Analysis

Chicago's rising murder rate: Has gun control failed?

Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton is gunned down a week after performing at President Obama's inauguration, instantly becoming part of the debate over gun laws

Last week, Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl from Chicago, was performing with her high school band at President Obama's inauguration. On Tuesday, she was gunned down as she sought shelter from the rain under a canopy in a park near her well-regarded prep school — and less than a mile from Obama's Chicago home. Instantly, the teen — an honors student, volleyball player, and majorette at Kings College Prep School — became the face of Chicago's high, and possibly rising, murder rate. She also became part of the debate over gun violence that has erupted since the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) cited her death as the latest evidence of the need for more strict gun control.

Gun-control advocates, however, note that Hadiya Pendleton was the 44th person to die in Chicago this year. "That puts Chicago on pace to surpass last year's total of more than 500 murders," says the Washington Examiner in an editorial. Is that because the city has lenient gun laws? Quite the opposite, according to the Examiner. If anything, the paper says, Chicago is a laboratory that is proving that "feel-good laws" really "do nothing to decrease gun violence."

Chicago has the strongest gun control regime in the nation. Both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are completely banned in the city. And up until the 2010 Supreme Court decision that legalized them, handguns were banned too.

You can now get a permit to own a firearm in Chicago, but it requires firearms training, two separate background checks and a firearm owner's identification card. As a result of these burdensome and punitive measures, only 7,640 people currently hold a firearms permit in Chicago. But criminals couldn't care less about Chicago's gun laws. Chicago police seized 7,400 guns used in crimes in 2012 alone. [Washington Examiner]

Some law-enforcement experts in Chicago aren't impressed by that logic because, they say, Chicago's gun laws aren't as tight as many people think since the penalties for violating them are pretty lax. A common sentence for gun possession, if the offender has no other felonies, is a year in prison. In practice, the person might get out after six months, which is not much of a deterrent to a seasoned criminal. "Chicago may have comprehensive gun laws," Garry F. McCarthy, Chicago police superintendent, tells The New York Times, "but they are not strict because the sanctions don't exist."

The bottom line, says Hannah Kappe-Klote at PolicyMic, is that it's simply wrong to blame Hadiya Pendleton's death on "failed gun laws." Chicago's violence has a far more complex set of causes.

Most of the guns that come into Chicago are from out of state or from parts of Illinois where gun control laws are not so strict. More than 400 guns were traced to Mississippi, where many of those whose families immigrated to Chicago in the early 20th century may remain. Rather than serving as an argument against gun control (one that could certainly be countered by the murder rate in Louisiana), Chicago serves as a call to a national, regulated gun control policy. [PolicyMic]

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