Political Animal


December 30, 2012 10:59 AM 500 murders in Chicago in 2012; 435 caused by guns

By Kathleen Geier

A couple of years ago, I began to notice a lot more young men in wheelchairs boarding the public buses in my hometown of Chicago. At first, I wondered if these men were disabled veterans from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it didn’t take long before I realized that they were veterans of another war, albeit one that is every bit as deadly.

This past week, my city achieved a melancholy landmark: 500 murders have occurred here this year. 87% percent of these murders, or 435 of them, were committed with guns. Chicago, which has racked up more murders than any other American city this year, has been called “the murder capital of America” (though, to be pedantic about it, it does not have the country’s highest murder rate. New Orleans enjoys that dubious distinction). The violence here is getting steadily worse; the murder rate is a stunning 19% higher than it was in 2011. A total of 2,400 shootings have been reported to Chicago police this year.

Of the many reasons for this spike in violence, two stand out. First, experts say that gang wars are behind a lot of the violence. Secondly, this is a city where, it is said, you can get your hands on a gun “as quick as you can get a burger at a fast-food restaurant.”

An article in this weekend’s Sun-Times busts some of the myths about gun violence. The reporter, Neil Steinberg, points out that although horrific mass shootings like Newtown understandably grab headlines, it’s the individual acts of violence like the gun-related carnage in Chicago that end up taking the greatest toll.

Steinberg summarizes some of the statistics:

First, research clearly shows that owning a gun will make you less safe, not more safe:

[T]he most common victim of a gun is the owner — 55 percent of gunshot victims are suicides and 5 percent are accidents, with the other 40 percent being homicides. Countless people who buy a gun thinking they’re buying increased security are actually selecting the instrument of their own destruction.

Second, violent crime is decreasing. Steinberg writes that “[t]he national murder rate of 4.7 per 100,000 is half of what it was 20 years ago.”

Third, even though we now have many more guns in this country — an estimated 270 million of them — there are far fewer gun owners:

“The proportion of households with a firearm has declined from about half in the 1970s to about a third now,” said Tom W. Smith, senior fellow at NORC, an opinion research center at the University of Chicago, and director of the Center for Study of Politics and Society. “That surprises a lot of people. But when you look at two ancillary facts: the proportion of adults who are hunters has declined, and most years the levels of crime has declined. Hunting and self-defense are the two major reasons for having firearms, and both of those trends point away from having firearms.” The paradox of more guns but fewer owners is solved because those who do own guns tend to own a lot more of them. Gun stores report surges in sales based around national events such as the re-election of Barack Obama or Mayan predictions of the end of the world.

Gotta love that bit about people buying guns because of the Mayan predictions about the end of the world! It supports what I’ve long maintained, which is that, unless you use guns for hunting or sport, gun ownership is totally irrational. The gun nuts have two basic arguments. One is that owning a gun will make you more safe, and the other is that owning a gun will make you more free.

Owning a gun certainly does not make you more safe — see the statistics above.

Nor does it make you more free. The “freedom” argument seems to work this way: you need a gun in the event you need to organize a mass uprising against the government. But if you really believe an armed militia would be any defense against a powerful central government with rocket launchers and nukes, you are absolutely freakin’ nuts. Armchair revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the government need a viable strategy for winning the military over to their struggle. Any independent armed militia movement would inevitably end in a Waco-style massacre. Guerrilla movements have sometimes been successful, but only in societies like Vietnam and Guatemala, which were agricultural and strongly communally based — the exact opposite of our modern economy and individualistic, atomistic society.

Getting back to the real world, Steinberg closes his piece by noting that this year, 319 students in the Chicago Public Schools were shot, and 24 of them were killed — more than the number of students killed at Newtown. Just how “safe” and “free” do you think those kids, their classmates, their siblings, and their families feel?

The horror at Newtown has, at long last, focused national attention on the problem of guns. I’m optimistic that Congress might even do something this time. Not enough, of course, but even mild prohibitions, like the loophole-ridden 1994 assault weapon ban, was effective. And even gun owners and NRA members support measures like five-day waiting periods and strictly prohibiting the mentally ill from owning guns.

