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Chicago's Gun Problem -- There Are Too Many

Blog by Mason Johnson

Despite comparable resources to other big city's, Chicago's violence continues to outpace the likes of New York and Los Angeles -- why? One piece of that puzzle is clear: there are just too many guns in this city.

I'm not arguing for or against the rights of gun owners, mind you, I'm just trying to add a little context to Chicago's problem with violent crime.

In 2012, Los Angeles police recovered 122.34 guns used in crimes per capita. In New York, police collected 39.40 guns per capita. How many did Chicago collect? 277.22 guns.

As a 2014 report by the University of Chicago's Crime Lab and Chicago Police Department points out, "for every one gun the LAPD recovered, Chicago police officers recovered 2.25 guns."

Tracing the Guns
(Photo Credit: Chicago Police Department Tracing the Guns report)

Our two cities have comparable police resources (similar number of law enforcement officers per capita) and poverty rates, yet Chicago has significantly higher rates of violence than Los Angeles. And a lot more guns, as it turns out.

Consequently, while Chicago's homicide rate per capita with non-guns is similar to Los Angeles's and New York's, its homicide rate with only guns is significantly higher.

(Photo Credit: Chicago Police Department Tracing the Guns report)

And yes, I hear the readers out there who are sarcastically saying, "But how can that be?! Chicago had such strict guns laws ..."

Apparently strict gun laws don't mean squat when the counties and states around your city don't have them.

Tracing guns used in crimes in Chicago has shown that most of these guns were bought legally. "According to the ATF, almost all of the guns recovered at crime scenes were originally sold at retail stores by federally licensed firearms dealers," the report notes.

And where were these guns legally bought? Not Chicago, obviously. 60 percent of the guns collected in crimes in Chicago between 2009 and 2013 were purchased in other states. Not surprisingly, 19 percent of those guns came from our good neighbor, Indiana. (Every time a football, baseball, frisbee or gun is thrown over the fence dividing our states, we apparently keep it to teach Indiana a lesson.)

Without laws requiring more comprehensive background checks of all firearm purchases -- or stronger measures to prevent the sale or resale of guns to criminals -- it's easy to purchases guns in states like Indiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin, and to then bring them back to Chicago -- especially at gun shows. From there, whether intentionally or accidentally, these guns are used to commit crimes. [Correction: This paragraph has been edited for clarity. It initially implied background checks were not necessary in all states, which is not true, and was not the original intention of the author.]

More locally, there are a few gun dealers just outside of Chicago where many of the guns used in Chicago crime are originating. Between 2009 and 2013, 1,516 guns recovered in Chicago crimes were first sold at Chuck's in Riverdale, Illinois. 34.9 percent of those guns had been used in crimes within three years of their purchase.

So, yeah, there are too many guns in Chicago.

With that said, solely dedicating resources to eliminate guns, as the city has occasionally done, creates its own problems. While it can be seen as a noble effort (depending on your political leanings), this tactic can be shortsighted. Guns are one factor of many when it comes to violence, and without a rounded approach that directly addresses the needs of the neighborhoods, you're going to find very little success at stomping out violence.

And, at the end of the day, it's clear that Chicago will be flooded with guns regardless of Chicago's gun laws. So until the nation as a whole can figure out a way to curb the sales of guns used in crimes, Chicago seems better suited to spend its efforts committing its time, effort and money into the neighborhoods affected most by violent crime.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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