Chicago – long a Democrat stronghold – saw more homicides in 2021 than any other city in the US. However, several Republican-led states had even higher body counts. This was the argument that arose during a debate between Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Yale School of Public Health Dean Dr. Megan Ranney. Dr. Ranney countered Sen. Kennedy’s jab at the Windy City’s crime stats by pointing out that three red states – Mississippi, Missouri, and the senator’s own Louisiana – all had more homicides. And here’s the twist: They were both telling the truth – or, at least, some version of it.
If you’re wondering how both statements could possibly be true at the same time, then you’ve missed the bigger picture – which is exactly what the gun-grabbers who counter the first claim with the second want. It’s a comparison between two different things, states vs cities, and therein lies the trouble with leftist crime stats.
Crime Stats Don’t Lie – Except for When They Do
During their exchange, Sen. Kennedy hit the dean with a loaded question: “Why do you think Chicago has become America’s largest outdoor shooting range?” Dr. Ranney responded by arguing that Mississippi, Louisiana, and Missouri “actually have higher firearm death rates.”
There are a few ways we can interpret her words, but none of them change the fact that the doctor is arguing apples to Kennedy’s oranges. The internet – especially social media – was set ablaze by people pointing out that the “gun homicide” rate of Chicago is much higher than any of those three states per capita, or per 100,000 people.
The per capita firearms murder rate in 2021 (the last year for which we have all the relevant data from both the FBI and the CDC) for Mississippi, Louisiana, and Missouri were 13, 15, and 11, respectively, compared to Chicago’s 29. But understand something about per capita statistics: Their effectiveness for gauging the reality on the ground gets weaker the greater the gap grows between populations being compared. This problem is explored in much greater detail in Liberty Nation’s “Gun Control Doesn’t Work, and California’s Homicides Prove It.”
However, Dr. Ranney said firearm death rates, not murder. Perhaps she meant total deaths by gunshot, regardless of who pulled the trigger? As calculated by a Pew Research study, suicides account for more than half of the gun deaths in the nation: 54% suicides to 43% homicides, with 3% “other,” which includes accidents, legal law enforcement shootings, and those with “undetermined circumstances.”
Big Crime in the Big City
Maybe she meant the raw numbers. A look at the CDC’s interactive map for 2021 homicides (all methods and weapons) shows that Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina all have more total homicides than Chicago. And they’re all also entire states with far more people than the city of Chicago – and most of the murders in each of these states are concentrated in densely populated, Democrat-controlled cities. There were 797 homicides in Chicago in 2021 and 1,487 for the entire state of Illinois.
Here’s what we can calculate based on those crime stats and a little more publicly available information: The Windy City is one of 1,456 cities in the Prairie State. While it makes up only 21% of the state’s population, it accounts for 54% of the homicides. Pull Chicago out of Illinois, and the state’s murder rate – even per capita – isn’t nearly as scary. But look at an electoral map from the 2020 presidential election with counties shown, and you’ll see the only significant island in the sea of red counties is the area surrounding Chicago. Simply put: Folks in the red counties just aren’t out killing each other nearly as often as the blue-city dwellers. The same is true of most states, whether they’re run by Republicans or Democrats.
Out in the rural areas, murders occur far less frequently and, generally, far less randomly. One may find oneself in a home invasion, a store that’s being robbed, or a personal dispute turned deadly, but one isn’t likely to get caught up in a gang turf war or a drive-by in the sticks.
One thing worth pointing out, however, is that the states with the strictest gun control laws – California and New York – tend to see a smaller gap between their deadliest city’s share of the murders vs its share of the population. The Big Apple accounts for 53% of the NY murders in 2021 and 43% of the population. California has quite a few big cities, but the biggest is Los Angeles. The City of Angels accounts for 16% of the Golden State’s murders and 10% of the population.
As a final counter to Dr. Ranney’s point, though, neither Mississippi nor Missouri managed quite the number of murders as the Windy City for 2021, rendering her overall analysis incorrect, regardless of the interpretation of “firearm death rates.”
Much of the left’s favored arguments on gun control appear at best short-sighted, and more likely, a case of “one-step thinking.” Liberty Nation’s Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner exemplified this particular phrase when describing the most recent impeachment of former President Donald Trump. “Impeachment has become the emblem of leftists’ shallow, one-step thinking,” he wrote in a 2020 analysis of those proceedings. He posited that the thinking of those involved went something like this:
“We don’t approve of, and refuse to accept, the results of an election that placed a despised villain in the highest seat of power. And so, instead of taking stock of why this happened and formulating arguments to try and win back the voters who abandoned us and delivered this unspeakable result, we will simply reverse the results of the election by removing Donald Trump from office.”
They take a similar approach to crime and gun control. They hate the idea of American citizens having the right to keep and bear arms with such passion that they can’t seem to see beyond the fact that most homicides are committed with firearms. As such, the crime stats tell them all they need to know: The Second Amendment allows people to buy firearms and thousands of people are shot to death each year – so obviously this is a public health crisis that can only be solved by clamping down on gun owners.
But this one-step thinking, to use Mr. Donner’s term, brings surface-level solutions at best and hides a more sinister agenda at worst. It has become clear that gun control doesn’t solve gun crime – and a magical annihilation of firearms and the knowledge of how to make them wouldn’t stop violent crime, as people have been hurting and killing one another for thousands of years before the invention of modern projectile weapons.
What it does do, however, is give a political party a political cause to rally around, drawing voters and distracting from the myriad other issues – some of which the people in power are responsible for and some of which they are not. As has often been said, gun control is about control, not guns. Sadly, like so many other “issues” in American politics, the problem is worth far more than any real answer could ever be.