Editorial Note: I considered holding off on this post in light of the recent SCOTUS rulings and other breaking news that is dominating news and social media sites today, but I ultimately decided it was time to release this piece, which has been a work in progress for a while now.
It takes a lot to get me riled. When a gun-loving family member gets a little tipsy and starts tossing NRA and gun license cards across the table during holiday dinners, I try not to raise my voice while I explain that I hope I never have to even hold a gun. But sometimes I wonder if I haven’t been vocal enough about my opinions. As a journalist, I like to, in the words of Christaine Amanpour, “giv[e] each side a hearing” before passing judgment. When it comes to gun usage and gun violence, I have done some research for personal and professional reasons, but I have also grown up listening to the nightly news in Chicago. That is where I am coming from with this discussion.
Wednesday, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved Chicago Mayor Rahm’s proposed gun store law. It mandates videotaping of purchases in gun stores throughout the city and limits sales to one per customer per month. There is also a 24-hour waiting period to purchase rifles and shotguns, and a 72-hour waiting period to purchase handguns. The Illinois Rifle Association and many gun rights advocates have protested the new restrictions, claiming they will make it nearly impossible to sustain a gun stores in the city (ain’t that a shame).
A few weeks ago, Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department released a report about illegal guns and violence in the city. According to the report, in the last year, “Chicago had the fewest murders since 1965, the lowest murder rate since 1966, and the lowest overall crime rate since 1972.”
This report came just days after a young man killed six people, as well as himself, and injured 13 others in Santa Barbara. Following that shooting, the Internet erupted into a storm: screaming matches on social media sites, news site comments sections, and even within some of the news coverage. Shorty before the attack, the gunman posted a video to YouTube and sent out a manifesto to news outlets. In both, he addressed his “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires,” degraded women, and promised “retribution.” Even I found it unusually challenging to calmly approach some of his antics. This kid really struck my feminist nerve, but I’ll spare everyone that rant, for now.
The Santa Barbara shooting spurred debates spanning many interwoven topics. Among them: bullying, misogyny, mental illness, masculinity, power, privilege and gun violence. While I have passionate opinions about each topic, my city’s new restrictions and the recent report have allowed me to take a step back and examine one of the issues — gun violence — calmly and closely.
Despite recent improvements in reducing crime and violence, Chicago is still labeled by many as “the murder capital of America,” which is misleading in some senses. According to FBI statistics, the highest frequency of homicides actually occurs in Flint, Michigan. While I’ve spent some time examining the FBI data, for a more straightforward explanation of the numbers, read this. But as someone who grew up in the Chicagoland area and spent most nights watching the local news, I can understand why so many people use the murder capital term, because it’s true that Chicago can be very dangerous.
Each day I wake up to emails from the Chicago Tribune, which include updates about how many people were shot and killed overnight. I must admit, there are some Chicago neighborhoods I would be nervous to set foot in, and I have had a close call with gunshots — a few years ago, near Navy Pier. As a city and as a nation, we’ve still got a long way to go to reduce gun violence.
Key finding from the Mayor’s Office and Police Department’s report included:
— Violence in Chicago is fueled by people using illegal guns.
— Between 2009 and 2013, almost 60 percent of guns used to commit crimes in Chicago were first purchased outside of Illinois.
— Between 2009 and 2013, just four local dealers supplied nearly 20 percent of the guns recovered at Chicago crime scenes.
There are many solutions proposed in this joint report, including specific suggestions to reform gun laws.
At a federal level, U.S. Senators Kirk (R-IL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with the support of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), are sponsoring the bipartisan Gun Trafficking Prevention Act, which would make “gun trafficking” a federal offense. In the Senate, the bill has been sent to the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The bill was also introduced in the House, by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
The Chicago report also suggests enhanced dealer regulations, including employee background checks and training in identifying traffickers, inventory audits, and crackdowns on license transfers (making sure a dealer can’t reopen in the same place or with most of the same employees after a business license is revoked).
The suggestions in the report are well thought out, but gun law reform isn’t enough, as Mason Johnson for CBS Chicago pointed out:
“Gun laws and anti-gang strategies aren’t solely what neighborhoods like Englewood need. It seems that individuals turn to gangs because, oftentimes, there’s a lack of resources in the community causing kids to turn to gangs for safety and shelter. How do you make up for a lack of safety and shelter? Or, as others might phrase it, how do you make up for a lack of jobs and education?”
Community building: peaceful programs that provide job training, education, safety and shelter. As for those folks like me, who hail from the suburbs and grew up in a neighborhood where I heard warnings of the city, frequently labeled a ‘scary place,’ what can I do?
Well, Mason Johnson had an important lesson for people like me:
“These neighborhoods are, well, just that… neighborhoods. They’re families and schools and stores and playgrounds. They’re not statistics. They’re not homicide rates. They’re not the violence that assaults them, nor are they ‘war zones.’”
I have recently been looking into the gun laws that were enacted following the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Specifically, I’ve learned about New York’s SAFE Act; the state was the first to pass legislation following the Sandy Hook shooting. While I’m sure anyone who was paying attention to the news post-shooting will recall the nationwide chatter and subsequent legislative action, the numbers caught me off-guard.
From Jan. 1 to Jan. 15, just weeks after Sandy Hook, state lawmakers introduced 190 gun-related bills at statehouses across the country. But more than a third of the bills (67, to be exact) weakened gun regulations. Now regardless of whether or not you support the Second Amendment or own weapons for hunting, or even personal safety, is weakening gun regulations really the solution?
[Please, respond and share your thoughts. I am eager to engage in productive discussions about these issues, but fair warning: I do not respond favorably to condescending tones or threats of gun violence.]