Gun Sales and Trafficking
Full video, powerpoint presentation and edited transcript; "Gun Sales and Trafficking"; February 10, 2017.
Bruce Shapiro: We've been zigzagging around the question of gun impact, violence prevention. Now we're going to move in a different direction, which is to talk about gun sales and trafficking. An issue that some of us in this room have dug into as reporters at one time or another, but also an issue that there's still a huge amount that we can learn from cutting edge research in this field. We are very, very lucky to have Harold Pollack with us, professor at the University of Chicago in the School of Social Service Administration and Department of Public Health Sciences, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which uses insights from basic science to help government agencies and nonprofits develop innovative new approaches to reducing violence.
I said today is about source development as much as anything else. A key resource, if you've never called these guys up on the phone, is the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Pollack has published widely on the intersecting topics of poverty, policy, and public health in journals such as Addiction, The Journal of the AMA, The American Journal of Public Health, and so on. He's been appointed to three committees of The National Academy of Sciences. In our world he's written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, and elsewhere. His great American Prospect essay, Lessons From an Emergency Room Nightmare, was in Best American Medical Writing. Howard, come, talk.
Harold Pollack: Thanks so much. I always wish my mom were here to hear those.
BS: It's going to be on video, you can show it.
HP: I'm sure she will show it to all of her friends, if they happen to ask, or would ask if they knew about it. I must say, by the way, the last presentation was such a hard act to follow in terms of thinking about the human particularity of what we're talking about here. It's funny, my cousin was actually murdered and when I think about that experience and what resonated in our experience with what you described and what was totally different in our experience from what you described, really, was very powerful to me. We bear witness to a lot of stuff and I just think that I really was moved by your presentation.
I want to talk about what's happening in Chicago and what we're learning about Chicago gun violence, and also something about, just in general, at least in this local context, what's going on there. I should say that we are not Dodge City here in Chicago. When I talk to people, this is 2013, we actually ranked number 23 in the country in violence. We're now about an 11 or 12. A lot of what's happening in Chicago is very much what's happening in Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Baltimore, as was mentioned, is having a tough time.
The Chiraq stuff is really, in some ways, very misleading. We are just not an outlier. Now, having said that, we are a lot more dangerous than Los Angeles or New York. In fact, in some ways, they are the outliers, in that New York City has fewer homicides that Chicago, it has three times as many people. L.A. is also experiencing a dramatic decline, which transforms that city.
Chicago, we are much safer than we were 20 years ago but we've definitely had an uptick. I'm going to show you some statistics about that because I think there's sort of competing simplistic narratives. One is that it's just Dodge City here and everybody is getting killed. I have friends who, when they hear I do crime research in Chicago they're like, "Oh my god, I'm so worried about you now." I'm like, "You don't really need to be worried about me. Unless I wave my iPhone around on the CTA, basically nobody wants to mess with me." I'm old enough to be out of the gene pool for most of the altercations that I deal with. On the other hand there's people saying, a lot of progressives are saying crime is low and there's nothing happening. That's not true either, it's changing and there's something real going on. Here's just a trend. This is all, by the way, from our latest crime report on Chicago, which if you go to the Crime Lab website you'll see my colleagues did some amazing work that I'm drawing on here. We have essentially gone back to what the homicide rate is in Chicago in the late '90s. You look at that last uptick, that's a real thing. It's about a 40% increase. It's way safer than it was during the crack epidemic, during the early '90s. President Trump speaks about how we're at a, and Attorney General Sessions, that we're at some sort of historical high point in violence. We're not, either in Chicago or the nation, but things have ticked up.
I should say, here's just what we look like compared to Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. Chicago's the red line. We're by no means getting it the worst. I think that's important in putting these things in context. Although Chicago's also a big city and there's different parts of Chicago. I'm going to say something about that.
What we saw was a really dramatic increase in Chicago about January 2016. This is just percentage change compared to the prior year. Some of it was the previous year it had been really, really cold in January, but that really doesn't explain the whole thing by any stretch. We don't exactly know why there's been a big increase. Clearly the issues between police and community are part of it.
By the way, I think many of the policy recommendations that we make about what to do about violence in Chicago would be exactly the same if we had no uptick in violence. It's important, as reporters, when you cover this to think about what is it that we need to cover that's really showing a change and may require some change, and what are some chronic issues that need to be addressed.
Whatever's happening, in terms of the momentary uptick in crime, the issues of youth joblessness, the issues of poverty segregation, availability of firearms to prohibited possessors, if we had no increase in crime we would still have many of the same issues on the table. How to establish police legitimacy in the communities where violence is most pressing. I think we need to keep in perspective there's some issues where the uptick is really important and there are some where it almost distracts us from the fundamentals. I should say, let me get specifically to the gun issue. I'm from the University of Chicago, you've got to come with equations. Here's one equation. Gun violence equals guns plus violence. As many of you know, the United States is really not an outlier in violence and in crime compared to other countries, in a lot of ways.
