Q&A: Guns, Cities and the Death of Hadiya Pendleton

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Teenage Killed Who Performed During Obama Inauguration Killed By Gun Fire In Chicago
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, right, is comforted by sister Kimiko Pettis and her nephew Jahlil at a neighborhood park on Jan 30, 2013, in Chicago. Her daughter Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed after a gunman opened fire in the park while the teenager was hanging out with friends

Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton became the Windy City’s 42nd homicide this year when she was gunned down by an unknown attacker near her high school on Jan. 29. But the 15-year-old honor student’s death has had reverberations beyond her hometown — she had performed in President Obama’s inauguration parade just a week before, and her tragic end was mourned by celebrities and mentioned during congressional hearings on gun violence. Still, although many have been quick to tie her tragic death to the need for stricter gun-control measures, it’s an awkward comparison: Chicago has some of the most-stringent gun laws in the country, and most of the national debate on gun violence has focused on rifles and assault weapons, not a handgun like the one that killed Pendleton. Clearly, there’s more at work here.

For a deeper look at the problem, TIME talked to University of Chicago Crime Lab director Jens Ludwig about urban crime, federal gun legislation and what can be done to end Chicago’s senseless string of gun deaths.

With all the debate over assault weapons, could the needle now be turning toward urban violence? After all, the majority of homicides in this country take place in inner cities.
I think when you look at President Obama’s proposal, it seems to me that he had places like Chicago in mind, not just Newtown, Conn. A lot of things in this set of initiatives are important for addressing gun violence like the sort we have in Chicago. I saw a quote from a mayor recently — not Chicago’s — that said what we’re experiencing is “slow-motion mass murder.” The vast majority of gun homicides are in urban settings, not mass shootings in suburban schools. The fact that the administration’s proposals paid attention to that is very encouraging.

(MORE: Chicago Girl Who Performed at Obama’s Inauguration Killed in Shooting)

Focusing on Chicago, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, what is happening to make things go so awry when a city like New York has seen a reduction in gun homicides?
There are a couple things worth keeping in mind when looking at Chicago. Other than Hawaii, no state is an island. Almost none of the guns used in these homicides were first purchased here because we don’t have gun stores in Chicago. They were purchased either somewhere else in Illinois or in a state with weaker laws. Because borders are so porous, it is hard for cities to regulate their way out of this problem. This is an area where federal legislation could have a more pronounced impact than city or state legislation. Like air quality, what happens in one state can have an impact on what happens in another state.

Now a couple of things make Chicago different than New York City. The level of economic disadvantage, the deep concentration of poverty on the South and West sides is different than what you’d find in New York. A second thing to keep in mind is that the Chicago city and Illinois state budgets have been hit very hard by the Great Recession. My sense is that when I look at New York’s budget, they haven’t been hit nearly as bad as other cities. In the recession’s ground zero, Detroit and Las Vegas, homicide rates have increased 30% to 60%. The roles of budget conditions have not received enough attention in addressing the crime and violence problems.

The third thing to keep in mind is that one of the most useful things a city can do is to keep guns off the street. The huge majority of these things happen in public places, and it’s often people carrying a gun illegally in a public place before a shooting. Many times it’s arguments that turn tragic because someone has a gun and things go terribly wrong.

So it’s a question of dealing with illegal gun possession?
In New York, the courts back up the police when it comes to illegal carrying. The Plaxico Burress case is a good example of this. In a lot of jurisdictions, judges save their jail beds for real criminals. So how do you prioritize your jail beds? If you’re a judge in Cook County, with a defendant caught with $50 in weed and another with a gun, and you’ve got one jail bed, who do you give it to? In New York, the judge prioritizes the illegal carry. The police on the ground in Chicago take illegal carries very seriously, but the courts need to catch up.

Hadiya Pendleton was likely killed by a revolver (the police didn’t find any shell casings at the scene) as many urban youths are. So is the gun debate missing this to focus on assault rifles?
My sense is that [in Congress] the universal background check is more likely to go through than an assault-weapons ban, and that is incredibly important when it comes to handgun violence. The huge majority of gun criminals get their guns not from gun stores but from secondary sources that are not regulated. A universal background check could address that if it becomes law.

(MORE: Hadiya Pendleton: Shooting of Teen Who Performed at Inauguration Sparks Outrage on Twitter)

What can we say is more responsible for gun deaths like Hadiya’s? Is it gang violence? Is it black-market gun dealing? Is it legal gun ownership gone awry? Do gun dealers, for that matter, bear any responsibility?
The challenge that we have is that the federal laws are written in such a way that legal gun owners and law-abiding gun dealers are putting guns in the hands of people who are at elevated risk of misusing them — without breaking any laws. I’m not the right person to make any sort of moral judgment as to who bears responsibility, but if I’m in Indiana and I’m selling my used Glock 9-mm and a guy wants to buy it, as long as he’s not wearing his Rikers Island–alumni baseball cap, I can legally sell it to him. If he’s not wearing it, I would have no reason to know whether or not he’s allowed to have it. Absent a universal background check, I would have no reason to know whether he’s a law-abiding citizen.

