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Article updated: 8/28/2013 10:08 PM

Suburban police chiefs say they want national checks for gun buyers

By Russell Lissau

The small group of suburban police chiefs that gathered Wednesday in Lake County to discuss gun violence called for universal background checks for prospective gun owners and more funding for regional anti-gang units.

"If you want to stop the violence, this is where things point," Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther said during the hourlong meeting in North Chicago.

Guenther and seven other chiefs from Cook and Lake county towns were brought together by U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, a freshman Democrat from Deerfield who has called for stricter gun control.

Schneider and the chiefs were joined by state Rep. Scott Drury, a Highwood Democrat, and Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim, a Republican.

They hunkered around a table at a North Chicago police substation to debate the issue.

Schneider called the U.S. Senate's unwillingness to debate new federal gun-control legislation earlier this year "a bad day." He criticized his peers on Capitol Hill for being unwilling "to even have the conversation."

"Hopefully it's not going to take another Newtown before we take action," Schneider said, referring to the Connecticut school shooting that claimed the lives of 26 students and teachers last December.

The chiefs decried inconsistent state laws that allow Chicago-area gang members to drive to Indiana, Mississippi and other states to purchase guns that they illegally sell or trade for narcotics back home.

Des Plaines Police Chief Bill Kushner called for the creation of a national background-check system that would flag people who buy multiple guns in a month. That kind of system would be a central clearinghouse for law enforcement, Kushner said.

For Mundelein's Guenther, the issue isn't just guns -- it's also gangs and drugs. A national system that tracks people arrested for gang crimes, narcotics violations and gun crimes would give police a net to focus their energies, he said.

Drury questioned the logic of making people register the cars they own but not their guns. People take on an important responsibility when they purchase firearms, he said.

Nerheim voiced support for a centralized anti-gang database that would allow departments to more easily share intelligence. Gang members cross municipal lines, he said, and police shouldn't be hampered by jurisdictional lines.

Nerheim also would like Lake County to have a countywide gang unit. Cases can't be built "department by department," he said.

But many of the chiefs acknowledged funding is a roadblock. Putting more officers on the street and training them to tackle gang crime takes money they don't have.

At one point, Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko handed Schneider a photograph of a rifle seized by his department that fires the same rounds as the Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifle.

"Assault weapons are out there," Filenko told the congressman. "When you talk about cop-killer bullets and weapons -- you're looking at it."

The other police chiefs participating in the conversation came from Deerfield, Highwood, North Chicago, Waukegan and Wheeling.

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