Following up on my post about the (alleged) use of “R.I.P.” ammo in Chicago, I wanted to investigate further some claims made by the medical examiner (and many others, in fact) about the growing lethality of weapons on the streets and their effects on homicide.
The CityLab article on “The Bleeding of Chicago” I looked at yesterday argues that “the men and women trying to save Chicago’s shooting victims are racing another enemy: the growing lethality of modern weaponry.”
Although the homicide rate in the United States has been going down for the past 20 years — thanks in part to advances in emergency response and trauma medicine — how much more might it have dropped but for these increasingly lethal weapons?
I won’t rehearse all of the longstanding arguments between those who emphasize intentionality (“guns don’t kill people, people kill people”) versus those who emphasize instrumentality (“people with guns kill people”). I see some truth in both positions.
Any weapon — indeed, any thing — is potentially lethal. But some have more lethal potential than others. Which is why, according to the gun culture cliche, you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. And why you use your pistol to fight your way back to your rifle. And so on.
How much of the “bleeding of Chicago” is due to the weaponry as opposed to the intention? The Cook County chief medical examiner, Dr. Ponni Arunkumar sides decisively with the instrument:
“There has been this drastic increase in the number of gunshot victims we’ve been seeing over the last two years—but also, we are seeing an increase in the number of wounds . . . Before we’d see gunshot victims with maybe two or four gunshot wounds. Now we see victims with eight to 10.”
No explanation is given for this 200% to 500% increase in the number of gunshot wounds per patient in the past two years. But certainly “high capacity” magazines in semi-automatic firearms have been in circulation, including among criminals, for much longer than that.
By following a link in the CityLab article, I went to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times that also features Arunkumar and says that the doubling of gunshot wounds has taken place over the past 25 years, which makes more sense.
Upon further investigation, it appears that a couple of different facts are being conflated here. The data being cited come from a review of medical examiner’s reports conducted by the Chicago Sun-Times’ “Watchdogs.” The review compared those shot to death in Cook County in August of 1992 and August of 2016, two of the bloodiest months in Chicago history.
The review found:
- Those shot to death in 2016 had been struck by an average of 4.25 bullets compared to 2.5 bullets in 1992, an increase of 170%.
- Seven of the 2016 gunshot victims had been shot at least 10 times compared to just three in August 1992, an increase of 233%.
It seems evident that killers in Chicago are shooting more, but the 4.25 bullets hitting the average victim in August 2016 could be achieved with a revolver or even a 1983 model Colt Mustang — the gun pictured in the CityLab story — with its 5+1 round capacity.
The 233% increase in gunshot victims struck by 10 or more rounds seems striking, but these are a small proportion of homicides. It also in itself doesn’t resolve the instrumentality vs. intentionality debate. Consider some other facts uncovered by the Watchdogs:
- Of those who died after being hit by a single bullet, a larger percentage of the 1992 victims suffered a wound to the body, rather than the head.
- Twenty percent of those killed in August 2016 were sitting in a vehicle when they were shot, compared with just 5 percent in August 1992.
What these facts say to me is that the level of brutality in gun homicides in Chicago is increasing, and that we are seeing more assassinations (single bullet to head, shot in car). Which is unquestionably an issue of intentionality rather than instrumentality.