Open Post on Gun Violence


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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87 Responses

  1. Avatar Peter says:

    Comparing the number of shootings to the number of homicides makes it pretty clear that guns, handguns at least, are not some sort of magical death ray. Handgun shootings have a survival rate in excess of 90%.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Peter says:

      I’m curious about that as well. Maybe the shooters aren’t good shots? You have to practice to shoot well and hit a target, especially if it’s moving, or you are.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

        I’d venture to say that most people are either:
        1) Drunk
        2) not aiming to kill (assassins aim to kill. they wait, and ambush, etc. Shooting someone in the course of a drug deal — your goal is probably not to kill them. Might happen anyway, but…)

        That said, our battlefield medicine is pretty good.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Damon says:

        Drunk/high? Yes
        Not aiming to kill? Doubtfull. No one pulls a gun “to wound”. Even people with years of experience find it difficult to place a shot. You shoot for center of mass.

        I think it’s a combo of being a poor shot and “praying and spraying” and being under the influence.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Peter says:

      Despite how movies tend to portray them, hand guns only have a maximum effective range, at which you can effectively engage targets, of somewhere between 25 and 50 meters. And the 50 meters is for a trained marksman using a small caliber weapon. Once you start upping the size of the round and putting it in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to shoot, the number comes down quite a bit.

      For the average person, killing someone with a handgun require getting up real close. And taking a life is not easy for anyone but the legit sociopaths. I wouldn’t be surprised if most criminals who have fired weapons at people don’t close their eyes and tense up at the last second.

      Of course, if someone just starts squeezing shots in a crowd, someone is likely to get hit.Report

  2. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    I think there are a lot of factors that go into gun violence in Chicago. NYC and SF also have strict gun laws.Report

    • @saul-degraw

      I’m generally wary of attempts at gun control in general and especially Chicago’s brand. But I agree with you. It’s not because of the city’s gun control politics that Chicago is so violent. I’m not sure I know the reasons for the violence, although like many comfortable and relatively well-protected north-siders, I have my armchair theories.Report

      • I think the gang culture of Chicago is much more extensive than some other cities. The best comparison of an equivalent is probably Los Angeles. The question is why there are more shootings in Chicago.

        The obvious answer, IMO, is the extensive gun trafficking network from the South to Chicago. There is a well-documented pipeline that takes guns from places like Alabama right into the worse areas of Chicago and into other cities on the east coast.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        A culture of violence, which is what you have in some parts of Chicago, is self-perpetuating. You see something similar in New Orleans, where violence became so pervasive that the only way to survive it for any period of time was to be quick to violence. It’s also necessary to develop close relationships with a group, because there is safety in numbers when violence is ubiquitous. When you add guns to the mix, it’s a recipe for, well, what you see in Chicago and New Orleans.

        Activists in both cities recognize this, of course, and much of what they do with young people is to try to remove them from the cycle as much as possible in order to keep them from developing the reflex to violence, or rather to keep them from having to develop it, and to let them form social relationships with people who aren’t together merely because there is safety in numbers.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Chris has it right, it’s very much a cultural thing. Chicago & Illinois have had extremely tight gun control for years, and it did little to stem the flow of guns into hands that should not have them. As with all things, if the demand is great enough, there are almost zero controls you can implement to stifle the supply (absent complete physical control of all borders, and even then, corruption will open holes in the wall).

        Certainly guns in the wrong hands add dangerously to the mix, but unless the underlying desire to commit violence is addressed, the problem will continue.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        like a lot of things a “culture of violence” is one of those things that is “bad, but not bad enough” — if it ever does get bad enough, the neighborhood depopulates and the gang loses influence.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Kim, I’m not sure how some parts of Chicago could get much more violence without us calling it open war. I imagine then people would leave. The problem is that many of the people there have nowhere to go, and wouldn’t have the means to go there if they did.

        While I think reducing the number of guns in the world, and in Chicago, is important (I’d make them illegal everywhere, period, but I’m not dictator for life, so…), the way to fix what’s going on in parts of Chicago and Detroit and New Orleans and other places is to get rid of the drug war, work earnestly on systematic and pervasive discrimination, and create programs (not necessarily government programs, but large-scale programs) that give people hope that there is a future for them other than being stuck in that neighborhood, with that violence, with that deprivation, and with that powerlessness. It is easy to get sucked into a culture of violence that pretty much guarantees you a short life if you don’t feel like a long life has anything to offer you worth working toward.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        How meaningful can significant differences in US States’ gun control laws really be? There is no border control between the states – if you’re not paying close attention to the road signs, you could miss the fact you changed states. How much less meaningful must an individual city’s gun regulations be?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        dragon, see trizzlor’s numbers donwthread. State laws can be rather important.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        The pervasive gang violence on Chicago is more or less a direct result of racism against African-Americans and the various acts by government and private actors against them over the decades that kept them mired in poverty in the South Side. Other cities had similar problems, some even worse than Chicago, and the drug war doesn’t help. Ending the drug war would make things a lot better, so would actually providing real reform and opportunity.Report

