Chicago gun myths: The media misrepresentation of gun crime in Chicago
Both the mainstream media and the right-wing echo chamber repeat persistent lies about Chicago’s gun crime. Whether intentionally or negligently, the media continues to perpetuate false statements about guns and homicides in Chicago and those falsehoods get repeated uncritically through blogs and social media on a daily basis. Regardless of one’s position on issues like gun control, it is important that when Chicago is used as an example, that all parties to the debate have the correct facts at their disposal. In the interest of truth we must reject these repeatedly false claims about gun murder in Chicago and replace them with accurate information:
Myth #1: Chicago has the highest murder rate in the country
In an article titled “Deadly Distinction: Chicago Has the Highest Murder Rate in the U.S”, BET News perpetuated the myth that Chicago has the highest murder rate in the United States. The article went on to state “It’s well-known that gun violence is an issue for many inner cities across the U.S. But Chicago, in particular, has the most alarming rates, almost double that of New York City.” But then the article compared Chicago to only one city, New York City. Based on that single comparison they concluded that Chicago has the highest murder rate in the nation.
Sure, they were probably repeating what has been repeated over and over in the media, but a simple fact check of FBI crime statistics that are publicly available would reveal over two dozen cities with higher homicide rate’s than Chicago’s rate of 15.9 murders per 100,000 residents. Chicago is not even close to having the highest rate for murders. Of cities over 100,000 population, Chicago does not even crack the top 25. It ends up in 26th place. If you include all of the cities above 40,000 that the FBI keeps homicide data for, Chicago winds up ranking 41st, a far cry from number one.
Indeed, even if Chicago doubled its homicide total it still would have finished with a lower murder rate than nine US cities including Camden, New Orleans, Flint, Detroit, Gary (IN), York (PA), St. Louis, Newark and Wilmington (DE). The top four cities (Camden, New Orleans, Flint and Detroit) had homicide rates that were more than triple Chicago’s rate, and cities like Ft. Myers, Florida and Gulfport, Mississippi that receive very little media attention had homicide rates that were considerably higher than Chicago’s rate of 15.9 per 100,000. I guess saying Chicago is number 41 would not have the same ominous ring to it.
Myth #2: 2012 was a record homicide year for Chicago
On April 10, 2013 CNN Health’s Jen Christensen wrote an article titled “Chicago’s record murder rate: Don’t blame guns alone”. The article itself was a fairly detailed piece on the complexity of gun violence, but the title and the text implied that Chicago had a record murder rate in 2012. Where this myth originated is not clear but the New American’s Bob Adelmann penned an article titled “Homicides in Chicago to Establish a New Record in 2012 — Who’s to Blame?” where he goes on to proclaim that “Chicago is about to set a new record for violence, according to the Chicago Tribune. In the first eleven months, homicides have risen from 398 a year ago to more than 480 at the end of November, with some predicting a new record of 500 before the end of the year.” However, the Chicago Tribune article he cites says nothing about a new record, it merely states that the city will exceed 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. One hopes that CNN is not relying on right-wing bloggers like Adelmann as their sources when FBI crime data is readily available dating back many years, but apparently CNN does not bother to check official sources so who knows where they first read and repeated the bogus claim.
The 506 homicides Chicago recorded in 2012 did not even approach the city record. In 1974, Chicago had 970 homicides, nearly double the total in 2012. Every year from 1970 to 2003 and the year 2008 all exceeded the 2012 homicide total in Chicago. Reporting a homicide rate that is just barely over half the record rate as a record is irresponsible journalism. We would not tolerate CNN’s weather page calling a 75 degree July day in Phoenix a record high, so why should we tolerate such blatant misreporting of Chicago’s homicide statistics?
Myth #3: Chicago’s homicide rate proves gun control laws do not work
Myth number three relies on myths number one and two as its foundation and then argues that because Chicago is the murder capital of the United States and because last year was a record year for homicides, then the city’s strict gun laws must be a failure. Following this logic, they argue that gun control is actually the reason the murder rate of Chicago is at a record high and that gun control is the reason Chicago is the nation’s deadliest cities. Of course, because the entire argument is built upon piling one piece of misinformation on top of another, it crumbles upon further analysis. A number of right-wing sites including the National Review and Breitbart News advance a variation of this argument, citing the 1982 Chicago handgun ban as a failed policy. Of course, this argument is based on the myths above. Once you acknowledge that Chicago’s homicide rate is not among the top cities in the nation but that it sits at number 41 in the country and that the city’s homicide total has dropped from nearly 1000 a year before the ban was put into place to around 500 a year now, it is hard to argue that the city’s strict gun laws are a failure. With a homicide rate that may be on pace to be its lowest in fifty years, the dirty truth might be that the gun laws in Chicago are actually preventing the carnage from being a lot worse. To see what Chicago might be without its gun law in place one could visit New Orleans, Detroit or nearby Gary, Indiana for some field research, but there is no guarantee that the researcher would survive the experiment, because those cities are not nearly as safe as Chicago.
Myth #4: Living in Chicago is more dangerous than being a soldier in Afghanistan
This insidious bit of sophistry leads to sensational headlines like “Proof Gun Control Doesn’t Work? Chicago more Dangerous than Afghanistan Warzone”, from the BeforeitsNews web site on January 31, 2013. The article continues by adding “according to an analysis by WND, Chicagoans are at a greater risk of being murdered than soldiers in the middle of Afghanistan”. Unfortunately, incredulous right-wingers tauntingly spread this around the web proud that they have discovered how dismal a failure gun control is because a guy strolling down Michigan Avenue in Chicago is at more risk than a solider in Afghanistan. The only problem is that conclusion is demonstrably false.
Those who believe soldiers in Afghanistan are safer than residents of Chicago simply demonstrate their fundamental innumeracy. The statistically illiterate fail to recognize the simple fact that Chicago has 2.7 million people and that their are fewer than 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. If we compare Chicago’s 2011 murder rate of 15.9 per 100,000 to the 418 US troops killed in Afghanistan from a troop level of just under 100,000 men and women, we find that the death rate for US soldiers in Afghanistan is about 418 per 100,000 or 26 times the murder rate in Chicago. So rather than proving gun control is a failure, we find that in Afghanistan where everybody has weapons of war, even men and women who are armed with the world’s best military weapons and equipment, are at levels of risk over 25 times that of citizens of Chicago. To suggest that soldiers in Afghanistan are at less risk then the residents of Chicago when they are in much greater danger not only unfairly defames one of America’s cities, but it also trivializes the very real danger faced by our men and women in uniform. Why are they at greater risk? Because practically everybody in Afghanistan has guns. On second thought, maybe the idea of making Chicago safer by letting everybody have guns is not such a bright idea after all.
Reasonable people can disagree on whether Chicago’s gun laws are sound policy or not, but journalists, bloggers and pundits have a responsibility to base their arguments on facts and not on the perpetuation of myths that they are either too lazy or too ignorant to fact check. Decisions made or opinions expressed that are based on a foundation of falsehoods are simply not worth the paper they are printed on.
2011 Homicide rates for cities more deadly than Chicago
Camden 60.6 murders per 100,000 residents
New Orleans 57.6
St. Louis 35.3
Ft. Myers 31.7
Baton Rouge 27.6
New Haven 26.2
Pine Bluff 24.3
Kansas City (MO) 23.4
Rocky Mount 20.6
North Little Rock 19.1
Little Rock 19.0
Kansas City (KS) 18.4
Washington DC 17.5
Albany (GA) 16.6
Chicago 15.9 murders per 100,000 population