Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl who performed at the inauguration with her high school band, was shot on Tuesday a few blocks away from her school. The shooting occurred only a few blocks from Barack Obama’s former home in an upscale neighborhood, which has led many to conclude this shooting was “not normal.” Region of the city aside, homicide is not uncommon: Over 500 people were killed in 2012, and there already have been more than 40 homicides in 2013. Already gun rights advocates are claiming that this demonstrates how gun control laws are failing. However, the region of the incident is an important component of understanding Chicago’s struggle with gun violence.
Chicago police reported the seizure of 7,400 guns last year, which, according to the Washington Times, is almost double New York’s confiscation rate in the same time frame. This statistic is complicated by the fact that Chicago has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country: No assault weapons are allowed, handguns were banned until the Supreme Court ruled such a ban unconstitutional in 2010, and those seeking a handgun permit must undergo an arduous background check. This information is seen by conservatives as proof that gun control is flawed: As Newt Gingrich argued in a recent interview, “Chicago has very strict gun control and was the murder capital of the U.S. last year, over 500 people were killed. Why is it that the people who are for gun control don’t want to go to Chicago to find out why gun control has failed so much?”
However, the answer is more complicated than failed gun control laws. 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.
As Reverend Ira J. Acree, a gun control activist, states, “Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it’s like you’ve got this single house sitting on a whole block where there’s anarchy.” Those who see Chicago as proof that gun control laws are invalid fail to consider the details of gun control.
While Hadiya Pendleton was shot in a wealthier neighborhood, it is crucial to acknowledge why this instance is exceptional.
Poverty and segregation play a major role in Chicago’s gun problem. Steve Bogira, a Chicago journalist, recently compared the homicide rates from 2004 to 2008 in Chicago’s poorest and most affluent areas. The differences averaged 13 to 1, a “staggering” disparity. Decades of structural inequality in access to wealth and forced segregation through racial discrimination and economic inequity can account for a city where in 2010, “52% of murders in Chicago occurred in just six of the city's 25 police districts.” Dealing with a structural problem like poverty, of course, requires a comprehensive examination of anti-poverty policies in the long term: not exactly a recipe for political popularity.
Resources must be allocated for people disproportionately impacted by the racial and economic clustering in Chicago that contributes to its elevated murder rate. As Steve Bogira concludes, “The only thing more reprehensible than homicide rates so grossly disparate, from poor black neighborhoods to middle-class white neighborhoods, is that we've tolerated them for decades.”
The story of Hadiya Pendleton is devastating, and a call to action for all those invested in reducing violence in Chicago and across the country. In order to end the causes of violence, we must acknowledge the challenges to adequate gun control and the economic and geographic parameters that keep the homicide rate in Chicago so high in order to prevent more tragedies like Hadiya Pendleton.