Houston and Chicago: 2017 Homicide Rate vs. Gun Laws
State firearm laws, such as, needing a permit to purchase and licensing of owners, would make one believe that cities in those states with more strict firearm laws would be occupied with less homicide rates. To the contrary, two cities, Houston, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois, which are very similar in characteristics, in particular, population, race, income and poverty, are located in states with different types of gun laws. The homicide rate in these two cities in 2017 are drastically different, with Chicago having a much higher rate than Houston, despite Illinois having tougher gun laws that Texas.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Houston and Chicago are quite similar when looking at their community statistics. First, the Census Bureau’s estimated 2017 populations for Houston and Chicago were 2,312,717 and 2,716,450. The percent female of these populations in Houston was 49.9% and in Chicago it was 51.5%. This similar trend continues in the Census Bureau’s race statistics for both cities, with the percent of “White only” in Houston was 58.3% and in Chicago it was 48.7%. The percent of “Black or African American alone” in Houston was 22.8% and in Chicago it was 30.9%. The percent of “Hispanic or Latino” in Houston was 44.3% and in Chicago it was 29.1%. The percent of “Asian alone” in Houston was 6.7% and in Chicago it was 6.1%. The similarities continue in the Census Bureau’s economic statistics, which state the percent of “in civilian labor force, total” for Houston was 68.2% and in Chicago it was 66.4%. The “median household income” for Houston was $47,010 and in Chicago it was $50,434. The percent of “persons in poverty” was 21.9% in Houston and 21.7% in Chicago.
These parallels that Houston and Chicago have, are very significant when the homicide rates are compared. According to the FBI’s “2017 Crime in the United States” Expanded Homicide Data Table 3, the homicide rates in 2017 varied greatly between different races and ethnicities. The FBI determined, out of the known homicide information in 2017, that the homicide rate for White persons was 29.7%, for Black or African American persons it was 37.4%, for Hispanic or Latino persons is was 11.4%, and for not Hispanic or Latino persons is was 48%. The U.S. Department of Justice gathered firearm homicide information in their special report, “Firearm Violence, 1993-2011,” which also determined that Black or African American persons had the highest firearm homicide rate, by race. The FBI also reports the percent of known homicides in 2017 committed by each sex, with 61.8% by males and only 8.4% by females. Due to these differences in homicide rates between different races and ethnicities, and the drastic difference in homicide rates between the two sexes, the similarities of race and ethnicity percentage and gender percentage that both Houston and Chicago share, eliminates the chance that one city might have an increased or decreased homicide rate because their race, ethnicity, or gender percentage are different than the other city being compared.
Another important similarity that both Houston and Chicago share is their poverty rate and average income. Income inequality has heavily affected cities in the United States, such as Houston and Chicago, and there is a strong correlation between income inequality and homicide rates, not just in the United States, but in other countries as well. In a study performed by The University of Chicago called “Inequality and Violent Crime,” they investigated the 5-year averages for 39 countries for homicides and compared them with income inequality from the Gini index. The researchers determined that there was a positive correlation between income inequality and homicide rates. In another journal, by Mike Males’ from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, called “Age, Poverty, Homicide, and Gun Homicide: Is Young Age or poverty Level the Key Issue,” examined “the 54,094 homicide deaths, including 41,123 gun homicides, victimizing California residents ages 15 to 69 during 1991 to 2012 by poverty status.” This study states that the gun homicide deaths per 100,000 population (average annual) for all ages, increased in each higher poverty bracket. The gun homicide deaths per 100,000 population, in the “less than 10%” poverty bracket, was only 2.0, but continued to increase all the way to 27.9 gun homicides per 100,000 population in the “more than 25%” poverty bracket. There was also another study that analyzed homicide rates and income inequality throughout the whole United States, by Harvard’s Ichiro Kawachi, that found, “when income inequality was higher, so was the rate of homicide. Income inequality alone explained 74% of the variance in murder rates and half of the aggravated assaults.” As the studies prove, income inequality is positively correlated to homicide rates throughout the United States and the world, so when comparing the homicide rates of two different areas, it is important to use areas that are similar economically because it does play in a role in the number of homicides, and that is why Houston and Chicago are being used.
