Is Chicago Sun-Times Easy Gun Access Story BS?

I smell a rat. Today’s Chicago Sun-Times story Getting a gun in Chicago quick and easy strikes me as confabulation. “Want to know how to get a gun? Just ask Chris. The skinny teen attends high school in Chicago and is a talented athlete. But he’s also a notorious gunslinger. As a shooter in a South Side gang, he can get his hands on a gun as quick as you can get a burger at a fast-food restaurant.” Hyperbole for sure. But is Windy City scribe and Pulitzer Prize winner Frank Main [above] another Stephen Glass or Janet Cooke? Here are some of the red flags . . .

The Chicago Sun-Times sat down with Chris for a lesson on how gangs get guns. Armed gangs like Chris’ have driven up Chicago’s murder total 28 percent above the tally at this time last year. And Chris is on the front lines of the shooting.

“For your ’hood, you can’t stop [getting] guns because it’s war season. A gang need any gun it can get,” said the teen, who has worked as an informant for police and asked for anonymity. The Sun-Times is identifying him by an alias.

Any story based on a single anonymous source is inherently dubious. Doubly so for a human interest story that “illustrates” or “sells” a point that jibes with the publisher’s bias/agenda (e.g., guns are too easily available).

“Say one of your guys gets bumped [arrested] with a gun,” Chris said. “Now your gang need another gun. It’s a lot of people who get bumped, a lot of people who get caught. The chances are like 50-50. If I get caught, I’m gonna need another gat.”

“Or you may have people who did a murder and want to get rid of their gun,” he said. “Now they get another gun and you take theirs.”

Wait, what? Where did Chris get the idea that the odds of getting caught with a gun in Chicago are 50-50?

More to the point, I reckon no gang banger worth his colors would knowingly take possession of a gun used in a murder. That makes no sense whatsoever.

Another source of stolen guns is “the freights,” Chris said.

He was talking about the freight trains parked on easy-to-access rail yards on the South Side.

“You bust the lock,” he said. “Once you get in there, you may get the wrong thing. You may get shoes or something. You feel me? But you keep trying. We tried it before and we know what kind of containers they in. They’re carrying all type of handguns — in crates.”

Huh? Handguns in crates in trains (unguarded ones at that)? True story, apparently. Back in 2000, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Between April and July last year, at least 35 brand-new guns were stolen as they sat in boxcars in the city’s South Side rail yards, waiting to be shipped to dealers, Chicago police and prosecutors say.

Only six of the weapons have been recovered–all in the hands of people with criminal records, according to Michael Smith, Cook County’s lead gang-crimes prosecutor. A gun stolen in a separate incident was involved in the accidental death of a 4-year-old Chicago boy in July, said State’s Attorney Richard Devine at a press conference Sunday.

Does this still happen? Maybe. If not . . .

Best case: the Sun-Times is buying a load of BS from a “playa” who remembers this incident. Alternate explanation: Frank Main Googled the story and put the words into a [possibly fictional] interviewee’s mouth.

But the revolver Chris most recently acquired came from yet another “hot” source: a friend who stole the gun from a relative who legally registered the weapon with the city.

The friend lent the revolver to Chris, but he never gave the gun back.

“It’s a grimy world these days, I won’t lie,” he said. “I told my friend I lost it, but I kept it for myself.”

The gun had a serial number on it, so Chris scraped it off with a screwdriver. The cops can’t trace the weapon back to the original owner without the serial number, he explained.

“I don’t want no one to snitch on me,” the teenager said.

The number of people who’ve legally registered handguns with the Chicago police is minuscule. The ones that have bothered to jump over numerous hoops (but still can’t take their gatt out of the house) are probably extremely cautious about security. They’re not likely victims of firearms theft.

The fact that Chris filed down the serial number on the once “legal” gun makes the story impossible to substantiate. Conveniently enough, given the implication that legally registered guns are a source of firearms for gang bangers like Chris.

I dunno. There are some parts of this article that have the ring of truth to them. But then they would, wouldn’t they?

If I were on the Sun-Times editorial board I’d want proof that Chris is real, including an audio tape of the interview. Main did record the interview, didn’t he? Just askin’ . . .

