutions and to implement policies that make my family and my neighbors safer in the short term and in the long term. That is the job of the State’s Attorney: to prosecute, to innovate, and to strategically plan.

I was raised in a small town. My parents are teachers, and from them, I learned that everyone must be treated equally and that America’s sacred mission is to provide a political, economic, and legal system that allows anyone to prosper regardless of the circumstances of their birth. After graduating from Knox College and the University of Chicago Law School, I spent two years at a first-rate civil law firm in Chicago where I learned that hard work and attention to detail on every case mean the difference between success and failure.

With my wonderful wife Stephanie, I am raising my two sons, Sam and Teddy, in Lake County. Nothing is more important to me than my family’s safety and I bring that passion and determination to protect all families with me to work every day.

I joined the Lake County Public Defender’s Office in 2003 and started my own law firm in 2009. From 2003 until 2020, I watched the Lake County legal system fail to prioritize violent crime, prevent wrongful prosecutions, or address racial disparities.

So, in 2019, I decided to run for State’s Attorney so that I could serve our community by improving a local legal system that cared more about covering up its mistakes and biases than uncovering new and innovative ways to help people.

I won the 2020 election, and became the first Democrat to hold this position in 40 years. Bringing in a new party wasn’t as important as ending 40 years of one mindset that had forgotten the people and that had failed to act urgently to develop new strategic plans to prevent crime while also ensuring that each prosecution is smart, moral, and just.

We have followed through on our promises. We have built the first-ever violent crimes unit, increased prosecutors in our domestic violence division, and vastly upgraded our cyber lab. Now, we have top-notch software and personnel to finally keep up with those who would exploit others.

We have been awarded a large federal grant to bring the first ever Human Trafficking Task Force to Lake County. We have deepened our investment in people by bringing in more victim specialists and raising the salaries of many of our prosecutors.

But the work goes on. We must expand our prevention efforts that are starting with the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2022. And we know that the opioid crisis touches thousands of lives throughout this country.

I am proud to serve on the Executive Board of the Lake County Opioid Initiative which has been working tirelessly since its founding in 2012 to reverse a devastating trend of increased overdoses. In 2022, our office was part of a national settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As an attorney of 22 years, I have committed my life to helping people, and I have conducted over 70 jury trials in Lake County, and handled appeals that have culminated in over 20 oral arguments before the appellate court and Supreme Court of Illinois.

I see my time in this office as the next phase of helping a community that I love and where I have chosen to raise my family. In my first term, we have made Lake County safer and fairer through just prosecutions, constitutional policing, and innovative crime prevention policies.