      • Avatar notme in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        How can you speak about a “culture of violence?” Isn’t that racist to insinuate that a culture is violent?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        When did you start caring about racism, @notme ?Report

  3. Avatar clawback says:

    Yeah, gasoline is expensive there too. So when I travel to Chicago I just fill up elsewhere. Gas purchased in Missouri seems to function just fine there.Report

  4. Avatar notme says:

    There is so much gun control snark potential in this post.Report

  5. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Perhaps if Chicago spent more time seriously addressing the social issues they are facing, and less time beating people, violating rights, blaming various objects, & cooking their crime stats, they might be more successful at controlling crime.Report

    • @mad-rocket-scientist

      Nothing particularly wrong with your list, but I’d add the fiefdom theory of politics, with each alderman being to a very large degree the authority in his or her ward. On the one hand, it’s not all bad. It’s partially democratic responsiblism, and things are probably less corrupt than, say, 50 years ago. On the other hand, it can devolve into quasi-legalized extortion. The accounts of that extortion–“hinting” that businesses give donations to an alderman’s campaign before it can receive a liquor license is the most common–might sometimes be exaggerated. But I’ve heard it enough from sources that seem credible enough that I think it’s probably true to some degree.

      That doesn’t translate directly to violence, but it does translate to an institutional myopia among Chicago’s policymakers so that crime prevention, when done at all, is left to a militarized police force and mayor-directed crime initiatives that function largely as an effort to co-opt local initiatives.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        is this worse than naked bribery?
        … because other American cities have you bribing people to get building permits approved.

        I generally have more confidence in places where corruption actually gets exposed. The dirtiest places tend to never talk about the corruption.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I think all bribery should be naked. Makes the sting footage more entertaining, plus that hair is all the clothing Blagojevich needs.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The first thing I wondered about was the weather.

    Nothing too obvious. Unless an 80 and a 79 are truly awful temperatures, given the humidity…Report

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    Maybe after all the snow has thawed, the gangs are in a dynamic state to assert control back over their turf or expand?Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

      Our criminals in Pittsburgh get Seasonal Affective Disorder like everyone else. Crime rate goes through the floor in the winter (particularly February).
      [We get SAD much worse than Chicago though.]Report

  8. Avatar Angela says:

    I think it’s a combination of lots of things:
    – gun stores in the collar counties / out of state, straw buyers etc (@clawback) means there isn’t a serious limit on the supply of guns. All the gun control laws do is make it easier to confiscate afterwards.
    – there was a huge school re-balancing in the fall, where lots of kids had to switch schools. This lead to some scary commutes (going across gang boundaries etc) as well as more mixing of gangs. And a bigger push to increase territories
    – Chicago is really segregated. Ta-nehesi Coates did a few posts about the constructed nature of Chicago’s housing. It wasn’t anything I knew / noticed growing up, but it’s hard to overlook once pointed out. The crime is also localized
    – Public transit is also very unevenly distributed. On the North Side, it’s fast, reasonably clean and feels safe. This is not true on the South Side. Also, the CTA has been doing significant upgrade / repair work, that shutters the EL trains for months. Adding shuttle buses helps a little, but it makes commuting a lot harder. For some reason, on the North Side, they stagger the stations being worked on; on the South Side, they close a whole string in a row.
    – It’s been a brutally cold winter. Any nice weather gets people out more, with the attending conflicts.

    I don’t have a solution, or even suggestions. There are a lot of good programs tied to the schools (After School Matters), that try to get kids jobs / activities. But really, I think it’s a function of the lack of jobs in many places. If it were possible to get a job and safely commute, things would be better. I’m not sure the financial situation is going to improve soon, especially with the kind of budgets / expenditures Emmanuel / City Council keep doing.

    (OTOH, we were up painting the boat this weekend. Sailing season is starting. And there are many, many things I really like about Chicago.)Report

  9. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    More than two million people were not shot in Chicago over the weekend, or the weekend before this one, or the weekend before that.


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Technically, we don’t have the numbers for that.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m also working on collating numbers on all the Men that didn’t bite Dogs last weekend. Unfortunately numbers from the ballparks are still coming in.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Wait, only 45 people were shot out of a couple million? Clearly nothing to see here.

      [The rest redacted because of what my mother said about talking if you’ve got nothing nice to say.]Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris says:

        Pittsburgh’s actually safer than the surrounding areas (for white people, at least. statistics not in evidence for black folks (hispanics? negligible in city and outside)).

        Try telling that to a lot of folks, though.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

        @chris – My initial reaction to Jim’s comment was much the same as yours, but on reflection, I’m not sure there’s not a point in there. Granted that if Chicago is having more shootings than a comparable city, that could be evidence of a unique problem in Chicago.

