What the Common Argument About Chicago's Strict Gun Laws Gets Wrong

October 17th 2016

Mike Rothschild

Despite the apocalyptic exhortations of Donald Trump, the homicide rate in the United States has been declining since 1963. One outlier to this downward trend is Chicago, which is in the midst of an incredible plague of gun violence that has persisted for a decade. As of mid-September, there had been more than 3,000 shootings, more than all of 2015. Further, those shootings had resulted in 500 deaths, which was a greater total than all of the previous year.

As a result, Chicago is routinely pointed out by Second Amendment advocates as an example of everything wrong with gun control — a city with the strictest gun laws in the nation, yet with more gun murders than anywhere.

“Chicago” has become a buzzword used to denote ineffectual liberal gun laws, the perceived lawlessness of the black community, and Barack Obama’s failure to solve the problem. Trump himself has pushed the use of Chicago as a code word for racial strife and Democratic failure, telling Bill O’Reilly that he could end the violence in “one week” by allowing Chicago police to “be tough.”

The problem with these denunciations is that they’re based on incorrect assumptions — myths that have been used by gun control opponents to obscure the real problems the city is facing.

Myth #1: Chicago has more gun murders than any other city.

In terms of the sheer number of homicides, Chicago is at the top of the list – but only because it has a much higher population than most other cities. When looked at per capita, taking the number of gun murders per 100,000 residents, Chicago doesn’t even make the top ten of major cities with the most homicides. St. Louis is actually at the top, with a staggering 49 homicides per 100,000 people. Detroit follows that with 43, New Orleans with 39, and Baltimore with 34. By contrast, Chicago’s per capita rate is 15. This still pales to New York and Los Angeles, with rates below 6, but not close to the worst.

Smaller cities like East St. Louis, IL; Chester, PA; and College Park, GA have even higher rates. And while Chicago’s number of homicides in unconscionably high, it’s down by almost half from the early 90’s, when homicides often topped 900 per-year, according to the Chicago Tribune.


Myth #2: Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation.

The “strict gun laws” meme is mostly based on history, and Chicago’s gun laws are nowhere near as strict as they're portrayed to be. While it’s true that the city had a ban on handguns until 2010, it was overturned as a result of the Supreme Court’s McDonald vs. Chicago case. Then, in 2012, Illinois became the last state in the US to allow concealed carry. Since then, Chicago’s gun laws have been on a par with New York and Los Angeles, with all three requiring some form of permit to buy a firearm, and all three banning assault weapons. Chicago officials are looking to more rigidly enforce current laws, and enact stricter punishments for offenders.

Myth #3: Chicago’s strict gun laws mean it’s impossible to get a gun in the city.

It is extremely hard to buy a gun in Chicago proper, with the city having no gun shops in its boundaries (though there is a proposal for a gun store and range). Citizens who want to buy a gun, either for legal or illegal purposes, have no shortage of options when it comes to buying. Laws in surrounding suburbs and communities are much more lax. And nearby states are even more permissive of gun sales. Of the illegal guns recovered by Chicago police from 2009 through 2013, about two thirds were purchased out of state, with almost 20 percent of those bought in neighboring Indiana.

For years now, sociologists, criminologists, and local activists have been vexed by Chicago's grisly crime statistics. Everything from a pernicious cycle of incarceration and joblessness, to the city's fractured networks of rival gangs, to a lack of trust between police officers and community members has played a role in fueling the violence. In reality, reducing Chicago's high murder rate will require much more than loosening its gun laws, which are already more lax than commonly perceived.