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Guns from ‘Surrounding Areas’


David Axelrod suggested on Morning Joe that Chicago’s high rate of gun crime can be blamed on the fact that “surrounding areas” have lax gun laws. What is true here is that the guns used in Chicago crimes come from outside of Chicago, because they “don’t have gun stores in Chicago.” Many crime guns are purchased just outside the city limits, though more than half come from other states.

However, Illinois as a whole is fairly strict when it comes to guns — all gun owners must have a license, and it’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow concealed carry by private citizens under any circumstances. (This will change if Richard Posner’s recent ruling holds up.) I’m not sure how much stricter a state could be without running afoul of the Second Amendment. And the communities these guns come from typically have much lower crime rates than Chicago does.

If we were to spread Chicago’s gun control outward, the city’s gangs would need to get weapons that were originally sold farther away. But would fewer guns actually make it into the city? Given that America has something like 300 million guns, and that guns are easy to conceal and transport, I rather doubt it.

Frankly, I don’t think gun control has much to do with Chicago’s murder problem. It seems to be mostly gang-related, which means that (A) any guns that can’t be bought legally will be bought illegally and (B) arming the law-abiding won’t make much difference either, because the violence is taking place between criminals. We still should arm the law-abiding, so that they may defend themselves against burglaries and the like, but they are rarely the victims of gang murders.

It’s also helpful to look at the longitudinal data from areas that have banned guns. “Surrounding areas” can’t explain why Ireland’s and Jamaica’s gun bans in the early 70s didn’t stop crime from rising later in the decade. (Crime rose in lots of places during the ’70s, so it’s also a stretch to say the bans caused the crime.) And as I wrote previously about the bans in D.C. and Chicago:

Take Washington, D.C., which banned guns in 1976. Compared with the nationwide murder rate, D.C.’s rate skyrocketed in 1987 — but that was when the crack epidemic hit the city. Prior to that, D.C.’s rate didn’t move much before or after the ban. It was about four times the national average from 1968 to 1974, fell to about three times the national rate by 1976, stayed there until about 1980, and ticked upward slightly before the crack wars came. . . .

Chicago banned guns in 1983, yet its murder rate held remarkably steady for six years before and after that point — about three times the national average from 1977 through 1989. There was a spike in 1990, after which point the rate settled at about four times the national average — murder fell in Chicago in the 1990s, but not as much as it did in the rest of the country (most notably Giuliani’s New York).