Other wealthy countries, if you want to get mugged you can go into London too and someone would be happy to mug you. If you want to get your car stolen, in Toronto they're happy to do that for you. Not just property crime but also interpersonal violence. Sexual assault, pretty much every crime we worry about in Western Europe, Canada, you see, actually, a surprising amount of it relative to the United States. We're really pretty close to the median among wealthy democracies, and a lot of offenses that don't involve guns.
The guns, though, mean that there's a lot more dead bodies here. Understanding how to deal with our gun problem better is fundamental. Here's my second equation, this is the advanced equation. A lot of our homicides kind of look like this equation. You've got some young guys, they've got some kind of disagreement, maybe some issues of impulsive behavior that get to the ways that people are traumatized. Or just people who have to be tough in a very tough environment are responding to altercations. You add a gun in there and you get a dead body.
I actually think I've changed the way I think about this equation some as we've talked to offenders. I've done a lot of work in high schools in Chicago, where we're really trying to deal with self-regulation in a very immediate way. Like I get into it with somebody on the street and it just escalates and I shoot him, kind of violence.
A lot of what's happening now, I think, there's a little bit more subtlety to it. It relates to the kinds of scripted behaviors that young men develop to keep themselves safe. Suppose I have a smart phone. I have two daughters. I told my daughters, "Some guy comes to take your smart phone," and I would say this to my son too. I don't have a son but the advice I would give is, "Your life is not worth a phone. If somebody wants to come and take your phone, you give it to him. First of all, I can get you another phone. Secondly, there's a lot of adults in the environment that can help you if you need help."
Now, if I'm a 17 year old kid living in Englewood in Chicago and my mom has just bought me a $75 jacket and I've got to walk home from school every day, my mom is telling me, "You know, I can't really buy you another jacket if some tougher kid can just come and take it. The reality is that I don't like this but you have to fend for yourself a lot. Other people have to kind of know that you can't be messed with." Because there's not a lot of adults in the environment that are going to be there to protect you the way there are for my kids.
Somebody steps on your sneaker, at one level you say, "I can't believe this led to a death. This is so stupid. This kid must have a psychiatric disorder. What the hell's going on that somebody ended up dead?" It's not quite that simple. There's a bunch of people watching, waiting to see can some guy just come and step on your sneaker and you're not going to do anything about it. That's actually kind of dangerous for those young men.
A lot of those violent activities that from the yuppie, I guess I'm too old to be a yuppie, from the sort of University of Chicago perspective, where you say, "That's so stupid that this kid ended up dead over this," is not so stupid from the perspective of the world that they live in. That's when the injection of guns becomes especially lethal. Especially when you add the injection of guns and the fact that it's very hard for police to control the violence in these communities. Very often people feel that it's up to them and their social networks.
I should say that almost all of our homicides in Chicago involve a firearm. Usually an off the shelf handgun, 90% of our homicides. It's basically been the same year on year. 90% of our homicides, basically, semiautomatic pistol is going to be the weapon. We actually have AR15s and stuff like that but really very rarely used. As a matter of fact, there's almost never any crime that involves any skill with a gun. You almost never see a case like a gang leader walks out of the house to get the paper in the morning, he gets picked off by a sniper. We don't see crimes like that. It's really handguns, pretty close range, or someone's firing into a crowd. Something like that.
Our non-gun homicide rate in Chicago is actually quite similar to the non-gun homicide rate in other cities, including New York. Our gun homicide rate, much higher. The same would be true of, say, Philadelphia. In fact, our non-gun homicide, a lot of our women victims are victims of non-gun homicides. You get punched. Domestic homicides, things like that. Often with alcohol as a key factor in that, and we can talk about that if you want.
Essentially the high homicide cities have just way more gun deaths than you would expect. The gun crime rates in Chicago are up for every kind of gun crime from 2016, 2015 comparisons. It's really our gun stuff that's way up. I won't spend a lot of time on this but I'll just say the racial disparities, ethnic disparities, are total ... 80% of our homicide victims are African Americans, almost all young men. Very few women, non-Hispanic whites, Asian Americans are homicide victims in the city of Chicago.
One of the things that we've seen since the early '90s, I'll just go very quickly over this, the homicide rate has come down a lot. Sorry, this is like Edward Tufte would shoot me right now for the worst display of quantitative information. The places that had low homicide rates in the early '90s have actually seen the biggest declines in Chicago. What we've seen is the disparities have really widened. It's not Chiraq but there's part of Chicago where that statement is more plausible than others, and I'll show you a couple.