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

43 Responses to Is Chicago Sun-Times Easy Gun Access Story BS?

  1. avatarRIGHT! says:

    The Feds were running Gats in the mid-west,,,cant recall the name, Gun Walker, Holder’s Push, Wide Receiver, Castaway.
    Lower level gang members are often underage and used as couriers and carriers.
    On the whole I would say that Chris is one of those ‘Informants’ who’s real identity “can never be revealed” because he actually does not exist.
    I know this because my Police Informant said so

  2. avatardan says:

    Really? No mention of the #1 method of obtaining a gun? Steal it from another or straw purchasing.

    I find it hard to believe trains are packed with crates of guns.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      Straw purchasing is nowhere near #1, though I think theft is up there at the top. Last thing I remember seeing from the FBI gun traces, straw purchases were something like 4% of traced crime guns. Maybe not even that high.

      • avatarDan says:

        Replying on phone makes it difficult to enter proper punctuation. It should’ve read number one method is to steal a gun. And I’m surprised there was no mention of straw purchase. I don’t think the methods mentioned are anything more than a made up bunch of crap and if truly told to writer by an informant, the informant is most likely making it up to cover himself and his buddies.

    • avatarwk says:

      Yeah, I’m going to have to call BS on the whole freight train thing

      • avatarJLR says:

        At least in my experience of having online purchases shipped to my FFL, firearms are typically shipped via regular old UPS or FedEx. I’m guessing that’s probably how most firearms make their way to dealers, and not in some ultra-secure guarded manner.

        I know UPS does a lot of rail freight, and a quick Google suggests that FedEx has been contemplating doing the same. So it’s not entirely implausible.

        As a teenager I worked in a UPS depot. Technically I worked for a third-party janitorial company, I washed the trucks as they came back in every night. I had unrestricted access to every truck and it’s contents. Knowing what I know now, I imagine I walked right past a couple of boxes containing guns.

        • avatarRobert Farago says:

          Crates on a train? I’d sooner believe snakes on a plane. But I’ll make some calls Monday.

        • avatarAnon in CT says:

          And a lot more containing boring legal documents, Trolls collectibles bought on eBay and books from Amazon.

  3. avatarjwm says:

    anybody think of that line about getting “bumped” with a gat. how many times has he been “bumped” and he’s still free to roam the streets? i;m calling bs. of course, expect to be hearing mikeybnumbers and his sheep to be quoting this crap as the gospel,

  4. avataranonymous says:

    I thought guns were stolen by UPS and FedEx employees, not from freight trains.

    At least, that’s what UPS and FedEx told us back when they started requiring all handguns be shipped in the most expensive manner possible.

  5. avatarSilver says:

    My source in the Chicago Sun-Times talked with me recently and had this to say:

    “Yeah, that Frank Main guy is always making up stories and lying to push his agenda. After all, his illogical and irrational stance has utterly failed when it comes to facts, reasoning, and honesty, so why wouldn’t he make up whatever he wants to push his insanity?”

    See? I can do it too.

    What intelligent person would EVER trust someone whose entire ideology is based on lies and deception?

  6. avatarSnachnim says:

    Can hand guns even be shipped by rail? If I remember hand guns are air ship only, or maybe it was long guns. Others can go ground, but I don’t think rail.

    • avatarJLR says:

      That’s for civilians, in the few instances in which civilians are allowed to ship firearms. FFLs can do standard ground shipping.

  7. avatartngunowner says:

    I can’t speak for the source of the guns but I grew up in Newark, NJ one of the toughest places in the country to legally get a gun. but if you had the cash and a few friends all you had to do was make a few phone calls and a gun was delivered to your door steep in an hour. I really hate these gun control laws that make it so only the criminals will have guns.

  8. avatarRydak says:

    Pretty much all of the above is true to some degree. Not so sure about the train thing, cause we dont have one where I work. But Ive sen several cases where delivery men “lost” guns often…too often.

    Sounds like a thug who is just hamming it up for the attention. That and add a bit of gullibility and some flamboyance from the author and you get this story.