        But in Chicago, how many people were injured in drunk-driving accidents last weekend? How many were knifed? Etc.

        More than 45?

        Are we focusing disproportionately on *these* 45 just because guns were involved?

        This is not to necessarily endorse Jim’s point (insofar as I understand it) or minimize the issue – going all the way down that road leads us to “why ever do anything about anything?” But considering the number of people shot in isolation of other numbers (not just Chicago’s population and comparable incidence/populations, but also other preventable social ills such as what I listed above) may lead us to maximizing the issue.

        Should 45 shot in a city of 2 million (though not *good*, certainly) really be considered “near-open warfare”? Chicago’s not some cities in Mexico (yet), I don’t think, though obviously we have an interest in seeing that it doesn’t get there.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        There is Chicago, and there are parts of Chicago. City-wide, Chicago is actually a relatively safe large city. Chicago’s violence is, however, highly concentrated. It’s not Detroit. I suspect Jim’s well aware of this, and it’s part of why the comment irked me.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

        “Pittsburgh’s actually safer than the surrounding areas (for white people, at least.”

        Everywhere in America is safer for white people. Gun deaths are, in order, 1) old white guys shooting themselves 2) young non-white guys shooting each other 3) guys of all complexions shooting their female domestic partners.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris says:

        it’s more that our MSA is pretty dangerous for white people. (we’re talking ambushes on highways and stuff, and biker gangs and meth).Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      “Wait, only 45 people were shot out of a couple million? Clearly nothing to see here. ”

      You’re right that there are 45 people who were shot, and that’s bad, but if we’re playing a numbers game then we need to make sure that there isn’t something else that caused bad problems for more than 45 people and could be solved more easily than making guns Double Secret Illegal.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Jim Heffman says:


        I am certainly not advocating more gun laws – but 45 is a serious number, even adjusted for Chicago’s population.Report

      • To add to @mike-dwyer , the 45 is, if I understand, from 1 weekend. What if 45 were shot every weekend? That’s around 2,340 a year. And as @chris pointed out above, the communities in which such violence is concentrated have a population far less than the 3 million or so in the Chicago city limits.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      More than *seven billion* people were not shot in Chicago over the weekend, or the weekend before this one, or the weekend before that.

      In fact, more than seven billion people have both never been shot, and have never been to Chicago.


  10. Avatar j r says:

    The thing that I find odd is that both advocates of stricter gun control and advocates of more robust gun ownership rights both use gun violence to try and make their points. And that is a pretty good tip-off that it does not work for either side.

    There really is no evidence that either arming everyone or drastically curtailing gun rights will lead to a decrease in gun crimes. I suppose if you could magically wave a wand and make all the guns in America disappear, there would be less gun crime. We don’t have any magic wands though.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

      IIRC Patrick did a really good post in the Gun Symposium about the lack of easy answers and magic wands.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to j r says:

      Except that tip-off doesn’t work.
      An average person in a city doesn’t need a gun for protection unless he’s part of the underground economy (in which case calling the police may be infeasible). Response time is under 10 minutes, a lot of places.

      An average person in the country? may very well need a gun for protection. Average response time can be hours.

      (There’s also the matter that guns are pretty good offensive weapons — and generally you can see someone coming a lot further off in the country, as they drive up your long driveway).Report

      • Avatar notme in reply to Kim says:

        “An average person in a city doesn’t need a gun for protection unless he’s part of the underground economy (in which case calling the police may be infeasible). Response time is under 10 minutes, a lot of places.”
        Talk about uninformed opinion about why someone needs a gun. Last time I checked I have a right to a gun. Not to mention the pure speculation about police response times. You know that the S.Ct. has ruled that the police don’t owe you or anyone a duty of protection so the response time is irrelevant. And let me correct you to say that hand guns aren’t good offensive weapons.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Kim says:

        Talk about uninformed opinion about why someone needs a gun. Last time I checked I have a right to a gun.

        Those two sentences aren’t linked.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kim says:


        The proper phrasing is, “I have a right to own a gun, need doesn’t factor into it.”Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Kim says:

        That’s fair enough, but I’ll note for the record that pretty often I hear “I need a gun”, not “I have a right to carry one, need doesn’t enter into it.”

        And when I delve a little bit into that whole “I need a gun” crowd I find things that make me shake my head, a lot. For all the reasons on that post linked above, really.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kim says:


        I sometimes wonder who you & others around here talk to about guns, because no one I knows gives a rip about need. It’s a right first & foremost, and letting the conversation devolve into one of needs means a constant game of justifying every little thing by need.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:

      “We don’t have any magic wands though.”