The New York Times reports that President Obama tasked Joe Biden with making legislative recommendations to the White House about gun law reform. This is good news. Biden has a wealth of experience with this issue, and his candor on the subject is refreshing. The Times piece leads off with this anecdote, which reminded me of what I like most about Joe Biden:

Never much known for restraint, Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not hold back during a presidential primary debate in 2007 when a voter asking about gun rights in a recorded video displayed a fearsome-looking semiautomatic rifle and declared, “This is my baby.”
Mr. Biden, then a Delaware senator in a dark-horse bid for the White House, shook his head. “I tell you what, if that’s his baby, he needs help,” he said. “I think he just made an admission against self-interest. I don’t know if he’s mentally qualified to own that gun.”
Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • c u n d gulag on December 30, 2012 1:43 PM:

    The, unfortunately not late, Phil Gramm summed up the mentality of the multiple gun owner, best, when he said:
    "Ah gowat mowah guhns than Ah neead, buht nowat az mahnee az Ah wowant."

    Translated from the original Texas Cracker, that's, 'I got more guns than I need, but not as many as I want.'

    I was raised in NY City until I was 11, and then Upstate NY, until I finished college and moved back to NYC, the handful of people I knew who owned guns, were the fathers of the kids I went to school with, who had rifles for hunting.
    And not one kid, NOT ONE, could ever show me their Dad's gun - because it/they were kept safely locked up somewhere, where Junior and his curious school chums, couldn't get their untrained hands on it/them. And their Dad's could never be convinced to show his rifle to Junior's pals. It wasn't "safe." If you wanted to see it, you were welcome to come hunting with him, if you'd like, and could follow rules.

    Sure, some kids had BB-guns - but there was hell-to-pay for them if their parents caught them using that gun in an unsafe way. And that meant, no shooting in neighborhoods, and no shooting small defenseless animals.

    This recent gun-madness all started back when, in the late 70's, the NRA went from an organization focusing mostly on gun-safety, to the marketing arm for gun and ammo manufacturers.

    I've got to give them credit, if we had an ERA - no, not that one - the Environmental Rights association, and it was as effective as the NRA, we'd be the greenest country in the world right now, running our cars on lawn clippings, paper burger wrappers, french fry grease, and pizza boxes.
    And that's for the people who didn't have the latest electric car, which could run 10,000 miles on a single environmentally safe AAA battery.

    Our priorities as a nation, are really ucked-fup!

  • Matt on December 30, 2012 2:24 PM:

    I used to live in Illinois and I can tell you that any gun you get as quick as a hamburger is highly illegal. Gun crime in Chicago has always been ridiculous. When Chicago had extremely strict gun bans the violence was actually even worse.

    I'm not surprised by the increase last year as a wide section of the USA saw a slight uptick or a reduced rate in decline of violent crimes. Experts were puzzled how we had such a severe economic collapse without the usual crime wave problems. Maybe the crime probably is just lagging a bit behind the economy. If we're lucky a slight uptick is all we'll see.

  • mellowjohn on December 30, 2012 2:26 PM:

    and #500 took place just two blocks from the school where i teach. fortunately, none of our students has been harmed, but one of our less-distinguished alumni – who had spent most of his elementary school years trying to prove he was "the baddest of the bad" – was gunned down a couple of years ago a block from school the night before school started.

  • dweb on December 30, 2012 2:28 PM:

    Year to date total of ALL coalition military deaths in Afghanistan.....405


  • matt on December 30, 2012 2:36 PM:

    BTW the last spike in spree shooting occurred dead in the middle of the AWB. Claiming that the AWB was effective is just silly. Gun crimes after the expiration of the AWB is far below AWB levels.

    According to FBI statistics
    40% of murders (5600) don't involve a gun at all.

    of the 60% of murders (8400) that occur a year the majority of the victims knew their murderer. Meaning they were a spouse or a friend or an acquaintance(gang/drug related drives most of that).

    Of the 60% of murders that involve a gun the vast majority were committed with a handgun. Shotguns were the second weapon of choice. Rifles are in a distant last place. OF the small number of rifle related murders only a tiny amount involved what you would call an assault weapon. That's why the assault weapon ban wasn't effective as it didn't even touch the popular tools for murder.

    To put this in perspective 3000-5000 people drown a year.

    33000 people are killed a year in car accidents

    200000 people are killed a year thanks to medical errors

    1.3 million people are sick a year due to medical errors.