When the topic of homicides in large cities is brought up, it is imperative to investigate the gang-violence that occurs because it is a major part in large city crime, especially homicides. According to the National Gang Center, “highly populated areas accounted for the vast majority of gang homicides: nearly 67 percent occurred in cities with populations over 100,000,” and “the total number of gang homicides reported by respondents in the NYGS sample averaged nearly 2,000 annually from 2007 to 2012. During roughly the same time period (2007 to 2011), the FBI estimated, on average, more than 15,500 homicides across the United States. These estimates suggest that gang-related homicides typically accounted for around 13 percent of all homicides annually.” Knowing that gangs can affect homicide rates, it is important to make sure that both Houston and Chicago have issues with gang-violence and they do. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, “there are an estimated 100,000 gang members in Texas, with the highest concentration in Harris County,” which Houston is located. The Texas Department of Safety also reported that the most significant gangs in the Houston area include, “Houstone — a Tango Blast offshoot — as well as all sets of Bloods and Crips, and the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.” Chicago is facing a similar gang problem, if not worse. ABC News states that in 2011 there were 100,000 gang members in Chicago, and “gang members were responsible for 61 percent of all homicides in 2011.” In an article from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago’s Police Department’s chief of patrol stated, “gang members engage in mindless violence without any fear of consequence: If they’ve used a gun and are not incarcerated, they’ll do it again. That’s the life they know.”
Despite all the characteristics that both Houston and Chicago share, when it comes to gun laws they have many differences. One of the most significant differences is the requirements to purchase a firearm and ammunition. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), it is Illinois state law that for a person to purchase a firearm or ammunition, they must have a valid Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card. Stated by the Giffords Law Center, “Each applicant for a FOID card is required to complete an application and “submit evidence” to the Illinois Department of State Police (“DSP”) that she or he is 21 years of age or over (or, if under 21, show that she or he has the written consent of a parent or legal guardian to possess firearms), is a resident of Illinois, and is not a prohibited purchaser. An applicant must also furnish his or her photograph.5 The DSP conducts an automated search of its criminal history record information files and those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”), and of the files of the state Department of Human Services relating to mental health and developmental disabilities to obtain any felony conviction or patient hospitalization information which would disqualify a person from obtaining or require revocation of a currently valid FOID card.” This law is important because, according to the Giffords Law Center, in Illinois, background checks are not required at gun shows and unlicensed gun sellers, but they are required to be presented with the purchaser’s FOID card, which shows they have already gone through a background check when registering for the FOID card. On the other hand, in Texas, it is much easier to purchase a firearm. In Texas, according to the ATF, a firearm purchaser does not need a license and there are not any laws like the one in Illinois, making a firearm purchaser have a FOID card. In Texas, the purchaser really only needs to go through a background check, which isn’t even mandatory for private sellers. According to the Giffords Law Center, “Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm,” and “Texas does not require private sellers (sellers who are not licensed dealers) to initiate a background check when transferring a firearm.” Another major difference in the gun laws in these two states that have to do with purchasing a firearm, is the waiting periods. According to the Giffords Law Center, “Illinois prohibits any person from delivering a firearm prior to the expiration of statutory waiting periods, which are currently 24 hours for long guns and 72 hours for handguns,” meanwhile, Texas has no law requiring waiting periods for any type of gun.
Another difference in Texas and Illinois gun laws is there laws on carrying firearms. According to the ATF, their concealed carry laws are actually very similar, with having to be 21 years old, having not been convicted of a felony, does not suffer from a mental illness, having not been convicted of certain laws, having completed a firearms safety test, and their license expires after five years. The major difference in their concealed carry laws, from the ATF, is Illinois law does not allow individuals from out of state to carry guns, even if they have a permit to carry in their home state. The biggest difference in state laws, when it comes to carrying firearms, is their laws on open carry. According to the Giffords Law Center, Texas allows the open carrying of long guns but not in the display in a public place, and recently in 2015, Texas passed a law that allows license holders to carry visible handguns on their persons, but must be in a shoulder or belt holster. Whereas, according to the ATF, Illinois does not allow open carrying of firearms.
Another difference in firearm laws is their laws on guns in vehicles. According to the Giffords Law Center, Texas has no law on carrying long guns in vehicles and does not require a handgun license for a person to carry a handgun while in a motor vehicle, as long as it is not in plain view. On the other hand, in Illinois, to transport a firearm, the owner must have the gun:, “1) broken down in a non-functioning state; 2) not immediately accessible; or 3) unloaded and enclosed in a case, firearm carrying box, shipping box, or other container by a person with a currently valid Firearm Owner’s Identification card.” More gun laws that Illinois has and Texas doesn’t, according to the Giffords Law Center is, Illinois “allows family members and law enforcement officers to act to temporarily disarm dangerous people by using an Extreme Risk Protection Order (known in Illinois as a Firearms Restraining Order),” “has a Child Access Prevention law, which prohibits leaving a firearm unlocked and accessible to a minor under the age of 14,” and “requires firearms owners to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement.”
