Monday, February 04, 2013

guns, cities and the death of hadiya pendleton...,

Time | Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton became the Windy City’s 42nd homicide this year when she was gunned down by an unknown attacker near her high school on Jan. 29. But the 15-year-old honor student’s death has had reverberations beyond her hometown — she had performed in President Obama’s inauguration parade just a week before, and her tragic end was mourned by celebrities and mentioned during Congressional hearings on gun violence. Still, although many have been quick to tie her tragic death to the need for stricter gun control measures, it’s an awkward comparison: Chicago has some of the most stringent gun laws in the country, and most of the national debate on gun violence has focused on rifles and assault weapons, not a handgun like the one that killed Pendleton. Clearly, there’s more at work here.

For a deeper look at the problem, TIME talked to University of Chicago Crime Lab Director Jens Ludwig about urban crime, federal gun legislation and what can be done to end Chicago’s senseless string of gun deaths.

With all the debate over assault weapons, could the needle now be turning toward urban violence? After all, the majority of homicides in this country take place in inner cities.

I think when you look at President Obama’s proposal, it seems to me that he had places like Chicago in mind, not just Newtown, Conn. A lot of things in this set of initiatives are important for addressing gun violence like the sort we have in Chicago. I saw a quote from a mayor recently — not Chicago’s — that said what we’re experiencing is ‘slow motion mass murder’. The vast majority of gun homicides are in urban settings, not mass shootings in suburban schools. The fact that the administration’s proposals paid attention to that is very encouraging.

Focusing on Chicago, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, what is happening to make things go so awry when a city like New York has seen a reduction in gun homicides?

There are a couple things worth keeping in mind when looking at Chicago. Other than Hawaii, no state is an island. Almost none of the guns used in these homicides were first purchased here because we don’t have gun stores in Chicago. They were purchased either somewhere else in Illinois or in a state with weaker laws. Because borders are so porous, it is hard for cities to regulate their way out of this problem. This is an area where federal legislation could have a more pronounced impact than city or state legislation. Like air quality, what happens in one state can have an impact on what happens in another state.

Now a couple of things make Chicago different than New York City. The level of economic disadvantage, the deep concentration of poverty on the South and West sides is different than what you’d find in New York. A second thing to keep in mind is that the Chicago city and Illinois state budgets have been hit very hard by the Great Recession. My sense is that when I look at New York’s budget, they haven’t been hit nearly as bad as other cities. In the recession’s ground zero, Detroit and Las Vegas, homicide rates have increased 30% to 60%. The roles of budget conditions have not received enough attention in addressing the crime and violence problems.