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Chicago's Gun Ban Fails To Prevent Murders


Well, let's follow up now on the complex problem of gun violence. We reported yesterday on Chicago where the murder rate spiked in 2012, going against a long-term national decline in homicide.


We focused on the hyper-local factors that prompt many murders to cluster near a single corner or within a small group of people. Some of you wrote in to ask about another factor. You asked, why hasn't Chicago's gun ban prevented the killings? That's a loaded question given the national debate over gun control laws, which is all the more reason to check it out. NPR's Carrie Johnson is back with us again. Carrie, good morning.


INSKEEP: OK. What are the rules for handguns in Chicago?

JOHNSON: Well, there were two places in the country, Steve, that still had sweeping bans on handguns. They were Chicago and Washington, D.C. But the Supreme Court in a pair of cases in 2008 and 2010 threw out those sweeping bans, so no more outright bans on handgun ownership in these places, but still some pretty tight restrictions.

It's worth noting, Steve, as we did yesterday, homicide rates for D.C. are at record or near-record lows as of 2012, but Chicago had a sharp spike in murders last year.

INSKEEP: OK. So, a couple of different cities here. They don't really have handgun bans anymore. They do have tight restrictions. One, crime spiked. The other went down. That's what you're telling me?

JOHNSON: That's exactly right. So, based on that evidence alone, not enough to say whether this works.

INSKEEP: What if we broaden out this discussion and ask about other kinds of regulations? There are so many different kinds of gun laws in so many different cities and states across the country.

JOHNSON: Steve, the big debate right now, in most states, is over whether concealed carry of weapons is an effective strategy and an effective regulatory approach. And New York, California and Illinois all have relatively strict rules in place that would make it pretty hard for someone to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

INSKEEP: You can do it, but it's very, very difficult, OK.

JOHNSON: Yes. In Illinois, an appeals court recently struck down its concealed carry law, so state lawmakers there are trying to figure out new rules. But there are big questions about how effective they are. There's a big contrast, though, Steve, because in New York City and in New York state where violent crime is at record lows, they have a more holistic regulatory approach to guns. And they believe that enforcement of the strict laws that they have and making sure that people who want to carry a concealed weapon and demonstrate they have a real need to do so is something that's going to work.

INSKEEP: OK. So, this gets down to a couple of fundamental questions here. And one of them is this. I mean, people will ask. There are states that are more strict. There are states that are more liberal, they're more open. They've encouraged people to carry weapons or even made it easier for people to fire those weapons. Is there any evidence about which approach is better at battling crime?

JOHNSON: Well, the last big national study that was done was back in 2004 by the National Academy of Sciences, which determined there was no credible evidence one way or another that gun controls reduced or increased violent crime. Some of the people I've spoken with over the last couple of days, including people at the Second Amendment Foundation, big supporters of gun rights, still continue to believe that more guns means less crime.

But other criminologists out there say it depends on what you define as a gun control regulation and what else you do.

INSKEEP: And that gets to maybe the fundamental point here. You mentioned that example of New York where they do lots of things, not just have gun restrictions. Is that really the fundamental question here? It's not what gun laws you have, but how you use them, how you police the streets, how effective you are and many different strategies of battling crime.

JOHNSON: Regulations are just one part of an approach to fighting crime and criminologists and economists who studied these issues say the number of police on the street and what they do may be the most important factor here.

INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson in our studios this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.