CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago legislators representing high-crime neighborhoods near a Norfolk Southern rail yard where 150 guns were stolen in three major thefts over a three-year span are proposing new laws to try and ensure railroads properly secure facilities to prevent such thefts.
Their proposal, which is before the public safety committee and which will later go to the full City Council, cites "the vice grip of gun violence" that led to a 19-year high 762 homicides in 2016. It contends that city "train yards have emerged as a ready source of firearms."
The three thefts from 2014 to 2016 all occurred at Norfolk Southern's 69th Street Yard, situated in South Side neighborhoods hard hit by gang-related shootings. The legislative initiative is a rare instance of local politicians seeking to pressure a multibillion-dollar corporation over the thefts.
Chicago Alderman Pat Dowell, one of the ordinance co-sponsors, told The Associated Press that the potential deadly consequence of such thefts meant railways must be especially diligent about fortifying yards. She said: "They need to be as secure as the Pentagon."
The measures, proposed toward the end of April, mandate that fences around the perimeter of rail yards be well-maintained. They would also impose fines if railroads don't promptly alert police about gun thefts.
Key sections of fence at the Norfolk Southern yard have been in disrepair and posed little deterrent, while there are no barriers in parts of the yard where trains stand idle overnight.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, spokeswoman Susan Terpay said Norfolk Southern has "enhanced security measures at our rail yards in Chicago." She didn't provide details. She also said the company "reports any cargo theft to the Chicago police as soon as the theft is confirmed."
In an April 2015, street-gang thieves slipped easily into the Norfolk Southern yard and made off with over 100 brand new guns that had been en route from New Hampshire's Sturm, Ruger & Co. weapons maker to the Gunarama Wholesale store in Spokane, Washington.
Based on court filings, the AP reported in March that many of the .45-caliber revolvers, pistol-grip long rifles and other stolen Rugers ended up in the hands of Chicago-area gang and drug dealers. Most of the weapons were never recovered.
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, later in March sent a letter to Norfolk Southern, saying the rail-yard gun thefts "jeopardize the safety and well-being of Chicago residents."
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