Urban gun violence shows why cities, suburbs must collaborate

The failure of Chicago's strict gun laws shows that a city can't make change by itself.

I'll never forget sitting in the district attorney's office of Philadelphia in the early days of 2008 and asking victim services coordinator Amanda Dunn a very simple question: why was the murder rate so high in Philly?

At the time, the city was on track to keep a crown no king would ever want: highest homicide rate of all big cities in the U.S.

Her answer? Guns were a big problem, and the legal interplay between (liberal, Democratic) city and (mostly rural, mixed) state made it difficult for Philadelphia to enact strict gun laws that had been passed in peer cities like Chicago. "Straw purchases" in nearby New Jersey made it too easy for firearms to cross the state border.

Without a major tool to get guns off the street in their arsenal, police officers sometimes just had to wait until a domestic dispute occurred before they could do anything about it.

Despite the laws, Chicago continues to have gun problems. One major factor is gangs, something that Philadelphia doesn't really suffer from. But another is political boundaries.

In the Chicago Tribune, Dan Hinkel reports that the city's guns aren't coming from neighboring states with relaxed laws -- rather, they're being purchased in Chicago's suburbs, where city laws don't reach.

He writes:

Some 29 percent of the guns recovered on Chicago’s streets between 2008 and the end of March were bought in the Cook County suburbs. Lake County, Ind., was the second largest source, accounting for six percent of the weapons, and other counties surrounding Chicago – including Lake County, Ill., and Will, DuPage and Kane counties – were also in the top 10 sources.

The lesson here? Cities are not islands, and effective policy can't be made without an ongoing collaboration between city, suburbs and exurbs.

Study: Suburban shops main source of guns in Chicago crime [Chicago Tribune]

Photo: Geoffrey Fairchild/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com