This is just a map where the map on the left is just homicide rates per 100,000, and the south and west sides are very great. Then the map on the right is just what's increased. What we've seen is basically five neighborhoods in Chicago have been where almost all the increase, or a huge chunk of the increase, has come. The rest of the city, pretty quiet. Outside of the south and west sides of Chicago we are a very safe city. This includes, by the way, the immigrant heavy areas of Chicago. There's no distinctive public safety issue in homicide that involves undocumented immigrants in Chicago, as far as I know. There are drug distribution networks that involve foreign nationals and undocumented immigrants but not random homicides. You often hear people talking about that issue, I just don't see it. There's just these five neighborhoods on the south and west sides that are the darkest regions here.
High homicide cities have more guns. On the left what you see is the number of firearms recovered in Chicago, L.A., and New York. In fact, in many years Chicago actually recovers more guns, more crime guns, than New York and L.A. put together. Not the rate but just absolute numbers. Maybe the CPD is just way better than the LAPD and the NYPD but we think there are other explanations. There's just a lot more guns out there on the street. That's a major reason why we have so many more homicides.
I should say, in terms of what kinds of guns we have seen in Chicago, a shift towards higher caliber guns over the years. Sort of 9mm pistols are way more common and we start to see the sort of 40 caliber things. That does increase the lethality of gun violence. .22s are less, you see those are going down, and those are less lethal.
What else do we see? We see declining arrests. There's a lot of people wondering what's going on with police in Chicago. We see declining arrests. What's interesting about that is that almost all the decline in arrests is coming in narcotics arrests. If you actually look at property crime and violent crime arrests, those have been pretty level but narcotics arrests are way down. I actually think that's a very positive development.
Police are trying to focus on violence. They know about the mass incarceration issue. They know about the desire of communities not to be arresting nonviolent drug offenders, both on the selling side and the using side, and they're trying to respond to that. It's a big culture change for CPD. It's very painful but we're seeing it in the data.
We do see the homicide clearance rates are dropping, and that, really is a function of the police community polarization that that came from. Let me skip up. I should say, the people who are the offenders and the victims of homicides in Chicago are people that tend to be involved in the criminal justice system. Andy Papachristos and his colleagues just constructed a social network that was basically people that have been arrested together. They made this massive network, there's 188,000 people, actually. Almost everybody who was murdered in the city of Chicago is in that network. If you're not in that network you can be an African American man living in the worst neighborhood of Chicago, you are very unlikely to be a murder victim. There's a matrix of violence that is complex but it involves people that are touching the systems and we don't know how to interrupt that cycle among people that we actually touch and identify.
One of the interesting things, as I'll get to it in a moment, I've talked to a lot of gun offenders in the jail. They're all like, "There's just too many crazy people carrying guns out in Chicago. You've got to do something about that." Our interviewers are like, "Dude, you're a 22 year old gang offender arrested on a gun charge." He's like, "I know. I'm carrying a gun because I'm afraid of all the other guys." That's a very real thing.
We also see that typically most of our homicide offenders and victims have been arrested many times before, often but not always for a prior gun arrest. Quite a few are involved in the criminal justice system and we somehow don't know how to disrupt that. Of course gang affiliation is a part of it.
Let me get to the gun stuff now, which you're hoping to see. I just wanted to give you some context on Chicago because we talk about [inaudible]. Any questions about Chicago before I go on to the next?
Audience: What is the difference between young men and impulsivity in your second equation?
HP: Well, I think impulsivity implies that the way to solve that issue is to help people with self-regulation skills, things like that. Which I think for young men is very important. I do think that helping people with cognitive behavioral therapy, self-regulation, that we really will save a lot of lives that way. We did that, the Becoming a Man Intervention, which we did a randomized trial of, really did reduce violent offending among young men, in part through these methods. I think we have to understand that there's a world that they live in where it looks a lot more impulsive to the outsider than it actually is. We actually have to change the world that these young men live in so that the scripted behaviors that they use that sometimes create threats of death are less important as a survival skill for those young men. Some of those things that look very impulsive are ways that they're trying to survive. Does that help?
I think the more we look at some of the altercations that we looked at, especially as we just finished a study where we interviewed people in the prison and a lot of the shootings involved there was an altercation that was some sort of a dispute between people but the guy would go home and get a car and come back and shoot at the guy, like a drive-by. It wasn't like an immediate, "I'm pumped in this moment." It's like, "I'm into it with this guy and I'm responding with violence." Teaching me self-regulation skills in the moment isn't exactly going to do it to stop that.
How do you unravel the arms race that these young offenders and victims have? We just have a lot of gun carrying, which from an individual perspective makes sense. We're trying to understand the underground gun market in Chicago. I think, by the way, every city has a different texture of the gun problem. One of the things that we found in Chicago that's a paradox is that some of our criminal offenders have very ready access to guns and others don't.