    The main idea is an important one… at least the one that I take away from it, that no amount of gun control will even slow down people who want to get guns, legal or otherwise. Just doesnt work, no mater how hard they try.

  9. avatarLevi B says:

    Since when is the word of a teenage braggart gang member worthy of press?

    • avatarcaffeinated says:

      Since a fictitious character may have more reason and credibility than the Chicago Sun Times.

    • avatarAnon in CT says:

      Am I the only one getting a massive Stephen Glass vibe off this story? All these quotes that are just too perfectly apt, and the ability of the writer to get an interview with exactly the right person for the story?

  10. avatarST says:

    Anyone who’s ever seen The Wire ought to be having deja vu right now haha.

  11. avatarWill says:

    Lessee,

    Last I knew they had a way of attempting to bring back serials if they really wanted to. So, those that know, know that the serial removal won’t necessarily ID the firearm.

    Secondly, the “interview” implies there is a high rate of theft of legal guns… First, said firearms MUST be registered, or are in fact illegal to start with in the flatulent city, where it seems the privileged can only carry, and legal ownership is at the level of hassle to discourage it. (If I were one of the lucky owners, I’d report it lost/stolen ASAP after discovery.)

    Weapons on a train, with nothing more than simple locks between them and any would-be thieves? Unlikely as after the first few times, how they were secured, and where would change in the name of making insurance, and government(s) happy. I doubt the validity of that being a viable source for gang guns.

    Stolen and lost guns are the primary sources I’d say. And not all of that from within the metro area. All of those will probably be defaced of their serial anyway.

    Taking a gun known to be used in a killing/murder is stacking the deck against someone. They’re just not going to knowingly do it because of that.

    I say the story is busted. The informant to the paper? Non-existent, conversation heavily modified, or a wanna-be with an imagination.

    • avatarCGinChicago says:

      Guns dont need to be stolen in a robbery or home invasion. One way i have heard weapons are obtained in the city is through trade with suburban drug addicts. All it takes is one individual addicted to one drug or another with a firearm in the family home to trade it for narcotics. Cell phones, jewelry etc anything can be traded.

    • avatarSnachnim says:

      They use an acid to bring forward the stamp of the serial number. I don’t remember specifically which, but it isn’t hard to do.

      • avatarPro-Liberty says:

        Yep. When I was 21, I sold a cheap .380 handgun to a guy I met in a cigar shop. I had purchased the gun new, realized it was a piece of junk, and decided to get rid of it. The guy I sold the gun to apparently resold it and it ended up in the possession of a convicted felon who was running some kind of con on old people in Beauregard, Alabama dressed up (no kidding) as a priest. At some point someone had attempted to obliterate the serial number, however the defacer just marred the surface. The local cops sent it off to the feds who ground it down flat and applied some sort of acid to the surface that reacted with the metal and allowed them to see the serial number that had been stamped into it. At least, that is what a police detective (Randy Armstrong of the Auburn, Alabama police department) told me when he ended up on my doorstep wanting to know what I had done with that pistol I bought.

      • avatarE. Zach Lee-Wright says:

        But the acid trick only works once. Die grind the number, hit it with sulfuric acid and raise the number. Clean the acid off and grind it again. Good to go, bro.

  12. avatarAharon says:

    “A gang need any gun it can get”

    That reads as if is somewhat difficult to get a hold of the really desirable guns that gang bangers want such as Glocks. If the above is a literal truth then it is more of a sellers market and not a buyers market for guns. If the punk mean the statement as in we need extra guns then that is another angle to consider. Of course even if the mass media is reporting the interview honestly there is also the issue of wondering how honest the punk is with the mass media and if the punk is credible source.

    Bottom line: the teen gang bangers can get access to stolen guns. Beyond that a determined and shrewd buyer with money can probably buy some very scary real military grade weapons. I’m surprised that we have not yet seen any real cases using that stuff.

    • avatarMashashin says:

      You reminded me of the LAW rocket in the first episode of Justified

      • avatarCGinChicago says:

        you reminded me of the law rocket that the El Rukn’s tried to buy from undercover feds after being paid a million dollars from libya to commit a terrorist act on U.S. soil.

