It’s not the first time that President Donald Trump has attacked the city of Chicago over its gun rules. And it probably won’t be the last time, either.
On Monday, while addressing the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago, the president noted that one member was missing: the host city’s police chief, Eddie Johnson.
Trump mocked Johnson’s record and Chicago’s crime problems while addressing the group. “Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the United States,” the president said, according to a report from Raw Story. “That doesn’t seem to be working too well, does it? A lot of you people know exactly what I mean.”
Trump also directed his ire toward the Chicago police chief directly. “Under Johnson’s leadership, they certainly don’t protect people,” he said of the Chicago police force in general.
“It is embarrassing to us as a nation,” Trump added. “All over the world, they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison. It’s true.”
But…is it? Is any of what he said believable?
Eddie Johnson’s record is better than Trump says it is
Trump’s words needed to be corrected immediately, especially about their chief of police, so Chicago’s NPR station’s criminal justice reporter Chip Mitchell weighed in with a tweet discussing the president’s misleading statements.
#Trump did not mention that in 2016 — the year Eddie Johnson was appointed #Chicago's top cop — the city had 778 murders. On Johnson's watch, murders have steadily dropped. Year to date, Chicago murders in 2019 are down more than 31% from 2016.#CPD https://t.co/vdBzXzdLzz
— Chip Mitchell (@ChipMitchell1) October 28, 2019
The president “did not mention that in 2016 — the year Eddie Johnson was appointed #Chicago’s top cop — the city had 778 murders,” the reported explained. “On Johnson’s watch, murders have steadily dropped. Year to date, Chicago murders in 2019 are down more than 31% from 2016.”
Strict gun laws to blame for crime?
Indeed, crime has gone down since Johnson took over.
Another thing to point out: Chicago isn’t the strictest city for gun laws in the country. According to the Chicago Tribune, three other cities — New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — all have stricter gun laws. All three have significantly lower murder rates as well, which implies that the gun laws aren’t the problem in Chicago.
In fact, many experts agree: one of the biggest challenges facing Chicago, with regards to gun crime, is the fact that neighboring Indiana (and even suburban cities) have less strict laws that make it easier for criminals to bring guns into the city to own in an illegal manner.
But there’s more proof that the gun laws shouldn’t be blamed. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that Chicago’s strictest laws were unconstitutional, and had to be rescinded. Some gun laws remained, but after the strictest were removed from the books, crime went up in a big way.
When the Court made its ruling, Chicago had a murder rate of 15.24 individuals killed that year for every 100,000 living in the city (all city data hereafter is derived from the FBI). By 2016, six years after the ruling, that rate nearly doubled, to 28.07 murders per every 100,000 citizens.
Again, according to most recent data, Johnson’s leadership seems to be making an impact. That rate is now down to 20.70 murders per 100,000 — a lower rate than the 2016 figure, but still higher than before Chicago had to change its gun laws.
Other cities with looser gun laws have higher rates of murder
If Chicago’s gun laws were what drove criminals to commit unlawful acts, we’d see a consistent trend among the top four cities with strict gun laws as well. But rates of murder in New York (3.46), Los Angeles (6.40), and San Francisco (5.17) are all staggeringly low. It seems that Chicago is a misnomer among cities with strict gun laws, rather than the standard that Trump and others claim it is.
Other cities with loose gun laws, as the chart below makes clear, have murder rates that are comparable or even worse than Chicago’s.
Little Rock, Arkansas, has a comparable rate to Chicago’s. Kansas City, Missouri, has a rate of 27.78 murders per 100,000 living in the city. Memphis, Tennessee, is close by with 28.51 murders per 100,000.
And some cities are even higher. In Birmingham, Alabama, the murder rate is 41.79, more than twice the rate of Chicago. The rate in St. Louis, Missouri, is nearly three times higher than Chicago’s, at 60.93 killed per 100,000.
All of the cities listed here have looser gun laws than Chicago. By Trump’s premise, they should be safer places to live because of that — but clearly, that’s not the case.
Comparisons to Afghanistan…
Comparing Chicago’s crime rate to Afghanistan’s is an apples-to-oranges thing to do. Comparing an entire nation to a city won’t produce any meaningful dialogue, although that’s probably what Trump’s aim is anyway.
Ultimately, when you look at a city-to-city comparison with areas of Afghanistan, the country has some places that are more dangerous than others. Some cities have higher rates of murder than the Windy City, while others have lower rates — as can be expected.
The point here is that Trump is using hyperbole to attack Chicago and its gun laws. But it’s a disingenuous point by the president, as hyperbole typically is, one that ignores evidence-based research on both areas.
As pointed out above, cities with looser gun laws than Chicago are more dangerous — yet Trump has never pointed out those jurisdictions as being comparable to Afghanistan, nor has he called them “embarrassing” like he did Chicago, because it doesn’t fit his narrative.
Trump’s statements in Chicago on Monday were not much of a surprise — he’s been deriding the city’s gun laws for years, doing so without much force of fact behind him. Still, even though it might have been expected, the president’s words have to be vetted. He’s indicated on countless occasions that, when he makes a grand statement, it usually cannot be taken at face value.
When it comes to the issues of guns and Chicago, that’s doubly true.