“But shootings are up!”
Every year, this comment propagates below articles covering Chicago violence. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s somehow both.
Mostly it’s annoying.
It’s annoying that people constantly add this to every single article that decides to use a different statistic, and it’s annoying that we (the press) cling to year-to-year changes as if two years can tell our readers everything they need to know.
Two years of one statistic is nothing! We deserve more. Which is why, for the sake of my sanity (and yours too), I looked into twenty years of gun violence statistics in Chicago.
You’re, uh, welcome. I guess…
Has gun violence risen in Chicago?
Yes! And no!
From year-to-year, shootings are up and murders are down. Even though shootings are up from 2013, they’re still far lower than they were in the 1990s.
As highlighted by the Chicago Tribune, “the number of  shooting victims increased 14 percent, to 2,599 from 2,272 in 2013.”
To obtain more context for this rise, I looked up the number of aggravated assaults with guns in Chicago between 1994 and 2014. Described by the Chicago Police Department as “the intentional causing of serious bodily harm or an attempt to cause serious bodily harm, or the threat of serious bodily injury or death,” aggravated assault also includes aggravated battery and attempted murder. There are pros and cons for this statistic.
Starting with the cons, the Chicago Police Department has historically recorded aggravated assaults with guns by incident, while the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report asks cities to record them by victim, which has led to underreporting. According to a contact at the Mayor’s office, the department has started recording aggravated assaults by victim, and have retroactively re-calibrated the numbers for 2012 and 2013.
The reason aggravated assaults are a better statistic to look at than shootings? Prior to McCarthy, the Chicago Police Department didn’t track shootings. It’s difficult to look at how violence has changed over time when you only have four years to compare. Aggravated assault statistics go back to the 1960s, making it easier to get an idea of how the city has changed over a longer span of time.
What do you find when you compare twenty years of aggravated assaults with handguns and other firearms?
From 1994 to 2014, aggravated assault incidents with guns have continually gone down. Even with a 9 percent increase, 2014’s number of aggravated assaults with guns was still lower than every other year between 1994 and 2012. And when you look at a 20-year span of aggravated assaults with guns compared to Chicago’s murder totals, you see that they tend to correlate. When one goes up or down, the other will most likely do the same.
Of course, this comparison is a bit off…
Why are we comparing aggravated assaults with guns to murder totals, since all homicides aren’t committed with guns?
In total, murders, murders by guns and aggravated assaults with guns have all gone down over the past 20 years. Despite this, shooting deaths have continued to take up a larger percentage of murders while stabbings and other forms of murder have done the opposite. The percentage of murders by guns was 74 percent in 1994, rising to 93 percent in 2014.
Something surprising I didn’t see the Chicago Police Department mention at year’s end?
Shooting deaths went up from 2013 to 2014. According to RedEye’s Homicide Tracker (CPD hasn’t respond yet with my request for their numbers for 2012, 2013 and 2014), there were 363 murders by guns in Chicago in 2013. In 2014, there were 372. At 2.5 percent, it’s a small increase.
Between 1994 and 2014, murders by guns dropped about 38 percent. With that said, murders by guns numbers have not seen the same consistent progress as total murders and aggravated assaults with guns.
Ultimately, we’re left with more than a few questions. While Chicago, like the rest of the country, has been able to significantly lower violence over the past few decades, gun violence persists to drop at a slow rate — why? The answers are numerous. Medical care advancements, gun laws and socioeconomic changes in Chicago are three issues that many would claim affect gun violence, but do the numbers prove any of these claims?
Honestly? I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to look it up and let you know next week! Until then, feel free to read my previous articles on Chicago violence here.
Notes: The majority of the research for this article was obtained from the Chicago Police Department’s annual reports. Since the reports only go up to 2010, recent numbers had to be obtained from the Chicago Data Portal. Any data not compiled with these sources is noted within the article. It sucks to have to compare data from different sources, so I did my best to avoid that.
In two different CPD annual reports, I found drastically different results for murders by guns for 2001. I went with the one that didn’t appear to be an outlier.
2014’s homicide totals may change as cases get reclassified.
I contacted the Chicago Police Department for clarification on some of the notes mentioned above, but have yet to receive a response.