More gun carnage

Why recent shootings aren't a refutation of gun control in Chicago or anywhere else

Labor Day weekend turned violent in Baltimore with no fewer than 22 people shot between Friday afternoon and Monday evening, including four triple-shootings. Under such circumstances the death toll might have been worse — three of the victims are dead and another four were in critical condition by late Monday — but that may be the best that could be said of the holiday violence.

As it happens, the deadly weekend coincided with similar events in Chicago where a whopping 31 people were shot, including nine fatally, between early Monday and early Tuesday. The Windy City has garnered national attention for gun violence since the death of 32-year-old Nykea Aldridge, cousin of Chicago Bulls guard Dwayne Wade and mother of four who was laid to rest on Saturday. Even Donald Trump has jumped into the act, tweeting early on that the tragedy (and, by extension, the dangerousness of cities governed by Democrats) should cause African-American voters to support him.

Mr. Wade, in turn, has faulted too-weak gun laws and urged reforms to make the city safer, to rebuild trust in police within the black community and to provide more rehabilitation in prisons. Pro-gun groups and their allies reacted to this unsympathetically, repeating what has become a mantra for the National Rifle Association and others: Chicago already has tough gun laws, and they don't work. Mr. Trump is among those who have frequently suggested Chicago has the "toughest gun laws in the United States" but does "worse than anybody else" at gun violence.

Such a view is, of course, poppycock. Chicago does have a high rate of violence, and, yes, the city has placed restrictions on gun sales and permits. But what has happened there is not unlike what has happened in many other cities, including Baltimore, that have tried to reduce the number of guns that end up in the hands of criminals — the bad guys have the wherewithal to seek their firearms outside city limits.

As recent studies by Duke University and University of Chicago discovered, about 60 percent of firearms taken after an arrest in Chicago come from outside the state (quite a few from nearby Indiana), and another 22 percent from elsewhere in Illinois. Gangs often arrange such gun buys and make large purchases on behalf of members. Chicago's restrictions likely help reduce gun violence, but they have a limited impact given that the city is an island in a sea of loose gun regulations.

Maryland has had a similar experience. Data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have pointed to the high number of guns used to commit crimes here that originate in states with less restrictive ownership laws. Of the more than 5,000 firearms recovered by the ATF in Maryland in 2014, for instance, more than 2,200 originated out of state, many of them from Virginia and Pennsylvania. And that's consistent with what the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has found: Places with tougher gun laws end up dealing with criminals who acquire their guns elsewhere.

That's not a repudiation of gun control, it's a repudiation of Congress, which has failed to adopt even the most common-sense restrictions on a national level — like "no fly, no buy" or requiring background checks for private gun purchases — under fear of NRA reprisal. Most Americans support those reforms (polls have been consistent on that point), but single-issue Second Amendment absolutists have succeeded in intimidating Republicans into submission. That tide may be turning (Republican candidates have won pro-gun-control endorsements in the key Pennsylvania and Illinois Senate races) but not enough for the current Congress.

Like in Chicago, Baltimore's problems with gun violence are more complex than merely determining where firearms are purchased. Mr. Wade touched on some of them, but there are more, including concentrated poverty, lack of job opportunities, the lucrative drug trade, racism and on and on. But if candidates for higher office, whether for Congress or the presidency, truly care about the Nykea Aldridges of the word — or perhaps the 4-year-old and 6-year-old shot at Latrobe Homes by a disgruntled dice player firing indiscriminately into a crowd Saturday in Baltimore — they would pledge to do whatever they can to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

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