By Renita Young
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to toughen its existing ban on assault weapons by adding more types of guns to the banned list and imposing stiffer fines for violations of the law.
The nation's third-largest city is facing a wave of gang-related gun violence. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police have struggled to reverse the trend that has persisted even after they put more police on patrol in some neighborhoods.
While official statistics show Chicago's murder rate has subsided somewhat from last year, injuries and deaths are common from gun violence, particularly in predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. Violence is usually higher during the summer when the weather is warmer.
Chicago acted quickly on gun control to beat a deadline set by the state of Illinois for local governments to set tougher gun laws before a state law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons goes into effect.
Gun control has been a hot issue in the United States since the massacre of 20 elementary school children in Connecticut last December. President Barack Obama proposed tougher gun laws but has so far failed to convince Congress to pass them.
Chicago's ban applies to a specific list of weapons with certain features. They include: any semiautomatic rifle or handgun that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine and has at least one military feature; any shotgun that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine, has at least one military feature, or has a fixed capacity of more than five rounds; and any weapon with a fixed magazine of more than 15 rounds.
Among the features defined as "military" are telescoping stocks, pistol grips, grenade launchers and barrel shrouds, according to the mayor's office.
"Weapons that are designed for the battlefield have no place on the streets of Chicago," Emanuel said.
The tougher laws would improve public safety, Emanuel said, but others questioned whether they will be effective.
"No legislation, no matter how strict, will keep weapons out of the wrong hands. We all know that," said Chicago City Councilman Robert Fioretti, who voted for the gun ban.
The state of Illinois does not have an assault weapons ban, nor do any of the states closest to Chicago: Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Chicago police have blamed an influx of guns from outside the city, and thus outside their jurisdiction.
The city council also approved stricter fines and punishment for gun crimes near schools and along so-called "safe passage" routes to schools.
Many parents of students attending Chicago public schools are concerned that a proposal to close 50 public schools this summer will force children to cross gang lines to attend new schools and will result in violence.
The new laws also would increase punishment for possession of weapons, such as knives, near schools.
(Reporting by Renita Young; Editing by Greg McCune, Lisa Von Ahn, Jim Marshall and Bob Burgdorfer)