    So if you don't own a gun your chances of being murdered by one is lower then your chances of drowning in your pool. If you don't hang out with gun owners or involve yourself with gangs/drugs you now have a higher chance of being killed by lightening

    So with my statistics what's my point? Well my point is that even our non gun related violence is way higher then most civilized nations. Maybe it's time as a country to look at our culture and our beliefs.

    We need a public option with strong treatment options for mentally ill people (especially for the poor).

    We as a society need to stop glorifying violence and insisting on using it to solve our problems (Iraq the drumwar for war with Iran etc).

    We need to stop glorifying everything military even when clearly we shouldn’t be.

    We need to close any NICS related loopholes and provide for a free easy way for private sales to involve a NICS. That will fix the gun show loopholes that do exist.

    We need for some tightening in CCW requirements with training and background checks as a minimum requirement.

    We need to stop militarizing the police and focus on community outreach. Removing the stigma of snitching will increase the chances of discovering a shooting plot before it happens.

    We need to look at our culture and ourselves in an honest light.

    we should consider requiring gun owners to carry insurance to cover accidents with their firearms.

    We should consider a national FOID card like system with required training classes. I’m worried about this bit because we cannot even get a national ID passed. There’s also the problem that such a requirement will become a manner for the government to restrict ownership solely by passing ever ridiculous fees. There’s also the unintended consequences of such a precedent.

  • JR on December 30, 2012 2:42 PM:

    As long-time Chicagoan (16 years), a few things stand out...

    1) The South and West Side neighborhoods - those most plagued by gun violence - put the lie to the NRA's call for more guns. The law-abiding residents of these communities are fighting for fewer guns, knowing all too well that more guns only breed more violence.

    2) Yes, gangs are a huge problem, but the understaffing of the CPD hasn't helped. Due to a refusal to invest in more cops, Daley and Rahm just moved them around. As a result, gang violence has increased in neighborhoods used to lower crime rates. The gangs know where there is a lower police presence, and are more emboldened than ever. How do I know this? The husband of a close friend is a veteran CPD beat cop. He said the kids used to be scared when a cop approached; now, they're like - so what of it?

    3) Especially during summer, downtown Chicago has seen a real uptick in crime - not necessarily gun-related, but it could only be a matter of time. With the help of social media, mobs of youths are robbing stores, assaulting pedestrians, and throwing garbage at al fresco diners. Using the Red Line as easy access, many are never caught as they disappear into the bowels of the subway. Again, they know that there are not enough cops on the street to hinder them.

    Now, I'm your classic liberal, but this is getting ridiculous. Rahm's scared to death of fully owning the problem, lest it reflect badly on his real priority - wooing Wall Street dollars into the city, moving towards increased privatization of city services (not exactly popular after Daley's parking-meter fiasco). He also hasn't exactly built political capital with the cops, who've little-to-no respect for our union-busting mayor.

  • Matt on December 30, 2012 3:37 PM:

    Well the CPD and city doesn't help matters by covering up and attempting to hide police abuse. Even when something as blatant as the off duty cop that beat the snot out of a small female bartender for refusing to let him behind the bar. The city and CPD lined up behind the thug and contested that he did nothing wrong. Even when the video came out the CPD and City maintained that the officer was in the right. Combined with the systemic usage of torture and other abuses committed by the CPD it's no wonder that the community doesn't trust it's police force. Trust in the police force is a critical aspect to getting violence under control.

  • Matt on December 30, 2012 3:41 PM:

    [quote]He said the kids used to be scared when a cop approached; now, they're like - so what of it?[/quote]

    This mentality sums up the problem quite well. The CPD think that the civvies should be scared of them. People shouldn't be afraid of the police. The police are there to protect and serve not terrorize and arrest...

    This is why Obama had to push to pass the law requiring the videotaping of interrogations involving capital crimes. The CPD were well known to be extracting confessions via beatings.

  • JR on December 30, 2012 4:17 PM:

    Matt, please don't paint all cops with the same brush. My friend is the farthest thing from brutal. The South Side has been his home for all of his 54 years. He wanted to be a cop to help his neighborhood - not just protect them but help lift them up. It's not that he wants to be feared, simply respected. What he sees now is not only a lack of respect for cops but a lack of respect for anything and anybody, and that's what's deeply troubling. If we aren't willing to respect and listen to one another, how will anything change? It shouldn't matter but, yes, he's African-American.