For instance, a lot of our robberies don't involve guns, even though if you're going to rob somebody having a gun is a very useful way to rob somebody. I really wouldn't get that far robbing too many people without a gun. I just don't have the right human capital for that. We see that the market for guns is kind of complicated. People often say there's 265 million guns in America, anybody can get a gun, it's kind of hopeless. You hear that from liberals and conservatives.
The liberals are like, "We have to become England if we want to reduce violence." Which is kind of discouraging because that's not going to happen. Conservatives are like, "If you just outlaw guns only the bad guys will get guns." Actually it turns out that there's a kind of complicated market. The police have some ability to thwart people's access to guns. If you're a prohibited possessor, you have committed a felony, I can't legally buy a gun, I have to have someone in a position of trust with me who's going to help me get a gun for me to have a gun.
We can actually, through public policy, we can effect that. I'll say a little bit about that. One thing, 11% of our gun offenders directly acquired their guns from a gun store. If you look at people, someone committed a gun related crime, very few of them just went to a gun store, legally bought a gun and they went out and committed a crime. We're trying to understand what's happening.
One of the problems with a gun is that a gun is a very durable object. The typical gun that's used in a gang crime is like 15 years old. If I have a gun from 1950 it works pretty well. They pass from hand to hand and we don't know a lot about what's going on in this market. Partly we don't know a lot because the government has blinded some of our methods that we might use to find out. I'm a public health researcher, we have all sorts of computer databases that we're not allowed to use in guns because of restrictions like the [inaudible 00:25:03] Amendments, and so on. ATF has paper files for things that should be computerized. We should use all the big data techniques that Google uses, we should be using in the gun area but, of course, we don't.
We know a lot, though, about the first sale of the gun. Almost every gun that's used in a crime was legally sold to somebody. At least if it was manufactured and sold after 1968. Almost all those guns, we know who the first purchaser was. We know a lot, often, about the last person who had that gun if they committed a crime. If we found the gun at a crime scene, we know a lot about that crime scene, who might have had that gun last. We actually don't know a lot, though, about the many hands that that gun may have passed through before it got to the final offender.
There's usually several people that had that gun before the offender. We're trying to find out, and that's really where the underground gun markets really happen, in the most interesting way. Sort of after the first legal sale. We do know there's some issues with the first legal sale. There are dirty gun dealers. There's definitely work that can be done with that. A lot of the real action in the gun market is after that point.
If you look, for example, in Chicago, Chuck's Gun Shop is pretty controversial. As far as I know, they're not doing anything illegal at Chuck's Gun Shop. I may be wrong about that but they are legally selling guns. A very large percentage of all the crime guns in the south side of Chicago come from Chuck's. A lot happens to those guns after they're sold and there's a lot that we can do. By the way, that's not to say that it's optimal the way Chuck's is selling their guns. There are other gun shops that videotape their sales and do other things that make straw purchasing less possible.
We did one study where we just looked at where crime guns came from in Chicago. Really we looked at data from the first purchaser. It's a really long and boring paper but it has a couple of findings I want to mention to you now. One issue that comes up a lot for us in Chicago is Indiana. If you look at our gang guns, what we did is we looked at all the gun crimes that were committed by people who had gang affiliations and we compared them with gun crimes committed by people who didn't have gang affiliations and were more likely to be able to just legally buy a gun.
One thing that really jumped out is that 1/3 of our gang guns are coming from Indiana. We have a national gun market and that poses a real problem for any one city to deal with. If I'm Baltimore I can have the toughest gun laws in the United States and people would just get in their car and drive a very short distance. There's a real limit to what you can do as any one city. People are holding Rahm Emanuel accountable, in some ways, for that fact that some guy can drive to Indiana. That's a national policy challenge.
Let me jump, just for this argument's sake, you might be more interested in our interviews with arrestees. Phil Cook, Susan Parker, and I did a study where we went to the Cook County Jail and we interviewed 99 gun offenders. We asked them why are you carrying guns, how do you get rid of your guns, where do you get your ammunition, questions like that. What did we find? I'm covering a lot of ground so I'd be happy the answer questions to fill in a lot. By the way, one of the things that we found was that people were willing to talk.
Audience: I was just going to ask you, how did you do that if there's a $10 phone card involved?
HP: Yeah, if we ever stop ripping off prisoners for the phones it would make academic studies a lot harder. People, they're bored. By the way, one of the problems we had was that they were embarrassed that they didn't know stuff. We had some very engaging young women interviewers and you can imagine that there's some guy, she's like, "You're the expert. Tell me what you know about guns," and he's like, he doesn't know anything but he's not going to say, "I don't know anything," so he's like, "Oh, you can buy this for 500."
