One popular refrain of the gun lobby and right-wing activists goes like this: because Chicago has significant levels of gun violence that must mean that strong gun laws don’t work. As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich made this case on CBS This Morning last December: “The President’s hometown of Chicago is the murder capital of the United States…. If gun control works, Chicago ought to be safe.”
A new report released yesterday by the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel provides some hard data that makes the “Chicago is a cesspool of gun crime” argument a bit less compelling.
First, the report clarifies that Chicago is not the “murder capital” of the U.S. as Mr. Gingrich claimed. In fact, as the report highlights, while Chicago continues to suffer from “unacceptably high” violent crime, in 2013 the city had lowest murder rate it’s had since 1966 and the lowest overall crime rate it’s had since 1972. In fact, when you compare Chicago to other large cities, it ranks nowhere close to the top for murder rates. Chicago’s murder rate in 2013 was less than half that of New Orleans and Detroit, the cities with the nation’s highest rates of murder.
Moreover, localities in states with weak gun laws tend to suffer levels of gun violence that are far higher that cities and towns in states with strong gun laws. An April 2013 Center for American Progress report found that the ten states with the weakest gun laws had 34% higher overall gun murder rates, 88% higher rates of gun murders of women, and 139% higher rates of gun murders of police officers than the ten states with the nation’s strongest gun laws.
So, why despite relatively strict state and local gun laws does Chicago continue to suffer significant gun crime? The report released yesterday provides one clear contributor: lax laws in neighboring states. Between 2009 and 2013, 60% of guns recovered in crimes in Chicago were originally purchased in other states — suggesting that interstate gun trafficking is a major source of street guns in Chicago. In fact, this level of crime guns originally purchased in other states is double the nationwide average for portion of interstate crime guns (30% according to a 2010 report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns).
Mayor Emanuel’s report highlights that there are a number of way that laws could be strengthened further to make it harder for Chicago’s criminals to obtain and carry firearms. At that state and local level, the report recommends tighter gun dealer monitoring laws, noting that just four gun stores supply nearly 20% of Chicago’s crime guns. At the federal level, the report recommends universal background checks and stronger federal gun trafficking laws to combat the interstate market for illegal guns.
Of course, the report comes just days after the mass shooting in Santa Barbara, with both Republicans and Democrats now calling for renewed push for federal guns laws.