  • Gene O'Grady on December 30, 2012 5:01 PM:

    The reason one of these self-appointed militias would stand no chance against the central government is not because the US has "nukes" -- basically not usable in civil strife for a variety of reasons, of which fallout is perhaps the most obvious but because the organized military are disciplined, trained, and have real leaders with a recognized chain of command. One of the things we should be grateful to Ta-Neisi Coates (apologies if that's spelled wrong) is for pointing out that the founding fathers' silly dream of a militia as the ultimate defense of the country turned out to be a poor joke when Sherman took on the Georgia militia. And in the other wars where the militia strutted its stuff they invariably had their fat pulled out of the fire by the regular army, even if those regulars happened to be black.

  • KP on December 30, 2012 6:10 PM:

    There are a couple of factors that make Chicago unique when it comes to the murder rate.

    1. Gangs are far more prevalent here than in other cities. Neighborhoods in Chicago are more socially isolated from each other due to their geographic size. In other cities, neighborhoods are smaller units. In Chicago, the neighborhoods are larger and operate sometimes as small independent towns; people live, work, and go to school all within the same neighborhood. Gang recruitment is much easier within these isolated neighborhoods.

    2. Chicago is also a major outpost of the Mexican narco-syndicates. It is the second largest Mexican city in the republic (after Los Angeles), and is basically a large northern Mexican outpost. Chicago is a major center of activity for the Zetas. While Texas border towns get more press about drug related violence, we have more than our share here in Chicago.

    I work in Chicago Public Schools, and for each of past few years, at least one student has been murdered. Unfortunately, there will be no magic bullet for reducing the murder rate. There is a complex web of various social and economic factors. Gun availability is a minor factor in all of this. Reducing the number of murders is a complex problem that has no easy solutions. It will require a large number of smaller initiatives and policy changes.

  • Matt on December 30, 2012 7:28 PM:

    @JR Well he feels a lack of respect because the citizenry of Chicago receives almost no respect from their police department. Yeah there's some officers who are fine people and those same officers will fill your head with stories about institutionalized brutality and such IF they trust you.

  • Matt on December 30, 2012 7:30 PM:

    @JR I do agree that we as a society don't respect each other or our property nearly as much as we should. I have no idea how to change that but it certainly would help our violence issue.

  • emjayay on December 30, 2012 8:19 PM:

    Once again, many enlightening, interesting and informative comments from fellow WM readers. Thanks.

    And once again, the same stuff I've said before:

    We need to get living wage jobs to people. As it happens, a lot of people don't have the education or skills they need to get a job that actually pays a living wage. Most of the jobs in this country at any of the ubiquitous national chains and franchises do not pay enough for anyone to actually live on adequately. We need to address that, even if it means offering jobs that the current labor market doesn't quite support in the raw supply and demand market.

    I undersand the theoretical economic arguement against any kind of minimum wage, but in reality raising it to equal at least what it was at its peak in 1969, which would be two dollars an hour more than it is today adjusted for inflation, actually mostly works.

    Why don't people have the skills, even the skill of showing up on time and actually working? First of course so much has changed so fast with computers and internet and microchips etc. that people with great skills and education few years ago have nothing to market today.

    But more fundamentally, there is a huge cultural problem. The same cultural problem that results in those Chicago gangs. Were you a gang member? Did you even hardly hear about any such thing when you were a kid? Probably not. You (well, me anyway) grew up in a "middle class" culture.

    Here's something the moronic uninformed ignorant right wingers are somehow actually right about: the problem is the welfare (still, even as reformed) and as they like to harp about free cell phones etc. And much more importantly housing project fueled and enabled world of mostly black and many Hispanic people (in urban aras anyway - I know in the boondocks there is a white culture of dependency also) in this country. Extreme multi-intergenerational dysfunction, aided and abetted by what were originally well meaning progressive policies.

    If you do not happen to have some amount of experience with underclass culture, you just cannot have an idea of what I'm talking about.

    We should face these sociological problems squarely, analyse them objectively, and do something. But I hardly ever see any discussion of this stuff anywhere.

    Someone please argue with me on this stuff....

  • D on January 02, 2013 11:38 AM:

    No chance against the government? Our armed hunters out-populate every army in the world combined. How hard was it to find one man in Afghanistan? Try fighting the largest armed and skilled population on the planet. It would be the most brutal war ever fought. I have never hunted.