In your opinion, what mistakes are law enforcement making? Something has to be going wrong for there to have been 500 murders in the past year. Or are the Chicago cops simply overwhelmed?
My sense is that if you brought in an outside expert to advise the Chicago Police Department, what the outside expert would advise is what they’re currently doing. They are focusing on the violent neighborhoods, they are getting the guns off the streets. This is a situation where there is a huge value to offering more federal support to paying for policing costs. Municipalities are not allowed to run budget deficits and that means they’ve got to reduce their spending on everything — even policing. In an economic downturn, that’s the time you don’t want to cut police budgets. If we want to ensure that we don’t scale back on police, then we need to have increased federal financial support for law enforcement.

Would federal firearms legislation really help in a situation like this? Or do gun laws need to be tailored for each city’s individual circumstances?
I think that the best thing the federal government can do to help a city like Chicago is two things: first, a universal-background-check requirement; and second, increased financial support for local law enforcement. Those are two key challenges that all of the most violent cities in the United States are facing. They would have effects in places like Baltimore, Detroit, East St. Louis — even if they weren’t specially tailored for those cities.

23 comments
Paulpot
Paulpot

End the drug war and there will be a significant decrease in gun violence right across the America's.

MichaelVarianDaly
MichaelVarianDaly

"No small part of this ugly barbarization has been due to sheer physical congestion: a diagnosis now partly confirmed with scientific experiments with rats – for when they are placed in equally congested quarters, they exhibit the same symptoms of stress, alienation, hostility, sexual perversion, parental incompetence, and rabid violence that we now find in the Megalopolis." ~Lewis Mumford

genomega
genomega

The drug cartels and their gangs control the cities, until you take them out no improvement will be made.

RugeirnDrienborough
RugeirnDrienborough

Before we conclude that background checks will help stop rampage violence, we must realize that background checks simply are not what people think they are. Before a background check can find any kind of record, there has to be a record to find. Most of the people who have committed rampage violence in our history are people who would have sailed through a background check without a problem, or indeed did so. Very few of them had ever come into contact with law enforcement or the courts at all. Very few had ever done anything beyond being born, voting, getting a driver's license, or buying a car that created any kind of check-able record at all, let alone one that could possibly justify denying them the right to buy anything, let alone a gun. Doing more and more background checks on more and more people for whom there is nothing to find is just going to waste lots of money and produce very little.

RugeirnDrienborough
RugeirnDrienborough

"...a handgun like the one that killed Pendleton." Talk about the elephant in the room! What about the violent mind that directed the hands that held the gun? Didn't that play a role - hey, maybe even the principal role? It's time to get our minds off this little game we play, called Blame The Hardware Not The Person. For a productive look at the sources of violence, take a look in the mirror. Ask yourself how many violent deaths you've witnessed on TV, movies, video games, etc. Ask yourself where the sources of violence lie in a culture that glorifies it and commercializes it. Introspection is always painful - that's why we'd rather think about the hardware than about the mind behind the hardware.

The most powerful weapon in the world is harmless in the hands directed a peaceful mind. The most trivial weapon in the world is deadly in the hands directed by a violent mind. What kind of mind is in your mirror?

Furthermore: when you look at the people around you, what kind of minds do you see? Is there a mind in your world that you think could be at risk for violence? Maybe even at risk for rampage violence? Is there someone in your world who gives you a bad, nagging feeling along that line? We have learned how to look for the red flags that signal that a person is at risk for suicide. What about the red flags that signal that a person is at risk for homicide? We need to learn what those flags are, how to spot them, what they mean, and what to do about them. That knowledge needs to be made available widely. And most important of all, there has to be a way to act on that knowledge. We have an idea about how to intervene against suicide. We need a similar idea about how to intervene against homicide, especially rampage homicide.

We'll never get there if all we ever think about is the hardware.

justinhoop
justinhoop

This is a joke.  Chicago has the most restrictive gun laws in the country and the highest murder rate.  It is unbelievable that the media doesn't go straight at that issue... it simply MUST be something else.  Ironically, Atlanta had the highest rate of carjackings unitl they approved concealed carry in your cars.  IMMEDIATE drop... look it up.

I also love that people want to impose thier views on Assualt rifles on me.  HOW DARE YOU.  This is America.  You dont get to belittle my beliefs for yours.  I dont care to make you understand it and I have no obligation to justify why I own them.  I DONT NEED A REASON!  It doesn't matter why I like "assualt weaponds" That's my business and my right.  I also have a V10 Excursion that gets 9.5 MPG and a Dodge Viper... Both of thos are absurd to most people BUT IT LIKE THEM and the views of a majority dont get to overrule me.  If our society becomes one where a group of people get to band together to "vote" against other peoples hobbies, passions, taste in clothes, cars and decorating, god help us...

