Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Myth of Chicago Gun Violence?

Staunch Second-Amendment Defenders Say that the City is Proof Positive the Gun-Control Policies are Ineffective. Actual Statistics, However, Seem to Say Otherwise.

Many “right-to-carry” proponents look at Chicago’s exorbitantly high number of firearm homicides, in tandem with the city’s strict handgun regulations, as “proof” that gun control legislation “doesn’t work.”

These people, to put it gently, are absolute idiots.

While there’s no denying that Chicago has a MAJOR gun violence problem, the statistical reality is that, per capita, Chicago is nowhere close to being the national leader in terms of violent crime. Let me point you towards something called the Uniform Crime Report, an annual FBI release detailing the severity of crimes like homicide, assault and armed robbery. Late last year, the findings for 2011 were released, and the results? Well…they might just come as a surprise to some folks.

When it comes to murder and non-negligent manslaughter rates, fifteen cities rank ahead of Chicago. Perhaps it’s worth noting that Washington, D.C., another jurisdiction oft-criticized by Second Amendment loyalists for “anti-gun legislation” ranked two spots ahead of the Windy City on the Murder-Counter. And before you say that’s conclusive “proof” that gun control policies result in more street violence, just remember that top 13 cities in the country as far as murder rates go ALL have open-carry legislation on their books. Also worth noting? The top spot in 2011 belonged to New Orleans, whose murder rate of 57.6 people per 100,000 was nearly QUADRUPLE that of Chicago…this, despite the fact that the Big Easy has a total population that’s almost THIRTEEN times smaller than Chi-Town.

Regarding national robbery rates, once again, Chicago didn’t even crack the top ten. When it comes to aggravated assaults, the city barely even made the top 25, ranking 24th in the nation; among the dyed-red, gun-toting strongholds where you are statistically likelier to get physically attacked are Wichita, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Toledo and (much to the chagrin of both Sarah Palin supporters left out there) even Anchorage, by-god Alaska.

Believe it or not, Chicago even out-performed several red state burghs when it comes to non-violent crimes. The Windy City barely made the top 40 cities for property crimes. For those of you wondering, there are SEVEN cities in Texas alone were you’re likelier to have your shit defaced. In fact, per FBI data, people living in Mobile, Alabama are about 20 percent likelier to be the victims of serious vandalism than property-owners in Chicago. Among the cities with higher burglary rates than Chicago: Seattle, St. Paul, Louisville (Kentucky) and Albuquerque. Larceny rates are higher in Colorado Springs, Lexington (Kentucky) and Portland than they are in Illinois’ largest city. Regarding grand theft auto, residents of Milwaukee and Kansas City have much more to worry about than Chicagoans.

Now, if we want to get REALLY in depth with the numbers, we can even compare the murder rates of Chicago with that of much smaller cities. Get ready to shit a brick, because according to real-life figures, you’re more likely to get killed in ALL of the following cities than you would be in Chicago: Jackson, Mississippi, Dayton, Ohio, Birmingham, Alabama, Richmond, Virginia, Wilmington, Delaware, Fort Myers, Florida, Gulfport, Mississippi, Albany, Georgia, York, Pennsylvania, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Even with an estimated 506 homicides reported in 2012, it’s worth noting that the number of homicides in Chicago have decreased dramatically since the much-debated hand gun ban was instituted in 1982. The number of murders in Chicago in 1974, a good eight years before the ban went into effect, reached 970. Even in 1994 - the highest peak year for homicides in the city since the ban went into effect - the total number of in-city homicides was still 41 fewer deaths than when there was no handgun prohibition in the city at all. Skirt the issue all you want, this much is absolutely indisputable; compared to data from four decades ago, there’s actually 48 percent less murders in Chicago today than there was during the Gerald Ford administration.

Chicago Police data paints a downright schizophrenic portrait of city homicide activity; prior to the 2012 upswing, the 433 murders in Chicago in 2011 represented the city’s least deadly year in several decades. Since topping out at 931 in 1994, the city’s homicide rate has more or less been on a steady decline, with only minor upticks in citywide murders reported in 2001, 2006, and 2008 and 2012. Interpreted longitudinally, I suppose the best the pro-munitions lobby can offer is that there isn’t a clear-cut correlation between gun restrictions and actual on-the-street-homicides, and with more than three decades worth of data at our disposal, one could strongly make the case that, shockingly, policies forbidding certain types of firearms may factor in the city’s general downturn in murder.

Now, this is a complicated issue, and there are certainly some anomalies at play; despite the handgun ban, an estimated 88 percent of Chicago murders in 2012 were committed with firearms. Making things worse is that from 2008 to 2010, more than two-thirds of firearms confiscated by Chicago police were the verboten handguns. The question here is pretty apparent: if there’s a citywide handgun ban in place, than how come the firearm-homicide rate is so high?

A lot of gun-enthusiasts will tell you that the lack of concealed weapons laws leaves people “defenseless,” and therefore, all of the “bad guys” (and more on this routine, juvenile reductionism later) with guns have a field day when it comes time to loot and plunder. The tragic-comedy here is that, in Chicago at least, the kids don’t go to the guns - instead, traffickers and opportunists of all varieties are the ones taking advantage of lax suburban gun laws to bring firearms to inner-city youth.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA Wayne LaPierre said in the National Rifle Association’s first remarks in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. This childish abstraction dilutes the sociology of the argument to Saturday morning cartoon levels of black and white; and like many pro-gun arguments, it completely skirts away from the underlying socioeconomic roots of not only a majority of gun crime in the United States, but a majority of all (non-white collar, of course) crime in the nation.

The New York Times recently published a graphic laying out the correlation between socioeconomics and violent crime in Chicago. The findings are utterly remarkable; in neighborhoods with high rates of homicide, demographics skewed toward African-American communities, where less than 20 percent of residents had at least a bachelor’s degree and the median household income rest at about $38,000 annually. The neighborhoods with the lowest rates of homicides skewed towards predominantly white communities, where more than 40 percent of residents had at least bachelor’s degrees and the median incomes rests at about $61,000 per year. To cite a “lack of concealed weapons carry laws” as the cause of Chicago’s homicide rate is like calling divine wrath the catalyst for the Bubonic Plague; it’s a direct slap in the face of science, a bizarre, nonsensical accusation that completely omits sociological reasoning altogether.

Even with the deluge of scientific data that lends credence to the theory that facile gun access factors prominently in the nation’s homicide rate, even those stats can only assert a correlation between guns and violent crime - not direct causation. The underlying roots of violent crime are matters a whole lot more complex - and invisible - then simply stating that having a firearm present is responsible for - or preventing - homicides. That said, the data is clear, and completely irrefutable; guns are the most popular instruments of murder in Chicago and the nation as a whole, and ease of accessibility, transport and sale of firearms (not to mention that efficiency of the weapons as murder devices) are definitely factors that explain why that’s the case in northern Illinois and elsewhere.

Now, if you REALLY want to know why Chicago’s homicide levels are so high, there’s a 2011 documentary you direly need to see called “The Interrupters.” What happens when you leave marginalized young people, in impoverished, drug-infested pockets with virtually zero social capital and infrastructure, with pathetically underperforming school systems and next to no sustainable employment opportunities? What happens in an environment where father absenteeism is nearly 100 percent, educational disdain is seemingly built into the culture itself, and state and federal supports are limited to the occasional National Guard call up to curtail civil dissent? What happens when youth live in a nihilistic social structure where violent familial loyalty trumps not only civil laws and norms, but even a basic consideration for human life in general?

Lots of bad things, I assure you. And when guns enter that mix, the outcomes get even worse.

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