Category: Uncategorized

The Criminal Topography of Chicago

Lantern slide of the street and boulevard system, "present and proposed," from the Plan of Chicago

A Map of Chicago, in Crimes

I recently stumbled upon this website, which is a huge repository of the City of Chicago’s formidable data-gathering.  This page was put together as part of the city’s new commitment to greater transparency, and includes everything from CTA bus records to Tax-Increment Financing districts to registers of public employees and their salaries.  One of the files was a listing of every crime report filled out in the city for the last 13 years.

Let me note here that such a file is a staggering achievement.  For each crime, there is recorded the location, the time, the address, the kind of crime, and a few other bits of miscellaneous information.  In total, the file encompasses 4 million crime reports, spread about over 13 years; an average of 350,000 per year.

This spreadsheet is colossal, is massive, not only in terms of its sheer information (1 GB in total), but in the implications of it.  How many questions can be asked with this data that were impossible or accessible to only a handful of academics before?

MapOfChicago

This picture is a map of the City of Chicago, in crimes.  Each dot here is a single crime.  The darker green bits are where multiple crimes have piled up in roughly the same place.  You can see that it recapitulates perfectly the known geography of the city.  Where there are people, there are crimes.

There are also some gaps in the map.  Some of these blank spaces are parks; presumably the report is assigned to the nearest street location, instead of properly putting it where it actually occurred.  Other gaps are rivers or industrial zones, where presumably little crime is committed.

Different Neighborhoods, Different Crimes

Yet, not all areas heave the same crimes.  I separated the data by the offense.  I noticed immediately that some crimes were disproportionately committed in certain areas (I’m sure you can imagine some hypotheses).  Here’s an example of that phenomenon, in which I’ve focused on three kinds of crimes: battery (as in assault and battery), deceptive practices, and narcotics.

DiffCrimes

You can still see the outline of the city here, and its idiosyncratic borders.  But you’ll note that the battery is found mostly on the southwest side of the city, along with much of the narcotics reports.  There are pockets of narcotics reports on the northside, in Rogers Park and other neighborhoods, but narcotics is primarily a southwestern offense.

In strong contrast to the narcotics pattern is the grouping for “Deceptive Practices.” Wikipedia (behold, my complete ignorance of the law) informs me that Deceptive Practices includes things like fraud, false advertising, and misrepresentation.  Such offenses are most often the province of businesses, and so the Loop is home to the greatest cluster of Deceptive Practices reports.  You can see rays of Deceptive Practices reports emanating from the Loop along the major thoroughfares (Milwaukee Avenue, for instance).  This pattern presents a corollary to the above law: where there are businesses, there are deceptive practices.

The Inequality of Arrests

*In an earlier version of this post, I wrote about no arrest crime reports, which I erroneously assumed were tickets.  They are not tickets, but it is not clear exactly what they are.

Another variable recorded in the dataset is called “arrest”.  In fact, this field doesn’t record arrests, but rather whether a crime report has been marked “cleared”.  Cleared reports are those for which an offender has been found and successfully prosecuted.  For some crimes, the clearance rates are near 100%, but in others, clearance rates appear to be much more variable.

One of the more variable categories of crimes are narcotics possession offenses.  This variability is curious, since I wouldn’t imagine officers devoting a lot of resources to filing reports on “unsolved” narcotics crimes.  However, I have very limited information as to why a low-level narcotics crime would go uncleared (see updates below).  I decided to model clearance probability for marijuana possession as a function of location.

I subset the data by the kind of crime and year (2013).  I selected narcotics reports, specifically those with less than 30g of cannabis (as described in the report; this was the lowest level).  I made a logistic regression model, incorporating latitude, longitude, and an interaction term between them.  There are fancier and cleverer ways of doing this modelling; I am not striving for mathematical precision but rather a rough overview.  Here’s the fitted probabilities of clearance, depending on where the crime took place.

arrest probability

I built a fully 3-dimensional version of this graph, which can be rotated and zoomed, here.  You should go play with it.  If you view the visualization head on, with longitude as the x-axis and latitude as the y, you’ll see a map very similar to the first graph on this page.  If you tilt it slightly, you’ll see that this graph can be thought of as a criminal topography of Chicago (as above), but warped or deformed by the probability of an arrest.

The takeaways of the model are largely as expected.  There are significant effects of latitude, longitude, and their interaction, such that the more southern or western the crime occurs, the more likely there is to be clearance.  The difference is not overwhelming, but stark nonetheless: on the northeast side of the city, the probability of clearance falls to ~80%.  Anywhere in the southern or western sides of the city, it is close to 100%.  That’s probably not an artifact or an accident: we know that African-Americans and Latinos are much more likely to be arrested, overall, and the southern and western parts of the city are where many African-American and Latino people live.

