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The data behind Chicago's gun crimes

Gun crime and homicides have become almost synonymous in Chicago, but the homicide numbers can often mask the overall gun problem in the city, which is buried in a sea of data.

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Chicago’s City Council unanimously approved two measures to toughen Chicago’s gun laws on Wednesday, in an effort to tamp down gun-related violence.

Chicago’s shooting problem

About this map:

  • Chicago’s overall shootings, sans homicides, have dropped from 4,176 in 2002 to 1,887 last year. That’s more than a 54% drop.
  • The areas that were the former location Chicago housing projects such as Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes have seen dramatic drops in shootings, however shooting activity has spread to adjacent areas.
  • Shooting activity was more widespread on the North Side, but now is only really prevalent in Uptown and Rogers Park.
  • The Near South Side, which includes the South Loop neighborhood has experienced a drop in shootings from a 2003 high of 15, and now has about 1 annually.
  • Areas with a lot of economic and real estate development such as West Town and Logan Square saw some of the greatest decreases in shootings.
  • Logan Square dropped from 91 shootings to 13, or 85% from 2002 to 2012. West Town dropped 75% from 108 to 27 shootings that same period.
  • Areas such as Kenwood and Hyde Park are largely insulated from some of the South Side violence to its western boundaries, but crimes do occur there. The murder of Hadiya Pendleton this year in Kenwood gained national attention.
Click to download this animated map »

Crime data reflects only aggravated batteries (shootings) with a gun or firearm from 2002-2012. Homicide data as divided by guns vs. stabbings, etc., is not readily available before 2006, and was not included in this map.

Firearm/gun data for homicides was not readily available, but media accounts would indicate that they are mostly caused by handguns.

Whether or not the new restrictions will make a difference in Chicago’s gun crime is yet to be seen.

One of the new laws clarifies which types of assault weapons qualify as banned, under the city’s restriction of high-capacity magazines. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Chicago’s gun-related crimes are committed using handguns.

The other new measure creates school safety or “Safe Passage” zones, defined as the area within 1,000 ft of a school.

“We all have a role to play in building safe communities, and that includes keeping weapons designed for the battlefield off our streets and punishing those who carry or use weapons around school children with stiff penalties,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

The city’s move follows the state’s vote to legalize carrying concealed weapons last week. A federal appeals court found Illinois’ previous concealed carry ban unconstitutional. The state was the last in the U.S. to impose such a prohibition.

Depending on who you ask, the city’s homicide numbers can vary, but according to the RedEye, there were 516 homicides last year, 441 of them inflicted by guns. And while gun crimes and homicides have become almost synonymous in Chicago, the number of deaths often masks the city’s overall problem.

According to police data, the number of shootings totaled 1,887 last year.

The data also show assaults with guns – when a person is threatened with a weapon but not shot – totaled 2,077 last year. Armed robberies alone topped 5,389. There were 1,334 sexual assaults, 101 of which were committed at gunpoint.

Where does unlawful possession or use of a gun fall under? Well, the city keeps tabs on weapons violations – arrests for using guns or other firearms unlawfully and/or possessing a banned weapon. That total rounded to 2,929 reported incidents.

As the City Council grapples with how to address assault weapons in a post-Newtown political setting, the legislation still doesn’t seem to address Chicago’s overall gun violence problem, or the issues that contribute to it – education, high unemployment and stagnant economic mobility.

The Chicago Police Department has repeatedly made the case that overall crime has been declining historically, which is true, but some of that decline can be attributed to the overall drop in the city’s population the past two decades. Regardless, shootings in Chicago dropped from a 2001 high of 4,176 aggravated batteries with a gun/firearm to 1,887 last year.

Chicago’s crime data does distinguish handguns from other firearms, but it doesn’t specify whether the “other firearm” involved was an M16 assault rifle or, say, a hunting rifle.

Of the city’s 5,389 armed robberies, only 98 of them were with a firearm not classified as a handgun. All of the city’s sexual assaults at gun point were done with a handgun.

While automatic and assault rifles have been the focus of federal legislative efforts, Chicago largely has a handgun problem. And that handgun problem goes well beyond the homicide numbers.

Last year’s homicides totaled 516, with 441 of those resulting in a death by gunshot. There were still 11,886 gun related crimes in Chicago that didn’t end in a homicide.

—Elliott Ramos is a data reporter and Web producer for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @ChicagoEl

Gun Crimes in Chicago
The map below shows crimes in Chicago that involved guns. The homicide data was created and cleaned up by Tracy Swartz of the Chicago RedEye. Obtaining homicide data often involves combining Chicago Police and Cook County Medical Examiner data to obtain location and cause of death. Such a data set is not released by the CPD or city via the public data portal and must be obtained separately and cleaned up manually. Sortable map template available via Derek Eder of Open City.

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