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What’s Behind Chicago’s Murder Boom?


by Frank Miniter

The truth behind Chicago’s surging murder rate, the gang wars and the 7-year-old girl gunned down at a snow cone stand isn’t something the mayor or police chief want people to know. Instead, city officials are blaming freer America for the violence. Nevertheless, it’s time we acknowledge the facts. The good people of Chicago deserve to live and raise their children in a safe city.

This is a case where the First Amendment is needed to help restore the Second. To understand how, we must first candidly recognize the casualties of Chicago’s current policies. Between Jan. 1 and June 27, 2012, a staggering 250 people were killed in Chicago—that’s almost enough to fill several standard-size buses. That’s 38 percent more homicides than occurred over the same period in 2011, at a time when most cities have declining murder rates. It’s also the highest number Chicago has reached during the first half of the year since 2003, which had 601 homicides for the entire year, according to the Chicago Police Department.

There are real faces and stories behind these horrific statistics. To see a map of locations complete with details about the people killed, log on to

Now consider the two main public officials in charge: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Emanuel and McCarthy let it be known that they speak every morning after they read police reports detailing the murders that occurred the night before. They want to be perceived as leaders of the community who care and are working to reduce the bloodshed. They don’t want residents to realize ideology is preventing their mayor and police chief from empowering people to take control of the level of safety in their own communities.

Emanuel was formerly White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama. He served as senior advisor to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1998 and as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2003 until he resigned in 2009 to take his position in the Obama administration. He won the mayoral election in Chicago on Feb. 22, 2011.

Emanuel has a lifetime “F” rating from the NRA. Last spring, Emanuel tried and failed to create a statewide gun registry of gun owners. Though Illinois remains the only state in the nation that does not allow residents to carry concealed firearms, that’s not enough gun control for Emanuel. In fact, last June, after U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan called a section of Chicago’s gun laws “unconstitutionally void for vagueness,” Emanuel said at a news conference: “The reason we have gun laws—the reason I’m trying to also pass tougher gun laws down in Springfield—is because it’s an essential complement to your overall crime strategy.”

As for McCarthy, according to the Chicago Tribune, he “has struggled with criticism that he’s brought an arrogant ‘New York-knows-best’ attitude and is too cozy with Emanuel.”

McCarthy came from Newark, N.J., where he was police director. Before working in Newark, McCarthy was a beat officer in New York City who rose to deputy commissioner. That’s a hardnosed resumé, but McCarthy might have gotten the appointment because of his politics. He shares Emanuel’s fervor for gun control.

Last June, McCarthy addressed the congregation at St. Sabina’s Church in Chicago, home of Michael Pfleger, the controversial priest and Obama supporter. In 2007, Pfleger led a mob of 1,000 supporters to block the entrance of Chuck’s Gun Shop and Range in the suburb of Riverdale, Ill., and threatened to “snuff out” John Riggio, the store’s owner, as well as “legislators who are against our gun laws.”

At St. Sabina’s, McCarthy told parishioners that the “Black Codes, Jim Crow laws and segregation” that occurred in the South were “government-sponsored racism.” That’s true. But then he said today’s federal gun laws are also “government-sponsored racism.” He explained that wild claim by stating, “I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of African-American history in this country, and tell me if I’m crazy: Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers … are killing black and brown children.”

So McCarthy’s solution to reduce violent crime is to use the government to take away an individual right—protected by the Second Amendment of our Bill of Rights—from law-abiding citizens everywhere, yet he doesn’t see the parallel between this statist position and the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws he called “government-sponsored racism”? Black Codes and Jim Crow laws once disarmed and disenfranchised people on the basis of race. These were government sponsored, just as the current restrictions preventing law-abiding citizens from carrying firearms for their protection are government sponsored.

McCarthy also told the congregation, “The NRA does not like me, and I’m okay with that.”

This is where the First Amendment can restore the Second. Most of the inner-city parishioners cheered McCarthy on. It seems that many of the law-abiding people of Chicago haven’t yet realized they’ve been turned into a class of victims, just as blacks once were in parts of the South. Emanuel and McCarthy don’t want them to know this.

They’d rather the residents of Chicago didn’t know that in McDonald v. Chicago (2010). Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion noted that “after the Civil War, many of the over 180,000 African Americans who served in the Union Army returned to the States of the old Confederacy, where systematic efforts were made to disarm them and other blacks. The laws of some States formally prohibited African Americans from possessing firearms. For example, a Mississippi law provided that ‘no freedman, free negro or mulatto, not in the military service of the United States government, and not licensed so to do by the board of police of his or her county, shall keep or carry fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk or bowie knife. …”

Or that Justice Alito went on to write: “Throughout the South, armed parties, often consisting of ex-Confederate soldiers serving in the state militias, forcibly took firearms from newly freed slaves. In the first session of the 39th Congress, Senator (Henry) Wilson told his colleagues: ‘In Mississippi, rebel State forces, men who were in the rebel armies, are traversing the State, visiting the freedmen, disarming them, perpetrating murders and outrages upon them; and the same things are done in other sections of the country.’”

That’s the real history that might make honest people in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods realize they’re barred from defending themselves, just as Southern blacks once were.

A few, thankfully, are learning such facts. Otis McDonald is an important example.

The Court Case’s Aftermath

McDonald’s story should inspire Chicago’s residents.

In April 2008, McDonald, a retired maintenance engineer, agreed to serve as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Chicago’s handgun ban. McDonald is the child of black Louisiana sharecroppers. He was 17 years old when he borrowed $18 from his mother and set off for Chicago in 1951. He was just one of millions of African Americans who fled the South during the “Great Migration.”

McDonald settled in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood. At the time, the neighborhood was bustling and relatively safe. In the ensuing years he married, raised eight children and spent a career working at the University of Chicago, where he started as a janitor and worked his way up to become a maintenance engineer. But by the time he retired in 1997, the neighborhood had been lost to gangs. McDonald told the Chicago Tribune, “I know every day that I come out in the streets, the youngsters will shoot me as quick as they will a policeman.”

According to police reports, McDonald’s house was burglarized three times in the 1980s and early ’90s. On one occasion, three young men surrounded McDonald’s car and threatened to “off” him.

McDonald decided to become involved in the gun-rights movement in 2005, when Mayor Richard Daley was pushing a statewide ban on “assault weapons.” McDonald was concerned that his shotgun might be outlawed under the proposed ban, so he started attending gun-rights rallies. The connections he made at those events led to his inclusion in the class-action lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

McDonald, a Democrat and longtime hunter, had by then been a married, law-abiding resident of Chicago for more than 50 years. He wasn’t an activist. He was a person trying to protect his family and live the American dream.

“I was feeling the poor blacks who years ago had their guns taken away from them and were killed as someone wished,” McDonald explained. “That was a long time ago, but I feel their spirit. That’s what I was feeling in the courtroom. … This lawsuit, I hope, will allow me to bring my handgun into the city legally. I only want a handgun in my house for my protection.”

McDonald understands what Police Superintendent McCarthy doesn’t: Gun control laws preventing him from bearing arms are comparable to the Black Codes, not today’s federal gun laws.

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