If 42 people died in one mass shooting, it would rank among the worst acts of violence in American history. In Chicago, that’s a tragedy known as January. It’s a city that saw 506 homicides in 2012, and these acts of violence were not of the same character as the one that left 20 children dead and millions of hearts grieving in Newtown last December. The murders in Chicago have been largely incited by gang violence; the deaths, however, are not limited to gang members. Take the case of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old who performed at President Obama’s second inauguration with her band, only to die 8 days later by a gunshot wound in a gang-related case of mistaken identity.
Our national conversation on gun control has been long overdue. After each spate of mass shootings, we have talked about the need for a talk. Newtown was different. Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora scared us; Newtown broke our collective hearts. Millions of Americans, President Obama included, shed tears for the innocent lives lost that day. We see the same thing on a much smaller scale in a single murder. We come together. The parents, the siblings, the spouse, the children, the relatives, the friends, the neighbors, and the rest of the community all come together because they’re the only ones who know the pain the others are feeling.
In Chicago, a family’s world ends every day. Most of the murders in Chicago are shootings, despite Chicago’s tight restrictions on handguns—restrictions that replaced an outright ban that was struck down by the Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago. Assault rifles are still banned in the city, and Chicago requires a difficult registration process, so why did the city see its bloodiest January since 2002?
A major piece of the puzzle is that the gun laws in Illinois, the gun laws in nearby Indiana and Wisconsin, and federal gun laws are much less restrictive than Chicago gun laws. Half of the guns that Chicago police have seized in the last 12 years came from other states, and over 1,300 illegal guns were purchased at one store just outside of Chicago city limits. A community is essentially unable to set its own gun policy if its neighbor’s gun policy is weaker.
Guns are a national public health issue: According to the CDC, guns were responsible for the homicides of more than 11,000 Americans in 2010, including almost 4,000 Americans aged 15-24. Those numbers pale in comparison to the 19,000 suicides by gun, including over 2,000 suicides by gun by 15-24-year-olds. Only accidents claim more lives in our age group, and each life lost to a gun is another tragedy, another family torn apart, another person whose life becomes a what-if. Never forget Newtown. Never forget Chicago. And never forget the victims of gun violence in every community in the nation.