      Yea.. and how are you going to explain THAT market failure, @j-r ?Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Regarding the comment in the excerpt about Chicago’s strict gun laws, I wonder what the lag time is between the implementation of the laws and their effects (be they positive or negative). I doubt the impact is over night.
    @jaybird often points out that many laws are crafted with specific outcomes in mind but then are never assessed to see if those outcomes are arrived at. And he is spot on in that point. However, I think there are also many laws (or, perhaps more accurately, policies) that are jettisoned to quickly because they didn’t immediately yield results. This is certainly true in education, but I’m sure is true elsewhere.

    If you think more guns leads to less violence (“Armed society… polite society…”), it is going to take some time for less gun restrictions to actually yield more guns in society and more time still for behavior to change in response.

    If you think fewer guns leads to less violence, all the guns that are out there aren’t going to magically disappear just because a piece of paper was signed.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      I don’t know enough about the shootings to know whether ((yet) another) law would help.

      Are the shootings primarily gang members shooting other gang members over turf? Well, it seems to me that the laws that most directly would affect shootings are not gun laws but drug laws.

      Are the shootings primarily elderly men shooting stoned teenagers in the middle of a break-in? In that case, I’m pretty sure that drug laws won’t help as much.

      What do we know about the shooters? What do we know about the shot? “45” tells us precious little.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

        Excellent point, @jaybird . And I want to make clear I am not calling for more, less, or different gun laws. Only wondering if we allow sufficient time for the laws to work/fail before calling them a success/failure.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      We also ought to consider that Chicago’s gun laws may be functioning reasonably well — from a policeman’s perspective.

      After all, some laws are there to “keep troublemakers out of places where we don’t want them” (I’m thinking that guns in baseball stadiums are Bad News — and this provides the perfect excuse to arrest the people with illegal guns). Also, gun laws are used to arrest “known drugdealers” and keep them off the streets for a bit, which impacts their business.Report

      • Avatar notme in reply to Kim says:


        Actually there are separate laws which prohibit felons from possessing guns. Those laws are totally separate from those laws which keep law abiding citizens from owning guns and exercising their 2nd amendment rightsReport

  12. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I took a look at where the crimes are happening. In Chicago, a neighborhood west of the loop called Austin seems to have the highest concentration of shootings, although as one might expect there is some density in the southside neighborhoods too.

    i compared this to my own Los Angeles. The data is reported differently, but the crime occurs there in the general region that was until recently known as “South Central” and along a corridor running roughly parallel to the 5 freeway in the Valley.

    I don’t know Chicago as well as Los Angeles, but I’m gonna guess that higher densities of violence there are coincident with areas characterized by a surplus of substandard, low-income housing and light-to-medium industry. Hmm. Almost as though there were a linkage between crime and lack of economic opportunity. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, yes yes, but this isn’t exactly making a massive Freakonomics-style leap of data association. If that’s right, I’d expect cities near the bottom of this list to have more crime than cities near the top, and I notice Chicago two points above the national average.

    Alsotoo, access to transportation infrastructure doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. I don’t have data for police presence, but again it seems a reasonable assumption that like hunters who want to go where the deer are, cops want to go where the crime is.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      cops want to go where the crime is

      When I lived on the wrong side of the tracks, it took hours for the cops to show up to a phone call.

      When I moved to the right side of the tracks, they were there in a flash. They helped us put the phone back in the cradle.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Burt Likko says:


      cops want to go where the crime is.

      You would think that, but no, they don’t really. At least not violent areas, unless they are backed by a SWAT team in full battle rattle.Report

      • Pity. While I suppose it’s true that cops don’t want to get shot any more than anyone else does, “going where the crime is” seems like it would be an intuitively obvious way to, you know, reduce crime.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        not when you’re driving around in a car. that doesn’t fix much of anything, really.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        If we’ve learned anything from the Drug War, it’s that police are horrible at actually fighting crime in the literal sense (you know, with violence).

        What does tend to work is community interaction & involvement. Get the cops in the neighborhood, talking with people, being proactive & helpful, instead of reactive & violent.

        But that approach doesn’t appeal to the cop who just wants impressive war stories, or a chance to legally bust heads.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Didn’t a bank robber once famously respond to being asked, “Why do you rob banks?” by saying, “Because that is where the money is”? This might be a myth, but at least the robbers have myths about them that make them look competent!Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy says:

    If you want to read an excellent — but deeply depressing — account of what life is like in many of the neighborhoods where gun and drug violence is at it’s worst in Chicago, I can’t recommend this book highly enough:

  14. Avatar Shazbot11 says:

    Yeah, this is just as big a problem in Canada, too.

    Oh, wait. It isn’t.Report

  15. Avatar Fnord says:

    I’m not sure that comparing trends over three weekends tells you anything significant about policy. What was the weather like those weekends? Did any big movies come out? On a week-to-week basis, I suspect that things like that (along with sheer randomness) are the biggest drivers of variation.Report