If stricter guns laws were a magic wand, Chicago would be safe

While everyone in Wisconsin is right to be concerned about violent crime, I find that some people believe there’s a magic-wand solution. They feel that if only we passed yet one more law, we could end the tragedies that result from people choosing to ignore the law and shoot others.

This came up when I was talking to people in Appleton this past week. A woman asked whether I had voted for some particular gun-control law that she favored. My answer was simple: No. It wasn’t a good law. I voted for a better solution to the problem of “straw buyers,” a bill offered by Sen. Grassley of Iowa. It would have cracked down on attempts by felons to illegally purchase firearms, increased penalties for gun trafficking, required the Department of Justice to explain its failure to prosecute gun cases, and improved the existing Criminal Background Check System. No magic wand – just better enforcement of the law we have.

As I told the audience in Appleton, we have enough gun laws on the books, so we should enforce those. If you look at facts, the most stringent gun laws on the books are in places like Chicago, which has the highest number of murders of any city in America.

You can find the numbers here, at the FBI’s “Crime in the United States 2012” site. Download the data tables, and look for Table 8. In the last full year of FBI statistics, Chicago suffered 500 cases of “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter,” as the FBI terms it. The second worst city was New York, with 419 murders. New York has three times the population of Chicago.

Chicago doesn’t have the highest murder rate among cities, because that statistic stacks up those 500 murders against a population of 2.7 million for 18.5 murders per 100,000 people. By that measure, Chicago ranks 13th among large cities in 2012. Actually, Kewaunee had a murder rate about twice Chicago’s – because the FBI's figures say that Wisconsin city of 2,963 people saw a single murder. But most people don’t feel Kewaunee is a dangerous place, while Chicago is a far different matter.

If you don’t want to wade through the statistics yourself, you can read a summary at Forbes. Time magazine had preliminary 2013 figures last month. Chicago had fewer murders, 413, in 2013, but still led the nation.

As for the stringency of Chicago’s gun laws, that’s harder to quantify. Criminologists have come up with their own city-by-city rankings. I think it’s suitable to turn to several notably liberal-leaning news sources, National Public Radio and the New York Times, both of them just one year ago citing Chicago as having among the nation’s strictest anti-gun laws.

That strictness hasn’t kept Chicago from being the nation’s murder capital. As that Times story quotes an expert as saying, “The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they’ve essentially made the citizens prey.”

While Chicago officials now say this just means gun laws must be stricter in other cities so guns can’t be bought there and used in Chicago, it is interesting to note from the FBI figures that Chicago’s murder rate of 18.5 murders per 100,000 people is far above cities in places more willing to let law-abiding citizens defend themselves. Racine’s murder rate is 5.06. Kenosha’s is 1. Wisconsin’s more reasonable gun laws aren’t permitting Chicago-style slaughter because gun laws aren’t the issue. The willingness of criminals to shoot someone is the problem.