Whenever the issue of gun regulations and reform comes up, conservatives immediately point to shooting epidemic ongoing in the city of Chicago as proof that “gun control” doesn’t work and that the city’s strict gun laws are actually contributing to the nonstop shootings, which reached as many as eight per day earlier this year and totaled a jaw dropping 2,986 victims last year – and the city has claimed another 88 in the first eleven days of the new year.
Take FOX’s Steve Doocy, who had the gall to ask “are these cities, their liberal policies, actually killing Americans?” Republican front-runner Donald Trump told the media that “you look at Chicago. It’s got the toughest gun laws in the United States. You look at other places where they have gun laws that are very tough, they do generally speaking worse than anybody else.” Illinois State Rifle Association leader Richard Pearson angrily argues that “The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they’ve essentially made the citizens prey.”
They couldn’t be further from the truth. University of Chicago Crime Lab associate Philip Cook did a study of 7,000 guns recovered from gang members and found that the vast majority of them came from Republican states with recklessly lax gun laws: “I think that it’s more likely that if Chicago did not have tough gun laws they would have higher rates of gun violence than they do have.”
60% of the weapons came from out of state; and 20% of those came from neighboring Indiana. Crime lab researcher Sarah Emmons lamented that “you can be in the city of Chicago and be closer to a gun show in Indiana than you are to downtown…having such dramatically different regulations in such close proximity makes it really, really easy for folks [to bring illegal guns into Chicago].”
It just goes to show that the primary promoters of gun violence in Chicago are not their strict laws but by the outrageous lack of oversight in the rest of the nation. One hole in the dam is enough to undermine the whole system of regulations and background checks; and in red America, it’s more like a sieve of violence flooding from rural areas to inner cities.
This is not to say that Chicago’s gang wars and chronic crime problems are caused by the prevalence of small arms among the population, but it definitely contributes to the lethality of the conflicts. Researcher Julia Quinn observes that “evidence and data from other countries who have similar rates of some violent crimes, but very different rates of homicide, suggest that guns probably are a big part of the problem. Designing more effective enforcement strategies, or reasonable gun safety regulations, would make a big difference in the short term. So why not give it a shot?”
The answer to that question lies squarely with the lobbyists of the National Rifle Association and their paid stooges in the Republican Party, who viciously attack any effort to pass some kind of reasonable gun reform legislation or at least close the gun show loopholes that allow weapons to be funneled into areas where they shouldn’t be.
The NRA’s response to inquiries from Al Jazeera was the textbook conservative response: to implicitly attack the character of black Americans (who make up the majority of perpetrators and victims of Chicago’s violence) and blame the violence on some kind of innate and incurable “criminality” present in the poor:
“There are countless reports in the Chicago media about low prosecution rates and the short sentences handed down to repeat offenders. Instead of treating the law-abiding gun owners of Indiana like criminals they should start treating the criminals in Chicago like criminals.”
This is a very common right-wing response that flies in the face of common sense and reason; in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Chicago policing do have a problem – but it’s recategorizing murders and other crimes as more minor offenses in order to keep their crime statistics from getting out of hand.
Those able to consider the issue in more sophisticated terms than simply condemning “criminals” for an inherent corruption and lack of moral fortitude point to the extreme concentration of poverty in Chicago and the entrenched racial segregation as the primary source of violence. “There is no way Chicago is going to significantly reduce the violence without investing resources in the communities where the violence is occurring,” Mary Mitchell wrote for the Chcago Sun-Times. “Besides police presence, these residents need access to counseling, recreational facilities and jobs.”
She’s absolutely right. Solving the crime problem in Chicag is a monumental task that will take years to resolve; but we can start today by cutting off the city’s access to legal firearms.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.