We actually discovered one of the challenges we had was they would lie in an effort to save face about the gun market. No, people were willing to be candid about various things. We did a lot of things to protect their anonymity. We actually didn't know who they were. We didn't know their names. In the prison surveys we actually knew who they were. We were going to look at some of their records to cross-validate what they said. We did a number of things to protect their anonymity.
I was struck how many of the offenders were very, very concerned about the gun problem. They don't like that they're living in a world where there's such a high level of violence. They're worried about their kids. They're just as worried about it as anybody else. By the way, this is who they were, on average they'd been arrested 13 times. A lot of them had done serious offenses. 88% were identified as gang affiliated. They looked a lot like homicide offenders in Chicago, demographically. They were mostly young guys.
Where do they get their guns? 10% of them got them from a store. Not too many of them, by the way, got it from a gun show. Most of them, family or friend is quite common. Sometimes as a gift. About 1/3 would say on the street. I didn't exactly know always what that meant but it was usually a friend of a friend, or somebody that's one click away in your social network. People are worried about the Chicago Police Department arresting them for trying to get a gun. Like if I just wandered into some neighborhood in Chicago and said I want to buy a gun I would not come away with a gun.
You know someone who can get you connected to someone who's willing to somehow get you one. Not too many, by the way, directly stole the guns. This is actually a big issue among people who argue about the Second Amendment. One of the issues is if we clamp down on guns people would just steal them. We didn't see that much direct theft of guns in this sample but I'm going to come back to that in a minute. Oh, I'm sorry, this slide is messed up.
Direct theft is not that important, at least at the first, directly. Remember when I showed you this slide here? Theft could occur at lots of points in this hand to hand thing. Direct theft may not be important but somebody might have burglarized that gun like 10 years ago and it could end up in the underground market. By the way, a lot of criminals have their guns stolen. A lot of the gun thefts actually involve people who have an illegal gun.
When you talked a bit, "Who did you steal the gun from?" Actually, a friend of a friend who's a drug dealer was a very common answer in our prison survey because, of course, that person is not going to report it. By the way, this is a highly dangerous activity.
Audience: I have a question on that. The slide before that. I'm just wondering, is Chicago the type of place, I don't know if this was part of the questioning or not, the friend or family piece, I know in the south, where I'm from, a lot of people inherit guns from a family member. Is that something that you've heard that a lot of people answered that, said?
Audience: They're inheriting these weapons too?
HP: Yeah. By the way, a lot of our folks, their parents are from the south. They're part of a ... there's a gun culture. Sometimes it's an heirloom. Sometimes it's, "I was worried about you. I gave you a gun because I knew that you were not safe." Sometimes it's just and economic transaction or I borrowed it. There's a whole variety of complicated ways that people would get the ... there's a lot in there. Now, one thing that's different about Chicago, Chicago has very strict gun laws. One of the things that we found when we talked to our colleagues in other cities that have lower regulation is that there's a lot more theft.
For example, in St. Louis the police chief of St. Louis likes to talk about the fact that if you have, basically, any kind of laws that allow open carry, things like that, you go outside Busch Stadium the day of a baseball game and you look for a white pickup truck, you go straight for the glove box, you're going to find a gun a lot of the time. New Orleans there's a lot of theft. There is a level, if gun use becomes sufficiently pervasive gun theft becomes much more feasible.
You break into a random house in Chicago, you're not going to find a gun. There's just not a lot of guns around. You go into New York City, you break into somebody's house, they don't have a gun, or if they have one it is pretty well hidden. If everybody's got one then it's a whole different story.
Actually one of the interesting things about gun ownership in America is that it used to be that a lot of people owned guns for hunting and for various utilitarian purposes. That's really a thing of the past. It's important in parts of rural America but basically people own guns for self-protection or as a matter of personal identity. There's a very strong correlation now between gun ownership and political ideology that was not present 30 years ago.
Each city's got its own gun theft issues and gun access issues. I think everything I tell you about Chicago, if you are in Atlanta it's going to be different. It's going to be complicated but it's going to be different. You will see, in all these places, some people have easy access to guns and some people don't and we shouldn't assume that there's a uniform market that everybody's getting.
The other thing that was really amazing in Chicago is the importance of self defense. 40% of our offenders that we interviewed had actually been shot in their adult life. Not shot at but actually shot. By the way, I didn't believe this number. I thought this was like guys trying to show off to the interviewers or something. We did the same thing in our prison study and it came out the same kind of numbers and, in fact, we found quite a few of them in medical reports where the shooting had actually been reported. We'd hear a lot of people would say things like, "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six." Yeah. Whenever you hear the same thing a lot it's a lyric, and of course this is a lyric. There's actually something kind of hopeful about that, that all these people who are carrying guns, you might say they're all determined criminals, we just can't change that behavior, no, they would not be carrying guns if they felt the other guy wasn't carrying a gun, in a lot of the cases.
