Lethal Weaponry, Lethal Intent, and Homicide in Chicago

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?

Screen cap of https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/02/the-bleeding-of-chicago/554141

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.

Screen cap of https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/the-watchdogs-more-chicago-shooting-victims-being-shot-multiple-times/

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:

  1. 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%.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.




  1. I don’t trust Chicago numbers (due to so much anti-gun bias), BUT something else to put in the hopper…according to Dave Grossman (Bullet-Proof Mind) the improvements in modern medicine have contributed vastly to the survival of violent injuries of all types as compared to yesteryear. Have to consider what that really says about the increase in overall homicides. I can’t help but believe our society and the world in general is becoming more violent as a whole, but I don’t believe the tools are the problem. It’s the tool user.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Something to consider about Grossman’s claim. A firearm homicide that “fails” due to better trauma medicine becomes, for crime stat purposes, an Attempted Murder or Aggravated Assault With A Firearm. If the homicide rate drop is significantly attributable to better trauma medicine we should see some sort of statistically significant divergence between the ongoing, historic rate trend relationship, whatever it may be, between homicide and Aggr. Assault with a firearm. If the same basic relationship remains, that calls the broad claim that the drop in homicide is attributable to “better response times” or “better trauma medicine” into question.

      Something which should also be looked at to provide context are any changes in the average time between report and estimated time of actual death, the response time between report and arrival of EMS/PD to a homicide/potentially fatal shooting, and any change in the percentage of firearm homicides where the victim is alive when EMS/PD arrive but who die en route or in the OR.

      If the PD has been mostly finding “older” dead bodies, as opposed to recent ones or dying victims, then we probably need to account for that in what we are comparing for homicide rate changes. No amount of medicine can impact a day-old victim. If they are arriving on scene in about the same amount of time, and the ratio of dead to dying hasn’t changed, then it is unlikely the rounds are becoming more lethal. Particularly if that ratio hasn’t changed even with more wounds received. If the percentages of lethally injured who die en route or in the OR hasn’t changed, then there’s unlikely to be any effect of better trauma medicine at all.

      Ammunition-wise, it would be interesting to see, statistically, if the percentage of hollowpoints versus ball rounds used in homicides has actually changed. Given criminals consume the same media as legal gun owners, and often acquire stolen loaded guns, I would expect that to evolve just as they have followed the shift toward semi-autos. But, I would not be surprised if the cost and availability of accessing quality hollowpoint ammo, especially in somewhere like Chicago, might counteract their preferences.

      As David notes, capacity and bullet design really haven’t changed in 25 years, or even 40, and the RIP gimmick rounds actually contradict the design philosophy of professional users and bullet designers; which is trying to design rounds with weight retention (the opposite of “fragmenting”) with consistent 1.5% or more diameter expansion and 15″-ish gel penetration even through media like clothing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just to beat a favorite drum, literally none of the additional detail I listed as possibly providing better information and context requires “the CDC.” It is all information that is be contained in the case files of the police department itself and involves nothing more than informed statistical analysis. The appropriate researchers would remain, as in almost all things criminal, criminologists and other actual subject matter experts.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    A lot of information and variables. A pathologist down at the morgue taught me that 40/100ths of an inch is required to violate thoracic vacuum, cold air in, hot air out, to put a person into shock. Then there is the homorrage factor. Depending on what ammunition is used, and what visceral organs are damaged, or what arterial network is broken, the multiple hits only indicates rapid fire with desire to kill. People for whatever cerebrally arrested development driven motivations, remain the problem and not any firearm. In fact, doctors annually kill more patients, than all the firearms related deaths in the same period of time. All of the gang related shootings and criminal use of firearms remains a product of primate thinking, regardless of who is behind the gun. I wonder why there has never been any study, where people convicted of gun violence crimes, have never been subjected to electroshock therapy or even a simple bounce of automobile jumper cables, to find out if their criminal tendencies and thoughts, change and improve.

    Liked by 2 people

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