Ordinarily, I try to shy away from writing about stories that pop up in college newspapers, no matter how egregiously bad they might be. These are journalism students, after all, so I tend to grade their anti-gun nonsense on a bit of a curve. However, I was pleasantly surprised today to see some actual journalism being done by a couple reporters for the Daily Egyptian, which is the student newspaper for Southern Illinois University. Reporters Jason Flynn and George Weibe pose a simple question about violent crime and Illinois gun laws; “If the [firearm] mortality rate is so low why does the state have such high firearm related arrest rates?”
What the pair discovered isn’t exactly new to most Second Amendment activists, but probably comes as a surprise to a lot of folks who aren’t advocating for the right to keep and bear arms on a regular basis: the state’s gun control laws aren’t aimed at violent criminals.
According to Loyola’s Center for Criminal Justice Research (CCJR), 72% of gun crime arrests between 2009 and 2019 were for illegal possession of a firearm.
“Police have a difficult time, particularly in Chicago, solving violent crimes with a gun” David Olson, professor at Loyola University and Co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice said.
“So if we can’t catch them for the violent crime, if we cast a wide enough net, and arrest enough people who really only have guns, chances are some of those people might be the ones driving the violence,” Olson said.
In other words, the state of Illinois, through its requirement that every gun owner in the state possess a valid Firearms Owner ID card and other anti-gun laws, uses a strategy of widespread arrests in the hopes that a few violent criminals will be ensnared in their web of gun gun regulations. As the Daily Egyptian reporters learned, this leads to large numbers of arrests for non-violent, possessory offenses that aren’t even crimes in most other states.
Olson went on to describe a system that is biased towards a certain demographic, young Black men; according to the CCJR study over 50% of people arrested for gun crimes are Black.
“Carrying a gun around for self protection isn’t seen as something where you increase the risk of violence or lethality,” Olson said “but translate that behavior to an urban area with minority populations, and the public oftentimes has a different perception.”
“People think that most gun violence is murders, it’s not,” Olson said, describing the number of suicides committed with a gun, “and as people learn more about that they’re like, okay, maybe the gun problem is different than I thought it was.”
Now, the Daily Egyptian‘s reporting isn’t perfect here. For instance, they tout the state’s supposedly low rate of firearms-related mortality, without acknowledging that other states, including neighboring Iowa, have even lower rates without all of the criminal offenses that Illinois lawmakers have carved out of the right to keep and bear arms. It would have taken more research, but the pair could also have bolstered their reporting with data showing that the majority of those arrests for simple possession of a firearm take place in the Chicagoland area, and those arrests aren’t doing anything to bring down the rising rate of violent crime in the city.
Still, Flynn and Weibe have done a better job of reporting on the real effects of Illinois’ gun control laws than a lot of other media outlets in the state. I hope for their sake that their honest reporting isn’t held against them when they graduate and start looking for work in the narrative-driven news media.