How do they acquire guns? Gun shows, not so much. Internet, almost none on the internet. One of the ironies is that we were not talking to people who were like the Columbine type people. That's a whole different issue. Some of the issues around mass homicides are very different. The guns are different and everything's different. Direct theft, not so much.
Let me just show you a typology that we find very useful. Please feel free to ask me questions, by the way. How am I doing on time?
BS: I think about another 15 minutes and we'll have plenty of time for questions. Do what you need to do.
HP: Okay, I got you. It's actually useful to see this sort of typology. There's two ways we could think about issues here. My colleague, Phil Cook, made this graph. The first time I saw it I thought it was really stupid and then I saw its profundity. One is people buying guns in the primary market or are they buying it in the secondary market? If I'm buying a gun in a primary market I'm basically going to be subject to a background check. We've got pretty much of a handle on that market, more than you might think.
Then I could buy it in the secondary market from another gun possessor and, depending on what state I'm in, I might not have any background check at all. What we talk about a lot of times as the gun show loopholes, really just private sales among individuals. There's nothing magical about a gun show, it's just a private sale among individuals, often is what we're really talking about.
Then within those there's illegal transactions and there's transactions that arm dangerous people. If we think about this part of the blob, that's your classic illegal way that gangs get guns. I know some guy who can get me an illegal gun. That's one problem. We can do a lot, actually, to disrupt that. One of the things that we were struck by when we talked to offenders, they're really worried about undercover police activities. In fact, they're worried about stuff that the police don't do.
If you think about it, if you're a guy trying to get a gun, how are you supposed to know what the ATF, FBI, Chicago Police, really do? They're worried about, and that's actually good, that we can deter some of those transactions. I think making examples of people who participate in some of this would actually have a big deterrent effect, even if you couldn't do it very often.
Then there's also the dirty dealer problem. There's actually a lot of audit evidence that there are dealers who are willing ... There've been audit studies where people just called up gun dealers and said, "You know, I'm trying to buy a gun for my friend. He's not allowed to buy a gun and I want to buy a gun for him. Can you just help me out?" About 20% of gun dealers will be like, "Cool, let's do that." Those people certainly exist and we don't exactly know all those people. Garren Wintermute has done some really interesting work on what we could do to identify those dirty dealers.
Then there's sort of the legal transactions that arm dangerous people that are in the secondary market. I just want to go buy a gun from somebody and I've never committed a felony but I'm a pretty dangerous guy. We have this standard, who do we trust with a gun? We trust with a gun someone who's not been convicted of a felony and has not been judged to be a danger to themselves and others or involuntarily committed, which is a great standard for 1960. That's just not how the American mental health system works and we trust everybody else.
If I had my way, by the way, I would have much more stringent rules for people under the age of 25 because one of the challenges we have with a lot of the people in this box ... The guy in Santa Barbara who shot a bunch of people. He's a young guy experiencing severe mental illness. After the fact people were like, "I can't believe that he could get a gun, he obviously had some signs of emerging dangerousness." If you saw Jeff Swanson you'd know that's not the same as mental illness.
He was so young that, in terms of anything you'd see in a record, he just looked like a young guy who was a student. We just didn't have enough of a paper trail. There's a lot of people in this green area or, for that matter, in this orange area, where we're not going to see anything about them that's going to warn us. After the fact there's always that red flag that before the fact was not a red flag.
I looked at a bunch of cases, like the Planned Parenthood shooter, a bunch of people where after the fact you see the same article by reporters that said he was a loner, his neighbors were scared of him. All this kind of stuff. You say, "I can't believe that guy got a gun," but when you actually trace it out, what is it about them that would make them a prohibited possessor, you sort of say there's nothing. In fact, it's hard to think of something that would have made them a prohibited possessor, often.
There's some things that we could do to tighten that but a lot of the mass shooters and people like that are in these last two blobs. I think that we just boxed ourselves into a corner because we trust everyone with a gun who hasn't fit a few restrictive categories.
Sources to the underground market, we know there's a lot of trafficking often up highway 95. One of the interesting things is all the prosecutors are desperately looking for Mr. Big. If you could find a guy who's bringing up 300 guns from Mississippi to Chicago I guarantee you that every law enforcement agency and every prosecutor would be glomming on that like you wouldn't believe. I was thinking 95, actually, in the east coast.
BS: Up the east coast, from Virginia to New York, then Boston.
HP: Yeah. For instance, in New York, for example, the last seven police officers who were shot and killed were shot by guns from Georgia, South Carolina. I think maybe there might be one other state in there. That's the iron pipeline. Mr. Big doesn't exist in guns. It turns out that the big gangs don't want to sell guns. The Latin Kings don't sell guns, particularly.
