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Another hot summer weekend, another lengthy gun-violence casualty list in the Windy City. It was a mass shooting mecca in a city and state with some of the nation's strongest gun-control laws: 74 people shot, 12 dead.

Last Sunday night's bloodbath was astonishing: 30 people shot in a three-hour span in eight separate sprees, six with four or more victims. One attack left eight people suffering with bullet wounds, including four teenage girls.

The youngest victim was an 11-year-old boy.

Common sense suggests that whatever the state and city government is doing in Chicago, it ain't working. One would think that demands to modify Illinois' firearm statutes and policies might be in order.

Indeed, a good summation might be that Chicago is spectacularly personifying the old bumper sticker warning about what happens when guns are outlawed. But as a sanctuary city dominated by Democratic political control since the 1930s, the powers that be are quick to deflect accountability.

"This isn't Chicago," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at one point in a news conference on Monday. "We're better than this."

Sorry, Mayor. It is, and you're not. Observers will recall that warm-weather weekend shootings in shocking numbers has become a Chicago standard; over Independence Day weekend in 2017, 100 people were shot.

The Chicago mayor, who just last December was lauded by liberals as a Democratic darling for defiantly proclaiming Chicago a "Trump-free zone," is now battling widespread calls for resignation from grieving, fearful and fed-up residents. Groups protesting the city's inability to control violent crime have shut down expressways and promised more disruptions.

Earlier this week a Democratic state lawmaker representing Chicago's west side, where several of the weekend shootings occurred, urged Emanuel to back away from his rhetoric and invite federal help from the president.

But overall the General Assembly in Springfield appears oblivious. With solid Democratic majorities in both chambers, legislators have been busy this year passing still more stringent gun laws, even as the outlaws with guns in Chicago wreak havoc and homicide.

Lost amid the staggering shooting numbers is a glaring deficiency in analysis, however. There is no national uniform measure of total gun violence.

City and state law enforcement agencies record homicides and report data to the FBI. But there is no requirement to count nonfatal or noninjury gunshots, which everyone associated with criminal violence research acknowledges to be a large multiple of firearm deaths.

The resulting data disconnect means that nearly all the raging debate about gun violence is rooted in something other than evidence-based knowledge and assessment.

Peter Drucker repeatedly and succinctly summed up the inevitable failure that flows from trying to manage from a position of ignorance: "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."

That explains, in a nutshell, why high gun crime persists as an intractable problem in so many urban areas.

Without any universal standards to define "gun violence" and track its occurrence, along with other pertinent information such as type of weapon discharged, number of shots fired, number of wounds, etc., proposed remedies are dart throws in the dark.

Gun crime occurs every time a gun is fired illegally; whether the bullet strikes a victim and whether that victim dies is often a matter of sheer luck and circumstance. Backing into conclusions based on gun homicides, in other words, is essentially acting on wholly arbitrary information.

A crime analyst in New Orleans gathered substantial but admittedly incomplete gun-violence data in 14 cities in order to compare, contrast and correlate homicides with nonfatal incidents.

He found disparities so wide as to dispel any notion of universal solutions. Shootings are more "deadly"--the fatal share of all reported shootings--in some cities by rate differences as high as 137 percent.

The statistical rate relationship between murders and shootings varies widely as well. Chicago's gun-crime rate is much higher than Newark, N.J., but Newark's firearm death rate is higher than Chicago's. Philadelphia and Minneapolis have the same shooting-victims rate, but Philly's gun-murder rate is twice as high.

Without reliable data, those differences are inexplicable. And solutions indiscernible.

In Little Rock, nonfatal shootings as measured (victims of first-degree battery) have steadily increased since 2014. But that, too, is incomplete information in terms of tracking gun crime in such degree as to formulate effective reduction policy.

A gun crime starts with an armed criminal, but is typically only tracked once the gun is fired and someone gets shot. That prevailing misfocus--on the end of the crime rather than its beginning--misguides preventive efforts.

A local university study found that persons arrested for a homicide or shooting in Chicago in 2015 and 2016 had, on average, 12 prior arrests. Almost 40 percent had a prior gun arrest.

If we're really serious about stopping gun crime, there need to be concerted research efforts on counting and categorizing criminal shootings that don't kill or even wound anybody. What we'll discover will help dramatically to devise ways to either separate guns from criminals, or separate recidivist gun-toting criminals from the public.

What we don't know is hurting too many of us.

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Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 08/10/2018

Print Headline: What we don't know

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