Despite the familiar media refrain that Chicago is the nation’s murder capital, the “windy city” does not even qualify as one of the nation’s top 25 most dangerous cities for homicide. Yes, in sheer numbers Chicago leads the nation’s cities in murders, but its per capita murder rate is lower than forty other cities with populations above 40,000 residents. In 2011, the last year where records have been tabulated to compare cities, according to FBI statistics, Chicago, with a per capita murder rate of 15.9/per 100,000 residents, ranked behind over three dozen other American cities.
In 2011, the city’s murder rate was less than half that of the cities of New Orleans (57.6/per 100,00), Detroit (48.2) and St. Louis (35.3). Chicago’s homicide rate was also lower than such unremarkable cities as Ft. Myers, FL (31.7) Pine Bluff, AR (24.3), Dayton, OH (23.3) Rocky Mount, NC (20.6), Gulfport, MS (17.6) and Harrisburg, PA (16.1). Although Chicago has a reputation for being a deadly city, a resident’s odds of being murdered there in a given year are about 1 in 6250. By comparison, a New Orleans resident has roughly a 1 in 1750 chance of being killed in a homicide over a twelve month period. Thus, a New Orleans resident is more than three times as likely to become a murder victim in his hometown than a resident of Chicago.
Gun control opponents have often seized on Chicago as their example to “prove” that gun control is a total failure, by repeating the false claim that it has the nation’s highest murder rate. While Chicago is indeed a relatively violent city, the fact that it ranks behind a number of other cities with more relaxed gun laws, at least calls into question the logic of that argument. In addition, it should be noted that Chicago’s record year for homicides was 1974 when they had 970 murders, well above the total of 506 recorded last year.
Chicago’s strict hand gun ban was passed in 1982, so given that the number of homicides has dropped in half from 1974 to 2012, it is hard to take seriously the argument that the gun ban has made matters worse for the residents of Chicago. The decline in homicide rates in Chicago coincided with a corresponding drop nationwide, so gun laws are not necessarily the primary reason for the lower homicide rate, but clearly the city’s gun laws have not exacerbated the city’s homicide problem. In fact, the city’s police department reported that the first quarter of 2013, was the least deadly for homicide in fifty years. Chicago’s murder rate through the first quarter of 2013 was the lowest it has been since 1963.
Although news agencies and blogs continue to report 2012 as a “record homicide year” for Chicago, and they also continue to falsely claim that Chicago has the highest “murder rate” in the country, both those claims are demonstrably false. Chicago’s homicide rate even in the deadly year of 2012 was lower than every year from 1991 to 2003. While, Chicago remains a dangerous city for homicides, statistically it is still safer than forty other American cities. If this nation is to engage in a debate about the merits or shortcomings of Chicago’s gun laws, they should at least begin from a foundation of truth, and not use a series of myths upon which to base their arguments.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.