    • avatarLongPurple says:

      Maybe the right way to read that statement is: “A gang can find a use for any gun it lays its hands on.”

  13. Twelve years old, but it seems it’s possible.

    Between April and July last year, at least 35 brand-new guns were stolen as they sat in boxcars in the city’s South Side rail yards, waiting to be shipped to dealers, Chicago police and prosecutors say. source

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Thanks for that.

      The best lies are based on truth. Perhaps Mr. Main Googled this anecdote and put it in his interviewee’s mouth. Perhaps not.

      I’m still skeptical.

  14. avatarGS650G says:

    So this nice boy talks about participating in acts which occurred 12 years ago, claims to ALSO have one of the few legally registered (albeit stolen) guns in Chicago, and casually discusses rampant gun swapping of murder weapons on top of all that.
    Just like Barry’s autobiography we seem to have a Composite Person here, a combination of several people and situations in one.
    We also have a good idea of who might write Barry’s next autobiography, due in stores next April.

  15. avatarMark says:

    So we have stolen firearms (crime) in the hands of a minor (crime) used for illegal purposes (crime). Sounds like plenty of laws already.

  16. avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

    One the few “COMMIE SYMPATHIZERS” that work with me bragged about how easy it would be to buy a hot gun at Chad Brown (CB is our local ghetto). I offered to give him five hundred dollars if he had the balls to take his dumb ass to CB and actually buy any type of gun. I even offered to put up the front money, but he declined because he knew that he would only leave(if he didn’t get killed) with a good ole fashioned beat down and no money or gun. Gangbangers only deal with fellow scum and newbies in their hood make good victims.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      “…for their sole intended purpose – killing other people.”

      I take exception to this. Neither I nor any of my friends or close acquaintances have ever killed anyone, despite literally tens of thousands of rounds through our collective firearms. Clearly “killing other people” is not their sole use.

      “According to the FBI, more than 90% of all gun crimes are committed with stolen guns.”

      I’m not going to argue the veracity of this statement, because I simply don’t understand it. I’ve seen that number before from reputable sources, but I’ve also seen where the FBI says that the source of 40-50% of crime guns is “obtained from friends/family.” Those two statements seem to contradict one another, but I also know that statistics can be read to mean what you want them to mean. I’m inclined to disbelieve that 90% number, but only because there are so many other potential sources that it seems unlikely that one (of many) can account for 90% of the supply. It just doesn’t seem logical.

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Mr. Main is a respected journalist. A Pulitzer Prize winner. I am a lowly pro-gun rights gun blogger who spent ten years of his life as a hypnotist (true story).

      But I’ve been around the journalistic block a few times, including a stint at CNN. I know when a story seems too good (bad?) to be true and I’m thinking this fits the template.

      If people believe there are too many guns on the streets, they’re entitled to that opinion. And I’m entitled to my opinion that there are too few guns in the hands (holsters) of law-abiding citizens. But neither side is entitled to its own facts.

      Does Chris exist? That’s a factual question—based on suspicions based on my experience as a writer, gun blogger and journalist (such as it is). What proof do we have other than Mr. Main’s word? Did the Sun-Times check this story’s veracity? What’s the bet the answer’s no? How about 500 rounds of .45 or a relaxation tape (your choice)?

      As for your conclusion that more guns equals more crime, and the idea that guns are solely meant for killing other people, there is little factual basis for either argument. A debate I’m happy to have here or via email (guntruth@me,com). I’ll keep the swinging watch in the safe.

      • avatarFrank Main says:

        Mr. Farago,
        This is a good example of the poor reporting and speculation rampant in the blogosphere. I would invite you to call my editors at 312-321-2522 to discuss how they confirmed the authenticity of the interview and post what you learn. As for the commentary on whether “Chris” is lying about gangs looting “freights,” that’s fair. But your speculation that this interview was made up is flat wrong. Thanks, Frank Main

        • avatarRobert Farago says:

          I called. You didn’t say which editor would be appropriate. I was directed to Shamus Toomey and left a voice message. Meanwhile, did you record the interview?

        • avatarMatt in FL says:

          Well, I’ll give him points for making an appearance. I’ll be interested to hear about what you learn, RF.

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