Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chicago had the third-highest total in America of people who didn't get murdered in 2012

This will be a quick post that won't get the attention that it probably deserves, but I think it's important to correct a bit of faulty information that's going around out there on the internet. The gist is that Chicago is being called the murder capital of America, having had the most people getting murdered in 2012 of any U.S. city. That is horrible, of course, and my point here is not to discount the lives of the 500 people killed in Chicago. However, Chicago has instituted some much tougher gun laws in recent years. This connection has led conservative blogs and commentators, who I will not give the benefit of linking to (use Google if you must, folks) to draw the simplified connection that Chicago's stricter gun laws a great example that the tougher gun laws are counterproductive. The old "if having a gun is criminal, only criminals will have guns" cliche, if you will.

Of course, it is all BS.

Chicago's murder rate was higher in 2012 than it was in 2011. It was also lower in 2012 than it was from any year between 1964 and 2003. Here is a simple chart of the number of murders in Chicago, 1991-2012 (Source: 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis, updated for 2012;

One reason Chicago pass New York for having the highest murder rate in the country was its own slight uptick. A more important reason is the continued drop in New York's own murder rate. New York has pretty strict gun laws of its own, a mayor who is currently running the largest anti-gun PAC in the country, and happens to be part of the state of New York, which has stricter laws than Illionois.

Mostly though, what I object to is the fact that these "news" sites are basically pandering to the conservative echo chamber, knowing it will generate hits. The Washington Post, for example, probably knows that Chicago having the most murders is essentially meaningless without context. The fact that it isn't the Top 25 in the country in murder rate, and has a rate less than half of Detroit or St. Louis or Fort Myers (?!), and barely a quarter of that of New Orleans doesn't matter. WaPo, Yahoo, and the other charlatans carry on knowing full-well that their words will be misrepresented, and don't care as long as the click rate stays high. As Chuck Todd, one of America's leaders of misinformation-spreading, pointed out this week, it's not the job of journalists to make sure what they communicate is the truth - they just need to report who says what. If someone lies outright? Hey, don't shoot the messenger.

The headline I've chosen is exactly as accurate as "FBI: Chicago passes New York as murder capital of US," which appears currently on the website of the Washington Post. To use a baseball analogy, comparing the safety of cities based on the aggregate number of murders without regard to the number of people would be like saying that Clayton Richard has outpitched Clayton Kershaw in 2013, because Richard has allowed 47 runs and Kershaw has allowed 55. It is deliberately misinformative.

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