  • marianancy on January 02, 2013 1:29 PM:

    until I saw the check that said $9927, I did not believe that...my... mom in-law was realey making money in there spare time at their computer.. there neighbour started doing this 4 less than 11 months and as of now paid the morgage on there house and bourt a great Toyota. go to, http://www.bit90.com

  • Davin on January 22, 2013 10:51 PM:

    Hey emjayay,
    How do you qualify this statement? Most of the jobs in this country at any of the ubiquitous national chains and franchises do not pay enough for anyone to actually live on adequately. How do you know? Just because you say it, does not make it anything more than words coming out of your overflowing mouth. People can "live" on quite little. If you are thrifty and not expecting more to be thrown in your cage. I am afraid I see far less basic fight and survival instinct and more dependency being fostered by the path we have created. It's ok, we will take care of you, rather than pick your ass up and struggle with the rest of us. Sure people will help, but I want to help (and I do) when I damn well want to and I feel it is necessary and not just contributing to complacency and dependency on charity from hard workers. Cheers!


  • kerry on February 27, 2013 7:49 PM:

    The reason most of the people murdered were gun owners, is because the people being killed are gang members themselves.. The statistic is misleading.. The people who are doing the killing, and being killed are illegal gun owners..

  • John on March 04, 2013 11:40 AM:

    I of course form my own opinions based on facts that as best as I can determine are correct and come from reliable sources that don't lean one way or the other. The numbers used in this article at minimum don't pass the basic sniff test based on general data I am aware of at this moment, so the conclusions drawn are suspect and probably off the mark. Why is it that lefties are always in favor of reducing our god given personal freedoms, and if conservatives speak up which we have a right to do we are called crazies.

    A few things to consider: When will the bad thing happen and where? Can't be known. How many bad guys will show up? Can't be known. What weapons will they bring? Can't be known. Will they obey magazine limits? No. How many shots will it take to fend off the bad guys? You can't know that until after the bad thing ends. http://www.theppsc.org/Archives/DF_Articles/Files/Oregon/92-Oregonian_Study.htm Portland police fired a total of 186 shots and scored 112 hits - missing 40 percent of their shots. And these guys train and practice. Would you want to limit magazine capacity for law enforcement? No? Why not? Oh, because then the bad guys might have an advantage. So, its not OK to increase a law enforcement officer's risk of being out gunned, but it is OK to increase my risk of being outgunned. I don't have a full time officer assigned to protect me, cops show up after the bad event, not before it. I am the only person who is with me all the time, so if I wish to defend myself I have to do it myself. The notion that owning a firearm increases my chances of being shot by that same weapon is just plain nonsensical. Heck, I have owned guns for some 50 years, and so far haven't had one attack me yet. How is that even possible. Bottom line, step back, verify the facts that you hear, get them from the FBI or similar source, not from somebody's blog or word of mouth. Rather than making emotional decisions make fact based decisions. it is better to live in a more free country with some danger, than to live as less free subjects under oppressive rule by massive government control. There is no way bad things will ever stop happening, more gun control won't reduce crime, just the opposite - Chicago is the shining proof of that. What is at the core of the problem you ask? Four biggies are the spread of "moral relativism", "cultural decadence" which means there is no right or wrong, only personal preference, "spritual apathy" and a luke warm church. Don't believe me? Then you are confirming my point nicely. I don't need to be recognized as understanding anything, truth is truth whether I say it is or not. Get past the surface, dig into the details, or you will be misled and in the process give up more and more of your liberties over time until one day you will wish you hadn't. But then it will be too late. The first amendment will stand only as long as the second amendment, so those of you against the second amendment ... if you were to get your way you would lose your freedom of speech next. Don't believe that? All you have to do is stay alive, and learn.

  • Joe on April 19, 2013 12:01 AM:

    This is just plain stupid.. So bridges need to be banned because people jump off them.. there are bridges everywhere. To state that guns make you less safe, is just moronic.. Whatcha gonna do when someone is attempting to kick in your front door to come hurt you and your kids? Call the cops? average response time is 5-10 minutes in the city.. in the country her even higher..

    Those gangsters you mentioned are obtaining the guns illegally.. No gun measure our government takes is going to stop them.. Know what will though? Responsible armed citizens...