Guns, Drugs, and Gangs, A Never Ending Circle of Blame

By Janice Barlow

Last year was a record year for gun violence in Chicago. There were 4,331 shootings, 779 of which resulted in murder. This year, the percentage of people shot has dropped by 8%, from 1,391 last year on this date, to 1,278 this year. It’s nothing to write home about. The murder totals have dropped from 245 last year to 228 this year to date. It means that this year, seventeen more people avoided being murdered by a gunshot in Chicago than last year. If these crimes are researched, drugs are usually the mitigating factor.

This past weekend, 39 people were shot in the windy city; four of them died.  Two of those deaths and four of the injuries occurred last Sunday morning alone. The youngest victim is a nine year old boy who was grazed by a bullet, wounding his scalp. He was in a car where the driver got into an argument with another motorist, which escalated into a shot being fired. He is in good condition in a city hospital.

Is it hard to get a gun in Chicago? Compared to other mega-cities, yes. It’s very difficult to legally obtain a weapon in the city limits. There are no gun shops. But this alone does not appear to be a deterrent.

Citizens who want to buy a gun, either for legal or illegal purposes, have no shortage of options when it comes to buying. Laws in surrounding suburbs and communities are much more lax. And nearby states are even more permissive of gun sales. Of the illegal guns recovered by Chicago police from 2009 through 2013, about two thirds were purchased out of state, with almost 20 percent of those bought in neighboring Indiana.

Per capita through 2015, Detroit, St. Louis and New Orleans have Chicago beat hands down in murders.

So why is Chicago the targeted city when it comes to gun violence? The answer is not simple. Detroit has a very high unemployment rate, currently at 10.3%. The other three cities have high rates as well. There appears to be a strong correlation between unemployment and gun violence. People who have a lot of time on their hands and no money, look for ways to get into trouble – particularly young people in gangs. Often, there are initiations that a teen must go through in order to be admitted into a gang. The worst of these can include a murder. Just another notch in the belt. Gangs also control drug dealing. One dealer treading into another dealer’s turf can set off a gang war that lasts for years.

In my most recent True Crime book, “He Should Be Dead” (published under my initials, J. M. Barlow), much of the setting is in Detroit. The gang violence and murders that occurred within a few miles of where I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, oblivious in suburbia, was gruesome to write about. There is nothing to indicate it’s any different now; in fact, with all the outcry about guns causing murder (and not people), it’s ironically easier than ever for a criminal to get his hands on one. Illegally.

In Chicago, as in Detroit, St. Louis and New Orleans, much of the violent crime is gang related and is black on black crime. It’s often not reported because it is so frequent, and the sanctity of life is not a factor. Kill or be killed. Most of law enforcement avoid the areas where the bullets are flying. A rogue few however, participate in it because they buy or provide the drugs (from drug busts) that perpetuate the culture.

Some libertarians believe that the answer is to legalize drugs. It would be unfortunate to have more youth strung out on heroin or less powerful opiates, the drugs of choice now, because legal or not, they would still obtain them illegally. Legalizing drugs would just make it easier for the wrong people to get their hands on them.  The legality of prescription opiates has only caused more addiction and overdoses among all socioeconomic groups, and at the same time, deprived the drugs from those who are in physical pain and who truly need them, because of crackdowns in major metropolitan areas. Still, the opiates end up circulated among the criminal element, and the folks with pain riddled illnesses are accused of being addicts and are denied the drugs by health care workers who are afraid to lose their licenses.

It’s just like tightening the noose around gun availability; the less available guns are to the honest and hard working patriot, the more they illegally fall into the hands of the criminal. We are witnessing a perpetual backwards system that rewards the criminal and punishes the victim.

So what is the solution?

There is no clear cut answer. Gangs will be gangs. The average Joe has a right to protect himself and his family. People under the influence of drugs often act irresponsibly. Maybe the first step would logically necessitate stopping the inflow of illegal drugs from over the border. Heroin, Meth, Crack. If it’s not available here, the incentive to kill people diminishes. Or is that just too easy?


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