What About Chicago? The Truth About Violence in the Second City

Chicago Skyline

Chicago has been the source of much scrutiny. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

It has become a familiar refrain from those that want to avoid any rational conversation about gun laws: What about Chicago? In the wake of the tragedy in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed and hundreds were injured when Stephen Paddock opened fire on a concert from his Mandalay Bay suite, President Donald Trump and his surrogates were quick to dismiss calls for gun safety laws. Look at Chicago and all the gun violence! And that’s the city with the strictest gun laws in America!

But the information we get on Chicago’s violence is not always accurate. Because of all the false talking points, we took a look at what you really need to know about violence in Chicago and how it compares with other big cities.

Chicago hardly has the strictest gun laws

a pile of surrendered guns at an event for surrendering them

A pile of guns at a Los Angeles gun-burning event | David McNew/Getty Images

Speaking for the president following the incident in Las Vegas, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the following:

“If you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country,” Sanders said at a White House briefing. “That certainly hasn’t helped there.”

Trump made similar points in the debates, and has followed that up on his Twitter account. According to Politifact, this rates somewhere from ‘false’ to ‘pants on fire.’ That’s thanks to Chicago’s handgun ban being overruled by the Supreme Court in 2010 and Illinois passing concealed carry in 2012.

Because concealed carry applications are handled by the State of Illinois – while other major cities like New York and San Francisco handle applications on their own – it’s valid to argue that Chicago has less control on legal firearms than their big-city counterparts. Illinois, for its own part, doesn’t require registration of firearms and restricts local jurisdictions (like Chicago) from enforcing such a law. The claims that Chicago has the most strict gun laws in America are simply not true.

It’s not the most violent city (per capita)

rows of guns in the UK

An assortment of guns | Scott Barbour/Getty Images.

It’s no secret that Chicago saw a major murder spike in 2016. In total, 762 people were murdered within the city in 2016, which is up 59.4% over 2015. Gun violence makes up a large portion of that, as well. Nobody can argue against the facts.

But 2016 still didn’t bring Chicago to title of “Murder Capitol of America.” When you consider the number of people murdered per 100,000, Chicago comes in at No. 8 with 27.9 people per 100,000. The cities where you’re more likely to be murdered include Memphis, Newark, Cleveland, New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore, and – coming in at No. 1 with 59.3 people murdered per 100,000 – St. Louis.

Coming in at No. 8 is not really anything to brag about. But if you look at overall violence from 2011-2016, Chicago is even further down the list. During that five-year period, the Second City comes in at No. 12, with Detroit edging out St. Louis for the top spot. While Chicago has 18.4 murders per 100,000 people over that period, Detroit has a whopping 46.7.

Most illegal guns come from out of state

Mike Pence speaks at the vice presidential debate.

Mike Pence speaks at the vice presidential debate. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The other aspect of gun crime is that cities and states don’t have rigid borders that are designed to keep out items brought in from other locations. Illinois – or any state – could ban guns all together, but if all the neighboring states had no restrictions, people would find a way. And that’s exactly what is happning in Chicago, according to the Washington Post.

“Between 2013 and 2016, six in 10 illegal guns recovered in Chicago came from outside Illinois, according to the report released Sunday. Neighboring Indiana was the state with the highest share of responsibility, with one in five illegal guns originating there, the report found.”

When the Trump administration brings up how gun control hasn’t created a reduction in violence in Chicago, it’s actually Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana that is a big part of the problem. But we can’t point all the blame at Illinois’ neighbor to the east, because the same report stated that Wisconsin, Ohio, Mississippi, and Kentucky were also to blame. So while it could be argued that more strict gun laws won’t work, the actual reason for it is the surrounding states with less-strict laws.

Gun violence is actually trending down

Chicago's Famed Willis Tower, Formerly Sears Tower, Up For Sale

The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, dominates the southern end of the downtown skyline. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Even with all of that being known, the facts say that the rhetoric about Chicago’s violence problem is overblown. The awful 2016 has been followed with progressive improvement in 2017, with eight consecutive months of decline in gun violence, according to ABC News. The month of October saw a 30% drop in murders from the previous year and a 34% drop in shootings. Overall, Chicago has seen a 10% reduction in murders.

According to Anthony Riccio, the chief of the Chicago police Organized Crime Bureau, this has a lot to do with a strategy known as predictive policing. It utilizes computer data and intel learned on the streets by officers to know where and when a crime may be committed.

“It’s been pretty accurate,” said Riccio. “All this information and analysis tells us where we believe we’re going to see violence. It’s much more laser-focused than we’ve had in the past.”

The ‘black-on-black’ crime debate

Demonstrators protest for higher wages

Demonstrators protest for higher wages | Scott Olson/Getty Images

For a lot of people wanting to take part in the discussion of violence in America, it always comes back to “black-on-black” crime. You want to discuss police brutality, but what about black-on-black crime? You want to discuss white nationalists and members of the Ku Klux Klan walking the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia, but what about black-on-black crime?

The argument is a thinly-veiled attempt at saying, “You don’t have a right to complain about injustice if you can’t stop killing each other first.” Which is incredibly wrong. Michael Harriot wrote in The Root about the falsehoods of the “black-on-black crime” narrative.

The reality is, in neighborhoods and cities across America, there are countless organizations, activists and movements dedicated to curbing violence in black communities. The number of “Stop the Violence” marches dwarfs the demonstrations against police brutality. Unity rallies and peace picnics happen every day. Scared Straight programs for at-risk youths, gang counseling, neighborhood watches, intervention specialists, youth counselors, and too many other people and groups to name all lead the charge against crime and violence.

But those efforts don’t make the evening news because they aren’t as salacious as people blocking traffic and protesting; nor do they serve the preconceived white confirmation bias. Besides, there’s no way white people would know about this unless they stopped deflecting with trite questions and instead actually went into a minority neighborhood to selflessly join the effort to address the problems plaguing …

‘White-on-white’ crime and the urban poor


Crime is more related to poverty than race. | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Another of the great points made by Harriot in the article is that crime doesn’t appear, at least by official statistics, to be related to race. It’s much more related to poverty. Here are some notes on the topic, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

  • Poor Hispanics (25.3 per 1,000) had lower rates of violence compared to poor whites (46.4 per 1,000) and poor blacks (43.4 per 1,000).
  • Poor persons living in urban areas (43.9 per 1,000) had violent victimization rates similar to poor persons living in rural areas (38.8 per 1,000).
  • Poor urban blacks (51.3 per 1,000) had rates of violence similar to poor urban whites (56.4 per 1,000).Persons in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000).

This all goes back to some pretty familiar problems; wealth distribution, discrimination, underfunded schools, etc.

What does it all mean?

Black Lives Matter protests

Fox News called Black Lives Matter a ‘murder movement.’ | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

This all means a lot of stuff that should make the average American uncomfortable. We have someone go into a hotel room overlooking a concert with military-level artillery, but what about Chicago? We have white nationalists marching in Virginia, but what about black-on-black crime? Way too much energy is devoted to ignoring problems in the United States.

But if someone is truly instead in gun violence in Chicago or solving urban crime probelms, we should be looking at how the illegal guns get to Chicago in the first place. From there, maybe some common sense solutions could be found. Instead of worrying about black-on-black crime specifically, we could try to solve the problems that plague people in impoverished areas – such as rampant hunger, healthcare issues, and school funding.

Until we tackle these issues in a meaningful way instead of just using them as vapid talking points to protect a useless narrative, we’re failing as a society to improve ourselves.

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