The recent murder of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, an honor student at Chicago's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School, has riveted attention on the issue of shooting deaths in America. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, attended her memorial service. The President has invoked her name on multiple occasions in support of his call for new firearms legislation.
We might do well; therefore, to look closely at the circumstances surrounding this tragic death and the overall problem of gun related violence in Chicago.
By all accounts, Ms. Pendleton was a model student and an admirable young woman. She was shot and killed while standing with friends under a shelter in a public park. All available evidence suggests that she was not the intended target of the shooting, and that she was shot inadvertently by a gunman who was targeting one of the young males standing near her.
Ms. Pendleton's death was a tragedy. It was not unique, and in present day Chicago it is hard to say that it was even unexpected.
More than 530 people under the age of 21 have been killed in Chicago since 2008. No one knows how many others have been wounded or have been in other ways the victims of gun violence. Eighty percent of those youth homicides occurred in the black and Latino neighborhoods of South, Southwestern and West Chicago. The rate with which these killings are occurring is increasing. Last year alone 243 young people in Chicago were murdered.
Almost all of the victims in these attacks were black or Latino. Almost all of the perpetrators of these crimes were black or Latino. This mirrors the situation nationwide, where black teenagers are somewhere between eight and ten times more likely to die from shooting than their white counterparts.
Virtually none of these shootings were carried out with assault rifles or other "long guns." A review of the data on homicides in Chicago shows that from 2003-2011 a total of 4,251 people were killed in the Windy City. Of those 3,371 were shot. Ninety-eight percent of those individuals were killed with handguns. A grand total of 37 people were killed with rifles of all kinds.
The vast majority of the handguns used in these killings were illegal. They were either stolen from their owners or acquired through criminal channels from outside Chicago. For most of the period referenced above, Chicago had in place a law, which banned completely the possession of handguns by private citizens within the city.
There are still no gun shops in Chicago. They are officially banned. So are assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
In response to this epidemic of violence, the President has come out forcefully in support of a range of gun control measures, which include:
- Banning assault rifles.
- Banning high capacity magazines.
- Requiring universal background checks for all gun purchases.
- Banning the sale of armor-piercing ammunition.
None of these measures have any logical connection to the issues being confronted. None of them are likely to have any appreciable impact on the horrific situation on the streets of Chicago. None of them would have kept Hadiya Pendleton alive.
What would make a difference?
For starters, a direct, head-on confrontation of what is happening socially, economically and physically in urban minority neighborhoods, particularly black neighborhoods, that is causing this unprecedented wave of violence. Most of the murders occurring are directly related to gang activity and the drug trade. Gangs involved in criminal activity are literally recruiting the youth of this nation as foot soldiers in ongoing, low-level wars for turf and business.
This is an issue, which transcends local and state boundaries. It screams for federal leadership and attention. The deaths of 24 young white children in Newtown generated a firestorm of indignation. Should not the loss of hundreds of black children to guns generate at least as much focus? One would think that the first African-American President in our history would be uniquely qualified to confront this problem head-on.
Second, in place of an obsession with assault weapons and making the purchase of weapons by law-abiding citizens more cumbersome, how about a national focus on the criminals who are trafficking in illegal firearms and pumping them onto the streets of cities like Chicago? From 2008-2012 the Chicago police were able to trace the ownership of 1,375 of the weapons they recovered from crimes committed in Chicago. Almost twenty percent of those weapons came from a single gun store across the line in Cook County, Illinois.
The trade in illegal firearms is not invisible. Every teenager in the city's poorer neighborhoods has the capacity to reach out, place an order and put his hands on a cheap, illegal weapon capable of taking human life. This business is pervasive and operating citywide. It is impossible to believe that a concerted federal effort, in partnership with city and state officials, to identify, prosecute and incarcerate those who are getting rich off the murder of children would not make a huge difference. We might not succeed in taking every illegal handgun off the streets of Chicago, but we could make it exponentially more difficult to acquire one.
What exactly will come of the President's proposals remains unclear. In all likelihood, most of them will fall by the wayside. There is broad-based support in this country, from law-abiding citizens, for gun rights. Attempts to outlaw assault weapons in particular are unlikely to ever pass the Congress. What will emerge will, almost certainly, be a watered-down series of half-measures, which may complicate the lives of citizens attempting to buy weapons for self-defense but will have little other impact.
Demonstrators for Hadiya Pendleton
Demonstrators: The death of Hadiya Pendleton occurred on January 29, 2013. Pendleton was a 15-year-old girl from Chicago, who was shot in the back and killed while standing with friends inside Harsh Park in Chicago after taking her final exams. | Hadiya Pendleton, Demonstrators, Gun, Control, Rights, Murder, Civil Rights,
In the event, that the President somehow succeeds in pushing through his proposals largely intact, the impact will be felt mostly by those hundreds of thousands of American citizens, who follow the law, pay their taxes and keep their weapons secure in gun safes at home to guard against the day on which they may have to protect their homes and loved ones from armed intruders. Almost none of it will impact those determined to violate the law.
Regardless of exactly how this all plays out, one this is crystal clear. None of this will have the slightest impact on the streets of Chicago. The teenage kid newly recruited into a local gang will not care about the relative availability of assault weapons or high capacity magazines. He will not care about background checks, forms and procedures, which he has not intention of completing. He will still be able to buy a cheap, illegal handgun. He will still be able to kill.
All of this is readily apparent, and none of it has had any impact on what the President has proposed. He is not looking, apparently, for a solution to the real problem. He is looking for a politically correct straw man to attack. Just as his "tax the rich" mantra has been substituted for any rational discussion of how to actually balance the federal budget, his "ban assault weapons" chant has been substituted for real solutions to gun violence.
We deserve better. Chicago deserves better. Hadiya Pendleton deserves better.