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Each Monday in Chicago, we gird ourselves for the most recent score. Not on how well the Bears, Bulls or Blackhawks, Cubs or White Sox have fared, but on how many new victims of guns have been racked up. Two weekends ago, three were killed with 17 other shooting victims, according to CBS News.
Victims of gun shootings are spiking in Chicago and in cities across the country. From 2014 to 2015 to date, the murder rate in Milwaukee is up 76 percent. In St. Louis, it’s up 60 percent, in Baltimore up 56 percent, and in the nation’s capital, up 44 percent. Chicago is up “only” 20 percent, but the numbers are staggering – from 244 to 294 to date.
Someone in Chicago has been shot every 2.84 hours this year, a total of 2,349 shootings from January 1 to October 6, according to the Chicago Tribune tally. Over five years, Chicago police report 12,814 shootings and 2,583 murders, according to a chart provided me by the Chicago Police Department. We lost nearly as many people in Chicago alone as we lost on 9/11.
Nearly nine of 10 murders (89 percent) are from gunshots. Eight of 10 victims are African-American males. The guns are not made in Chicago. The Chicago police recover about 7,000 illegal guns annually – more than any other city.
What we have here is a national security emergency. There is national mourning for the victims of the mass killing at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. But Chicago is experiencing an Umpqua almost every week.
Too many illegal guns are in circulation, from handguns to military assault rifles. These guns are powerful enough not only to shoot up churches and schools but to bring down airplanes. Too many legal guns are in the wrong hands. Too many young men use guns rather than reason to settle disputes, bullets rather than accomplishment to establish their manhood.
President Obama has spoken out forcefully against gun violence, but his proposed reforms have been dead on arrival in the Congress, unable even to come to a vote.
His most recent comments have despaired that yet another slaughter brings no action.
It is time to increase both the heat and the light. President Obama should convene a White House Conference on Gun Violence. That commission should detail reforms needed to begin to address the epidemic of gun violence, and call the nation to action. The reforms can’t be limited to closing gun show loopholes or other gun law reforms. The Department of Homeland Security should be there, detailing the threat posed by the spread of guns designed for the military, not for hunters.
We need to crack down on illegal gun ownership, with harsh penalties for repeat offenders. We should be jailing those who traffic in illegal guns, while reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. There should be a push to revive the ban on assault weapons once more. It is ridiculous that weapons designed for war are spread across American streets.
But the murder spike represents more than simply too many guns. The violence stems from the growing misery of too few jobs, too many guns and too little hope. Any sensible plan against the spike in murders and shootings will include jobs for the young, increases in the minimum wage, guaranteed paid family leave days and more. The culture of drugs and guns has to be challenged with an economy of jobs and opportunity.
The Black Lives Matter Movement has raised awareness of the violence in our cities, focusing on the horror of African-Americans threatened by the very police who are charged with protecting them. But the spike of murders and shootings comes not from the actions of the police but from the actions of residents.
Citizens in many cities want a crackdown on the trafficking and carrying of guns. But many cities find themselves preempted by state legislatures. The gun lobby has systematically pushed to get state legislatures to block municipal reforms. That has to be exposed and challenged.
It is too easy to be cynical, to suggest that the gun lobby always wins, or to dismiss gun control as inadequate. As the spike in murders continues, we witness a true national security crisis. Change will meet fierce resistance. Reform may be blocked and sabotaged again and again. But that is only reason to keep pushing. Make the case for fundamental reform at the local, state and national level. Lay out a comprehensive strategy. Challenge citizens to demand the changes that we need. No civilized country can allow this level of violence to continue without mobilizing in response.
Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at www.rainbowpush.org
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