As President Donald Trump said on Friday he was sending federal agents to Chicago to fight an “epidemic” of gun crime, a White House spokeswoman raised eyebrows and ire by claiming the main cause of violence in the city was a lack of “morality.”
“Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help,” Trump tweeted on Friday morning. Hours later, the launch of the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force was announced at a joint press conference by the Chicago Police Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“No child in America should have to walk the streets of their neighborhood in fear of violent criminals, and yet in Chicago, thousands of children do every day,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Last year, more than 4,300 Chicagoans were shot, and more than 700 were killed — the deadliest year in two decades.”
“The Trump Administration will not let the bloodshed go on; we cannot accept these levels of violence,” Sessions continued. “That’s why, under President Trump’s strong leadership, we have created the Chicago Gun Strike Force and are sending 20 more permanent ATF agents to Chicago, reallocating federal prosecutors and prioritizing prosecutions to reduce gun violence, and working with our law enforcement partners to stop the lawlessness.”
When asked at an off-camera press briefing whether easy access to guns contributed to Chicago’s violence problem, deputy White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied, “I think that the problem there is that it’s a crime problem.”
“I think crime is probably driven by morality more than anything else,” she added. Huckabee Sanders’ remark drew widespread criticism, with some accusing her of ignoring the economic, racial and even law enforcement factors contributing to the city’s violence problem.
The 20 new ATF agents will join 41 of their colleagues already at work in the nation’s third-largest city. The new task force will focus on illegal weapons trafficking, as well as on investigating and prosecuting repeat firearms offenders. “We want to get to the people who are putting some of these guns on the street illegally,” Chicago Police Chief Anthony Riccio said.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump frequently mentioned Chicago’s crime problem and vowed to solve it. In January, he threatened to “send in the feds” to stop what he called the “carnage” in the city.
According to figures cited by the Chicago Tribune, there have been at least 1,760 shootings in the city so far this year. There have been 320 gun homicides so far in 2017, compared with 322 on this date last year. According to FBI crime statistics, 13 US cities had higher homicide rates than Chicago in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available. Cities including Washington, DC, Atlanta and Kansas City also had higher overall violent crime rates than Chicago.