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Chicago Doesn't Have a Gun Problem - It Has a Government Problem

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Edward Bryant stood on the dark street corner of his Southside Chicago neighborhood in the dim light of a street lamp. It was a chilly night, typical for the Illinois city around the end of October, and it was late. The young black teen lingered with his brother, Edwin – his twin, though you might not know it to look at them. The two were fraternal twins, with Edward towering at a height of six-foot-five and Edwin just shy of his brother by a few inches.

With a skyscraper build and a killer dunk, it’s no wonder Edward was already on his way to a promising basketball career. His coach at the local youth basketball program thought the high school junior could go all the way to Division I. Maybe even go pro.

The clock had just edged past 3:15 a.m. on Sunday morning when a dark car pulled up to the block corner, and someone inside opened fire.

Edwin was shot in the chest and back. It would only take 30 minutes for authorities to show up, rush him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and pronounce him dead.

Edward, tall and lithe and full of basketball dreams, suffered gunshot wounds to the chest and head. He was pronounced dead about a half an hour after his brother.

They were 17 years old.

Halloween weekend saw Chicago’s deadliest three-day string in the past three years, adding even more bodies to the city’s already skyrocketing homicide total this year. A total of 17 people were shot dead while another 39 were injured in shootings across the city, many of them clustered in some of Chicago’s most dangerous south side neighborhoods.

So far in 2016, there have already been 605 murders, 3,003 shootings and 3,633 shooting victims in Chicago.

The problems facing the Windy City are complex, and not.

For Democrat Rahm Emanuel, a former Obama chief of staff and the mayor of Chicago since 2011, the problem is simple: guns. Controlled by Democrats since the 1930s, the Windy City has become infamous not only for its rampant violence, but also its stringent gun control laws. It’s illegal to open carry in the city’s limits, and you need a Firearm Owner I.D. to buy a gun. The city’s concealed carry ban was struck down in 2012, but a person wishing to carry a handgun has to obtain a hard-to-get concealed carry permit to do so legally.

For his part, Emanuel has called for tougher gun laws – including for areas outside Chicago, which he blames for his city’s violence problem. Several years ago, the Chicago mayor was quoted as saying:

"Our gun strategy is only as strong as it is comprehensive, and it is constantly being undermined by events and occurrences happening outside the city—gun shows in surrounding counties, weak gun laws in neighboring states like Indiana and the inability to track purchasing. This must change.”

This argument is, of course, ridiculous.. If Emanuel’s assertions were true that easier access to guns perpetuates gun violence, then those places surrounding Chicago – the areas that had the guns to begin with – would be just as bloody as the city. They aren’t. Guns, particularly those in the hands of law-abiding citizens, don’t promote violence. And for that matter, neither does the prevalence of weapons alone. A weapons closet housing 250 assault rifles is less lethal than a 9 mm in the hands of a terrorist.

Perhaps the city’s crime problem can be traced to a more telling factor. The vast majority of Chicago’s gun violence, which is concentrated in a precious few of the city’s 77 recognized communities, is characterized by gang-on-gang crime. Street gangs have long been a problem in the Second City, but police say fractures in longstanding cliques have created new rivalries that often exist mere blocks apart.

And it’s no shock that where gangs exist, poverty and other social ills are easily pinned as their instigators. The neighborhood of Englewood, home to some of the city's highest crime rates, boasts a measly average household income of $20,000. IN Riverdale, that income drops to $14,000.

In Illinois’ 7th Congressional District, which includes several of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods on Chicago’s south side including West Englewood and West Garfield Park, nearly 66,000 households (about one in four) were receiving food stamps in 2013, including about 50 percent of households with children under the age of 18. The vast majority of these government-dependent households are concentrated in a few areas just south of the city, nestled on the edge of a congressional seat that’s been occupied by Democratic Rep. Danny Davis since 1997.

Similarly, in the state’s 1st Congressional District, which includes the lowest border of the city, roughly 55,000 households received SNAP benefits in 2013. Rep. Bobby Rush, also a Democrat, has occupied the district’s congressional seat for more than 24 years.

Last year, about 1.3 million Chicagoans (about 13 percent) lived in poverty, including more than one in five of the city’s children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The vast majority of impoverished households were concentrated in minority neighborhoods – the same communities hooked on Democrat-led welfare policies and plagued by poverty-fueled gang violence.

That same rampant poverty and desperation that fuels gang rivalries has also contributed to an uptick in drug use, a growing problem that further sparks wars between gangs. A shocking 1,425 heroin overdoses were reported in Chicago and its bordering counties between 2013 and 2015, a number even the state’s Department of Public Health said may be going underreported.

While authorities have been hard-pressed to keep up with the city’s crime rates for years, this challenge has only been exacerbated by a recent national rash of anti-police rhetoric and the rise of social justice lynch mobs. Chicago police have reportedly pulled back from apprehending criminals over fear of racism accusations and retribution.

Complicated problems to solve, perhaps, but not to identify. With an estimated 330 million guns in circulation in the United States, it’s difficult to imagine a mass confiscation that would render Chicago’s gangs unable to obtain their firearms. But even were that so, problems in communities addicted to heroin and the government dole won’t be solved by removing the weapons. It’s the liberal policies driving the violence that create the problem, policies that trap families in poverty with substandard assistance and empty promises of a better future.  

And it’s the elected officials exploiting this poverty for votes -- not the NRA or gun sellers in nearby Indiana -- who deserve the blame.