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July 21, 2015

Chicago debates how to stem gun violence


After seeing the murder rate drop over the past two years, Chicago police and residents have seen a startling rise in gun violence this summer, with dozens shot each weekend.

Each year, gang violence swells in the city as temperatures rise, often catching innocents in the crossfire. Chicago has seen 1,100 shootings and over 200 murders already this year, with no sign of slowing down as hot weather continues.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy estimates that only about 7 percent of the population causes 80 percent of violent crimes in the city. He says there are too many guns on the street.

Chicago police confiscated more than 3,400 guns in the first half of this year, according to McCarthy — more than the number confiscated in New York City and Los Angeles combined. Illegal gun possession is not considered a violent crime for sentencing purposes in Illinois.

McCarthy suggests harsher sentences for gun possession, and lesser penalties for narcotics possession, which he says has worked in other cities.

Diane Latiker, who runs an afterschool program aimed at keeping children and teens off the streets and out of gangs, said kids as young as 12 and 13 get ahold of guns easily in Chicago. She said many make the decision to join a gang between the fifth and eighth grade.

Encouraging businesses to open in the neighborhoods most consumed by guns would allow kids to see alternatives to gang life, said Latiker, but the violence keeps those potential investors away.

“It’s like a catch-22,” she said.

Warm up questions
  1. What is a gang?
  2. What factors might drive someone to join a gang?
  3. How do police and communities interact with gangs?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What do you think of Police Superintendent McCarthy’s assertion that lax gun laws are the major contributor to ongoing gun violence in Chicago?
  2. Why does Superintendent McCarthy think lightening penalties for drug possession would help improve the murder rate?
  3. What can communities do to encourage business investment in under-resourced neighborhoods?
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