First of all, you don't make a lot of money selling a gun. If I'm selling heroin to you, you're coming back to me a lot and buying a lot of dime bags, I'm making a lot of money. You're going to buy a few guns from me if I'm selling you a gun, and the profit margin on a gun isn't that much. Plus, you might go and kill somebody and then it might come back to me. If I sell you a dime bag of heroin that's a lower risk activity, in a lot of ways.
There are not big gun selling organizations, particularly. It's zillions of mom and pop operations. It's like the lady who's making a little extra money selling ... We often think of the straw purchasers in a very gendered way. Like there's this woman, her boyfriend got her to buy a gun. It's actually a little bit different from that, it's often a little bit more professionalized. There's a woman who's selling, can make some money. She might be holding some stolen property, selling some guns. It's often a little bit more complicated but that's not a person any prosecutor is like, "I want to invest six months of my life to put that person behind bars." That's not a person a jury looks at and says, "This is Mrs. Evil." It's just somebody making some extra money. She's a single mom making some extra money and she's sold some guns. Or a guy who goes to a college in Missouri and brings back some guns. There's a lot of these intermediaries and they're not attractive targets for law enforcement, particularly.
Now, one thing I should also say, we've had some success, we've had partial success of gun laws in hindering the underground market. The good news is that a lot of the people trying to buy guns who really want to hurt somebody are pretty unsophisticated consumers. We could stop those people from getting guns, we really could. If you say, "Can you stop the Latin Kings from getting guns," probably the answer is no. If they're bringing heroin up from Mexico they can get guns.
Ralph, who's really mad at Sam and wants to get a gun now, we can often stop that guy. I think we have to look at low-tech barriers that might be helpful rather than looking at some sort of massive cure for this problem, and chip away at it. I'm going to stop here and answer questions.
BS: Brilliant, thank you. Let me ask one to kick it off. We have reporters here from, I think, eight states, mostly in this region. If you're sitting here and you're a reporter from Milwaukee or Joliet or St. Louis and you're trying to take this and think, "Wow, I've got to understand my local gun market better," what are some of the markers that a reporter should be looking at? What rocks should we be turning over to try to draw pictures of how these issues play out where we live, whether it's a big city or smaller community?
HP: It's a little bit like how do people get access to Oxycodone in my community. It's not the cocaine market, it's not the heroin market, there's no Mr. Big bringing up a ... There's lot's of rivulets that people are getting guns. I think there's a couple of things you can do as a reporter. One is I think you should be pressuring local law enforcement to say what kinds of data do you have on the guns that you're tracing? Are you tracing the guns? Are you using the data that you have? By the way, that would be a great story about what are you actually doing about the gun violence to really track it down? Then also you can talk to ... there's often a gun unit in the police department that you can go talk to and say, "What's your experience?" You can go into the jail and you can talk to people and say, "Hey, what's ..." Offenders will talk to you, they really will.
Audience: If you don't have a phone card?
HP: Yeah, that's a problem. The phone card helps a lot. I think that the same things that you do to build a relationship of trust to talk to the families of homicide victims will often get you to people who have an involvement with guns. Say, "Tell me about what's going on with guns in your community." You'll hear an awful lot of woofing. You'll hear people say, "You know you can buy a gun as easy as you can buy a hamburger in this community." Or something like that. It's often a little bit more complicated than that. You need a little bit of sophistication about who's really going to ... I'll leave it there for now.
Audience: I'm from Minneapolis so I'm interested in our role in Chicago's gun epidemic. The 30% of gang guns that we supply, are you able to dig deeper into that and say it's a gang to gang connection, are they setting up gang colonies in Gary to funnel those guns? Can you get more specific about how they get those guns?
HP: I think there's things that we know and things that we don't know. There are certainly a lot of gang connections across the Indiana, Chicago border. There's a lot of folks in Gary and Indianapolis who have Chicago connections. I think we've been very focused on the gun shows, probably a little too much. I think that there's just lots of places to buy ... You can go to all sorts of legal gun stores in Indiana and buy a gun. Just buy one gun at a time and pass it down into the market.
I think one of the most important things you can do, whenever there's a homicide you always want to say, "Where did that guy get that gun," and try to trace it back as much as you can. I thought the New York Times' stories, which I assume required some major resources but could often be done in other places, a lot of these homicides that involve young men, the really important part, how did that guy get a gun? How did the guy that gave the guy the gun, how did that guy get that gun? Then you often get back to it's a small store in Indiana, or whatever. I'm not sure if I'm helping with that.
Audience: You were talking about fewer drug arrests, and that's a good thing. In talking to police, they will tell you that's no coincidence that the number of gun crimes went up when the drug arrests went down. Not because the drug arrests were such a big deal but it's the same population. They'll tell you they've been handcuffed to going after the people they know are gun offenders for smaller stuff, and thus they're able to operate a lot more freely because they're not afraid of law enforcement. [inaudible 00:50:49]
HP: You know, I think that this gets to ...
