Trillions of dollars of federal COVID-19 relief checks that have been sent out across the country to help people buy food and pay rent are also helping to support both legal and illegal gun sales in Chicago, reports the Chicago Sun Times. Law enforcement officials say they’re been building cases against people who have used their pandemic-relief checks to buy guns and illegally resell them on the street. Meanwhile, law-abiding people are buying guns as well. Tio Hardiman, executive director of Violence Interrupters, a not-for-profit Chicago peace initiative, said the two first rounds of federal relief checks have helped fuel a hot market for guns in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago.
Though guns have been easy to pick up illegally in Chicago for decades, Hardiman and others say that fears over the huge rise in violence that Chicago has seen over the past year are leading to an even wider proliferation of firearms that’s being seen citywide. Illinois set a record for lawful gun purchases last year. The Illinois State Police reported more than 554,000 gun-transfer inquiries in 2020 compared with 385,000 in 2019. Teny Gross, executive director of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, a not-for-profit agency whose mission includes mediating conflicts on the West Side and Southwest Side in an effort to avoid violence, said the demand for guns is driven by more than just the need for protection. In places where there’s a lack of hope, a gun is a symbol of manhood. The COVID-19 relief checks just make it easier to buy one. Last year, the number of killings in Chicago was up 55 percent over the previous year. And the numbers are continuing to soar.