With all these differences in gun laws between Texas and Illinois, it is clear the Illinois has the tougher laws when it comes to firearms. According to Giffords Law Center, in their annual gun law grades, in 2017, they ranked Illinois with a B+ and Texas with F. In a pro-gun editorial from Guns & Ammo, listing the best states for gun owners in 2017, they listed Texas as the 8th best state for gun owners and listed Illinois at 40th.
Knowing that Illinois has more strict gun laws than Texas, one would believe that Chicago, which is located in Illinois, would have a lower homicide rate than Houston, which is in Texas. Since both Chicago and Houston are very similar in their characteristics, the research is able to be compared and according to the Chicago Police Department, in 2017, there were 613 murders in Chicago, and in Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle, there were 269 murders. Reported by USA Today, analysis of police department crime data, the homicide rate per 100,000 for Chicago was 24.0 and for Houston it was 11.7. The massive discrepancy between the homicide rates in these two cities, which are similar in characteristics, prove a city that is located in a state with less tough gun laws, can have a lower homicide rate than a city that is located in a state with tougher gun laws.
Knowing that Illinois has more strict gun laws than Texas, one would belive that Chicago which is located in Illinois would have a lower homicide rate than Houston which is in Texas. Since both Chicago and Houston are very similar in their characteristics, the research is able to be compared and according to the Chicago Police Department, in 2017, there was 613 murders in Chicago, and in Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle, there was 269 murders. Reported by USA Today, analysis of police department crime data, the crime rate per 100,000 for Chicago was 24.0 and for Houston it was 11.7. The massive discrepancy between the homicide rates in these two cities, which are similar in characteristics, prove a city that is located in a state with less tough gun laws, can have a lower homicide rate than a city that is located in a state with tougher gun laws.
In Mark Gius’ study, “The Effect of Gun Ownership Rates on Homicide Rates: A State-Level Analysis,” from the Applied Economic Letters, he presents some very interesting research about gun ownership rates compared to homicide rates in the United States, but his results don’t reflect the results when Texas and Illinois are compared. Gius, from Quinnipiac University, stated, “The purpose of the present study is to examine the link between gun ownership rates and homicide rates. Using a very large cross-sectional survey dataset in order to obtain estimates for household-level gun ownership rates, and state-level data on homicides.” The gun ownership rates, in this study, were estimated from surveys for the years 2001, 2002, and 2004, which included both handguns and long guns. His data from the three years showed the average homicide rate was 4.64 murders per 100,00 residents and the average gun ownership rate was 37.5%. After the completed study, Gius concludes that, “these results are noteworthy since they suggest that, using state-level data, gun ownership rates have a positive effect on homicide rates. This result suggests that gun control laws, which restrict gun ownership, may be an effective method to reduce murders.” While looking at Texas and Illinois, which Houston and Chicago are the most populated cities for each state, Gius’ results don’t match. Texas is widely known as a state where owning a gun is very popular and the data agrees. According to Statista, Texas has the largest number of registered weapons in the United States, with 637,612. Texas has so many registered weapons, that Florida, which has the second highest registered weapons, has just above half of Texas, with 377,207. Illinois is much farther down the list, with only 52,527 registered weapons. The huge gap between these two states for registered weapons, obviously has to do with the large difference in population size, so it is significant to look at the gun ownership rates for these two states. According to CBS News, in 2015, Texas had a gun ownership rate of 35.7 percent, compared to Illinois, who’s gun ownership rate was only 26.2 percent. The homicide rates for both these states followed the same trend as their most populated cities, Houston and Chicago, where Illinois had a larger homicide rate than Texas. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the homicide rate for Illinois in 2015 was 6.9 percent, while in Texas the rate was 5.6 percent. In his study, Gius conclusion of “gun ownerships rates having a positive effect on homicide rates” simply does not correlate when Texas and Illinois are compared. Another statement by Gius, “gun control laws, which restrict gun ownership, may be an effective method to reduce murders,” doesn’t correlate between these two states because Illinois has more strict gun laws than Texas and still had a higher number of murders.
In conclusion, Chicago, Illinois, had a higher homicide rate than Houston, Texas, in 2017, despite having more strict gun laws. These two cities share many similarities when it comes to characteristics that can affect homicide rates, such as, gender, race and ethnicity, income and poverty rates, and gang violence. Despite all their similarities, Texas and Illinois gun laws are very different. Illinois is much tougher with gun laws and has laws such as, needing a FOID card to purchase any gun, waiting periods to receive a firearm, and no open carrying, to name a few that Texas doesn’t have any laws on. The difference in strength of gun laws between Illinois and Texas, had no correlation to the homicide ratesw in Chicago and Houston.
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