Audience: It's a broken window, that whole thing.
HP: Let me say something about the broken windows concept. That can mean a lot of different things. There's ways that it reduces crime and doesn't reduce crime and there's ways that it's constitutional and it's not constitutional. By the way, those things aren't completely aligned. There are things that actually reduce the violence but that also were constitutional violations that affected police legitimacy in the long run.
The idea that you use minor crimes that are correlated with more major crimes, I think there's some real value to that. Like in New York City, for example, going after subway turnstile jumpers was a good way to find people who were attacking people in the subway and were wanted on outstanding warrants, and things like that. Going after the sex workers who were annoying people in the local community, that was not a good strategy because those women did not commit violence.
Sometimes that can be effective. There's two problems that you have. One is that police don't solve crimes. The community solves the crimes. The community tells the police that the crimes happened, they tell you who did it, and they tell you where to find the person. If you lose the trust of the community you cannot function as an effective partner in public safety. Public safety is a joint product of the community and the police.
Now, if you have community legitimacy, the community will actually let police do a lot of the sort of aggressive police tactics. When New York City had 2,000 homicides and there was a lot of stop and frisk going on, a lot of the older homeowners in places that were very affected, they were like, "You know, I'm not happy about this but I get why you're doing it." When people start seeing you're stopping the young man in the community who's like the good kid, who's going to school, who is not going to have a gun, when you keep stopping him I don't think you know anything about our community and you're not going to get the bad guys. Then you start to undermine your legitimacy.
One of the challenges we have in the drug stuff is that there's definitely a group of violent people that it's easier to arrest because they're involved in the drug trade. Those are the people you want to go after. There's a lot of other people who are selling drugs to make a living who are not dangerous, that you really don't want to arrest. Right now, where we're at in Chicago and many other cities, in terms of police community relationships, the communities, they want the police to be less aggressive and to be more focused on ...
We need to somehow win the trust of communities to go aggressively after the guys carrying guns. I think liberals have to learn from conservatives, yeah, deterrents actually matter in going after gun carrying, it's really important. I'm actually a believer in tougher treatment of guys caught with guns to break that cycle. In order to get there you have to show the community that you're responsive to the mass incarceration issue and police abuses. The police have put themselves in a position where the communities don't trust them.
Audience: That's the reason why in Chicago those two districts are really increasing cameras and all that kind of stuff, because they're looking for ways to get around the lack of trust, where they can see the stuff themselves. You're going to see more and more Big Brother kind of cameras everywhere because they realize they don't have the trust and they've got to see it themselves.
HP: By the way, the cameras, University of Chicago is cameraed up, every inch of the place. When people trust the police they don't see it as Big Brother. I actually feel for the Chicago Police because I do think that the human reality of being a Chicago police officer right now is pretty tough in a lot of these communities. I do think that there's a sense of impunity among some of the offenders that is a real problem. Police have to find a way, and community has to find a way to reach out to police.
I think that right now things are very polarized, where you have the spokesmen for police unions who are really antagonizing communities, and you have Black Lives Matter, which is raising some legitimate issues but also antagonizing police. There's a lot of people in these communities, and in the law enforcement community, who want to be in the middle ground there and don't quite have the same ... they have a voice that's not as loud right now. I think that, especially if we continue to see the high crime rate in Chicago that we've seen so far, I think that there will be a real desire to bridge that gap from both sides.
BS: We're going to have to stop. Let me ask one question to close out. Then we can continue informally as we head back to reception. As I said, we've got reporters from around the region here. If you were to imagine a kind of cross-state or cross-region investigative reporting effort on some of these issues, what would be really useful? What would you like to see some reporters focus on that might cross state lines and get a handle on some of the regional complexities?
HP: I would also say crossing city and county lines. For example, Chuck's Gun Shop is in Riverdale Illinois. Riverdale is almost 100% low income African American. I'm sure if I polled everyone there that people would support more stringent gun regulations by a wide majority, yet somehow this gun shop is very difficult to regulate. What's the political economy of this little town, this little city that perpetuates this? I'd love to see a journalist come and look at that. What's really happening in these local governments that nobody's paying attention to?
I would love to see reporters in St. Louis focusing on guns that are going to Chicago and say, "Let's really unpack who's selling these guns and what are the things that the state of Missouri is doing or not doing about that traffic?" That would be one thing that I think would be quite interesting. Also I think looking at what ATF is doing in the different places. What are the obstacles to the ATF dealing with some of these issues. Those are some of the things that I would focus on.
BS: Alright, well thank you. Brilliant. Bravo