TinaHiggs3
TinaHiggs3

upto I looked at the check which had said $6626, I didn't believe that my father in law woz like actually bringing in money in their spare time from their laptop.. there great aunt haz done this less than twenty months and just now cleared the dept on their mini mansion and purchased Jaguar XJ. go to,Great60.comCHECK IT OUT

romerjt
romerjt

As the article suggests there are really two gun issues the assault weapons and the hand guns.  Although the assault weaons kill or wound a small percentage of those who are shot their enactment is so horrible, morally depraved that it rises to the level of a taboo like eating the dead.  A rational society would not allow the implements that could cause this depravity.  And yet, there are those among us who in some imagined fantasy can justify the ownership of these mass murder weapons.  They are not being reasonable or responsible and should be ashamed. Emotionally, they are not in a good place.

targa83
targa83

what drivel...

few Elephants in room..

Black on Black...lets not talk about it...

bad guys know the others aren't armed.

.so happy robbers // murderers they be ..

do the crime today..their out tomorrow...

you folks cry & babble about the why & how come...

because you let them!

nobody is breaking into Rahms house...

why,..unlike you..

he can carry...

fry a few & others will re-think their visit..

rodzzz
rodzzz

The focus on semi-automatic guns is intended to deal with mass shootings which affect the white middle class. The everyday killings that take place on the streets (mainly in black and Latino areas) won't change much from 'assault weapon' bans. You could argue the focus on one, and not the other, is kind of racist. There's a lot to the gun debate that defies rationality. Have a read of http://rationalexaminer.com for an attempt to introduce some balance to the debate.

AndrewK
AndrewK

I believe people (gun owners) should NOT be allowed to sell their guns to anyone, but have to sell back to a gun dealer who would take the necessary (and legal) steps before reselling it.  People reselling on their own is how guns are getting into the hands of criminals and felons.

aztecian
aztecian

@justinhoop typical redneck response.  you don't have the right to pollute my air with your redneck 4x4 monster trucks snake car.  go buy a prius and do the air a favor.  next you'll be saying you have the right to own a tank or stealth bomber.  when do the redneck obstructionist reach a limit with their militia hardware?  looks like never!  you want bigger and bigger guns so can suppress and do harm to others with your arrogance!

RustyNail
RustyNail

@romerjt- Rational?  You seem to want to differentiate so called "assault weapons" from handguns because only AWs are used for acts that are so morally depraved that it crosses some arbitrary line that disturbs you.  And yet, handguns (one with the weakest possible caliber)  killed and wound more people at Virginia Tech than at Newtown.  Charles Whitman killed and wounded almost as many people with a bolt action hunting rifle at the University of Texas.  Fertilizer and fuel oil were used in the biggest  mass murder in the history of the US.  You are the problem with dealing with guns in the US.  You prefer to focus the limited resources of our government to reduce the impact of gun violence that gets the most media attention and disturbs you the most, but you can sleep well at night knowing that it would have had little effect preventing 500 killed in Chicago last year or the 1200+ that have been killed with guns since Sandy Hook.

travisisnthere
travisisnthere


 @romerjt  Those damn people and their insistence on adhering to the Law as defined by the Condition. So shameful and unreasonable they are.

jpolk84
jpolk84

@rodzzz It's always racism. Grow up! Racism is only alive because bigots like you refuse to live the dream.

justinhoop
justinhoop

That's laughable.  I'm sure you'd get a great deal if you eliminate the open market and only could sell to dealers who then add their cost and resell.  How would you like it if you could only sell your car back to a dealer, not a private individual?

I have no problem with estensive background checks even for private sales if it's not administratively impossible, like most government programs.

jpolk84
jpolk84

@AndrewK Theft makes up a large percentage of illegal guns. Even the guns in Newtown were stolen.

emeraldseatown
emeraldseatown

@aztecian @justinhoop Justinhoop does not have a right to pollute the air with a monster truck, but there is no legal prohibition against him doing so.  He does have the right to own a gun, per the Second Amendment.

romerjt
romerjt

@travisisnthere You have a "legal" right to own an assault weapon not a constitutional right.  Constitutionally, those weapons can be banned as they were some years ago.  Just so you know. 

travisisnthere
travisisnthere

....as defined by the Constitution* -bit of a Swypo there (and yes, trademarked Swypo)..

rodzzz
rodzzz

@jpolk84 @rodzzz 

It's alive because ignorant dimwits like you can't see that not everyone is given the same opportunities. 

romerjt
romerjt

@RustyNail @romerjt  You're right, emphasis on the word "imply".  There is also good reason to believe that the banning of these weapons is constitutional.  The larger point is that, after establishing what they assumed was a free state, the existence a militia was assumed to protect the government of the free state, not, as imagined by some to resist the established state. 

RustyNail
RustyNail

@romerjt The constitution has no concept of "assault weapon", however it does imply that the government should not infringe on the ownership of any firearm that might be used by a member of a militia.  This was specifically mentioned by the Supreme Court as a test for the legality of certain firearms in the 1939 challenge to the NFA.  Any member of a militia (should a state choose to form one) would be expected to have an AR-15.


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