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Gun Control in The United States: Why “The Chicago Argument” Fails

Sean Costen looks to challenge a common argument on the right concerning gun violence in America

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On November 5th, only a month after the deadliest mass shooting in American history took place is Las Vegas, the United States was shaken by yet another senseless act of terror. This most recent attack occurred in a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Three of the five most deadly shootings in modern American history have now taken place in the last 18 months: Las Vegas, Orlando, and Sutherland Springs. Time after time the world looks on as the United States government refuses to address the elephant in the room; shaking their heads, they are no longer surprised.

In the aftermath of the Texas shooting members of the GOP, such as Speaker Paul Ryan and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, offered their thoughts and prayers to the victims of the attack. Such has become the default and all too predictable response; thoughts and prayers, but no action.

When asked about the possibility of enacting stricter gun laws on November 7th, President Trump responded by citing the problems that Chicago has experienced. Chicago has become one of the primary arguments regularly put forward by gun control opponents. At first glance the Chicago situation appears to offer something for gun control opponents can hang their hat on, when in reality it is devoid of any factual support.

The basis of the argument is simple. First, there is a high degree of gun violence in Chicago, which is borne out of facts. In 2016, there were over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes in Chicago and on a per capita basis its murder rate was the eighth-highest of all American cities.

The second component of the argument is that gun laws in Chicago are the strictest in the country; this is where the argument begins to run into issues. While Illinois is one of the few states that requires a permit for any gun purchase, in recent years the severity of gun laws in the state have been drastically reduced due the courts striking down to its handgun ban and its concealed carry bans. In their current state, other big cities such as New York and Los Angeles have somewhat comparable gun laws.

What is even more important to consider is that the majority of the guns causing these deaths are being brought in from beyond state lines. A 2017 report by the City of Chicago revealed that over 60% of all crime guns recovered in Chicago between 2013 and 2016 originated from outside Illinois, with the primary sources being Indiana, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. These states possess relatively weak gun laws and two of them share a border with Illinois, offering easy access.

This can be contrasted with New York City, another large American city with similar gun laws. Despite a population triple the size of Chicago’s, New York City had 428 fewer homicides in 2016. The key difference is difficult to ignore. New York shares a border with New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut; these states have strict gun regulations in place, thereby helping to limit the number of guns brought into New York City.

In evaluating the effectiveness of Chicago’s gun laws, it is necessary to consider them within this greater context and note that Chicago’s gun laws are hamstrung by looser regulations in neighbouring regions. By using this city as an argument against the strengthening of gun laws, gun control opponents fail to acknowledge these relevant factors. Without more stringent federal regulation guns may be freely carried over state lines, which limits the ability of state governments to effectively regulate gun ownership.

A Politico poll from last month revealed that 64% of Americans favour the enactment of stricter federal gun laws by Congress. However, even in the wake of the recent attacks many American politicians continue to stand firmly on the wrong side of history. The United States needs more than their thoughts and prayers right now, and the world is watching as the federal government once again fails to properly acknowledge the problem that is plaguing the country.

By Sean Costen, 1L Staff Writer 

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