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Crime Guns in Impacted Communities

Gun violence is responsible for a more than four year reduction in life expectancy for black men in America. While gun violence touches Americans in diverse communities across the country, homicides are largely concentrated in urban areas with high minority populations. The most recent 5-year average of CDC data on gun deaths show that approximately 80% of them occur in such areas.

But where do these guns come from? They don’t simply appear in places like Oakland, Baltimore, Milwaukee, or Chicago all cities with astronomical gun violence homicide rates year over year. Irresponsible gun dealers are the source of many crime guns, and a scourge on these communities. These dealers often willfully engage in illegal or corrupt behavior - selling guns that they know will be trafficked into areas of high crime. Further, they participate in an economic system that contributes to systemic poverty and continued structural violence that disproportionately impacts communities of color. Most of the cities chronically impacted by gun violence do not have many, if any, federally licensed gun dealers within their city limits. Instead, gun dealers typically sit outside these communities frequently in less diverse and more affluent suburbs, and profit off of irresponsible or illegal sales that drive guns into cities that later turn up at crime scenes.

Nearly every gun recovered in a crime starts as a legal sale from a licenced dealer. The small percentage of dealers that are responsible for the majority of crime guns are not only affecting lives through the physical impacts of gun violence, but also contributing to the social, racial, and economic injustices that continue to plague this country.

What Are Impacted Communities?

Gun violence is a uniquely American problem, but it does not impact all Americans equally. In particular, gun homicide has a disparate impact on African American communities.

Gun violence in America is largely a story of race and geography. Nationally, the homicide rate for black men is 30.7 per 100,000 and for white men it is 2.4 per 100,000. This disparity is even greater in some states. The top three states where disparities in gun homicide rates were greatest — Missouri, Michigan, and Illinois - correlate with three major cities in the top 10 for gun homicide rates overall — St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago. In Chicago, for example there are no gun dealers inside city limits. But crime gun tracing undertaken by the city of Chicago has shown how guns are trafficked from dealers in surrounding counties, and even from neighboring Indiana.

In 2015, an African American person in Wisconsin was 26 times more likely to be fatally shot than a white person. The combination of being black and living in an urban area is even more deadly: in 2015, 81% of homicide victims in Milwaukee were African American, despite being only 39% of the city’s population. Just last year in Baltimore, 94% of homicide victims in Baltimore were black, and an analysis by the Baltimore Sun showed that over half of all homicide victims were shot in the head.

The toll of gun violence goes beyond just those that have been shot. Polling data show that African Americans are far more likely to know a victim of gun violence or be personally worried about gun violence than white respondents. The poll found 42% of African Americans personally knew someone who has been the victim of gun violence, compared to only 15% of white respondents. African Americans were also more than twice as likely to be personally worried about gun violence. The chronic stress of living in a community disproportionately impacted by gun violence has lifelong physical and mental health impacts. Children growing up in such communities are more likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, disassociation, depression, and anxiety, and struggle to complete school. In some instances, the level of stress may be so great that the prefrontal cortex does not develop properly.

These communities also bear larger costs such as depressed home prices, reduction in growth of new retail and service businesses, lack of economic or career opportunities in their immediate vicinity, and lack of access to healthcare healthy food, or social opportunities. One study found that for each additional gun homicide in Minneapolis, there were 80 fewer jobs the next year. Business owners are forced to incur high costs for extra security, and residents of impacted neighborhoods tend to stop frequenting businesses after dark due to fear of gun violence, hurting those businesses that have opened in their communities. High rates of violence prevent many necessary social services from being readily available and thus lead to a “feedback loop” of violence.


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