Even so, I ought to note that I haven’t (and can’t) control for all the necessary covariates.  As always, the task is more complex than it appears initially.  Police must arrest (and have more motivation to clear a report) when the offense is performed by people under 17, so it may be that in the south & west sides of the city, more clearances are occurring because there are more young people committing the crime.  As well, the police reports do not offer enough granularity to know whether the amount of weed is higher in the southern and western quadrants: the lowest level is simply less than 30g.  Since the technical cutoff for a ticket is only 15g, perhaps it is the case that there’s simply more offenders in the 15-30g window on the south and west sides.

I doubt that’s the case, though.  According to lots of published research, blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately similar rates.  So we are left with other, more uncomfortable reasons for the observed differences in clearance rates.

Whatever the cause, the pattern is clear, and serves as an example of the sort of discovery this data can give rise to.  I am usually skeptical of the notion of “big data” as any kind of transformative phenomenon, on the theory that big data is really just lots of small data put together.  But to the extent that governments embrace it, there may yet be some sea change, in that big data reduces the inherent information asymmetry between the people and their representatives.  The government of Chicago has a thousand maps of the city at their disposal at any moment, some flattering, some despicable; the thought that all of those maps might be laid bare and examined is exciting.

 

Update #1

In the first draft of this post, I assumed that many of the marijuana crime reports (<30g) without clearances corresponded to citations that were issued instead.  I made this assumption based on three facts: 1) the marijuana reports without arrests increased suddenly in the crime logs in the same year the decriminalization measure was passed; 2) the number of no-arrest low-level marijuana reports was quite similar to the reported number of tickets issued; and 3) I couldn’t think of a reason why there would be crime reports filed for such small amounts of weed unless there was also an offender present to prosecute.

Having now found a database of some of those (~300) tickets, that assumption appears not to be the case: the issued tickets do not seem to be recorded in the crime database, meaning that the no-arrest marijuana reports are potentially something different.  This conclusion begs the question: what, then, are the no-arrest marijuana reports?  As of right now, I don’t know.  I have emailed the appropriate contact at the Chicago data portal to find out.

The fact remains, however, that whatever the no-arrest marijuana reports are, they are distributed non-randomly throughout the city.  I have changed some language in the post to make clear that these no-arrest reports are not necessarily tickets, and I will update again when I find out what the reports actually are.

Update #2

I sought clarification about the no-arrest reports from the contact listed at the City of Chicago data portal.  Apparently, these no arrest reports are not tickets, and have little to do with whether there was an arrest made.  Instead, they denote whether the report was marked “Cleared-Closed”, as would happen after the incident went through the court system.  The body of the post has been updated accordingly.

As a result, the no arrest reports could be cases in which the offender couldn’t be found (or died?).  According to the person with whom I spoke, there may be additional reasons why the report would not be marked Cleared-Closed, but I wasn’t able to get an exhaustive list.

And that’s where I’m leaving it.  I’m not a journalist, and I don’t really know where to go next with this line of inquiry.  It does seem strange that these no arrest narcotics reports would show the pronounced geographic pattern that I describe in the post; I doubt police on the north side are finding unattended joints, and writing up reports on them, at a different rate than on the south side.  But in the absence of more an better information, I’ll leave these no arrest reports as an unsolved, albeit intriguing riddle.  Hopefully someone with more time and the skills to pursue the question will pick it up at some point.

*

I reproduce the full email chain with the City of Chicago contact below.

I wrote this email:

“I’m curious about what a certain classification of crime report corresponds to.  Specifically, I have noticed that not all offenses described as “30 or less grams of marijuana” also show arrests (arrest = true).  Are these cases in which there was a ticket issued instead?  If not, what occurred in these instances?”

And received this email in response:

“The field indicating whether an arrest was made is based on whether the incident has been marked as “Cleared – Closed” not necessarily whether an arrest was made. When a citation is issued instead of arrest for under 15 grams, no case report is generated.  ”

To which I replied:

“Thank you so much for your response. So in cases where the report was not “Cleared/Closed”, the perpetrator has not been found or charged? Is there any other reason why a case would not be cleared/closed?”

And got this back:

“There are actually a few other statuses, such as cleared/exceptionally closed and cleared open.

Cleared/exceptionally closed could be that we know who the offender is but the victim does not want to sign complaints, the offender is dead and therefore cannot be charged, or some other reason the CPD could not charge the offender.
Cleared open means we know who the offender is but do not have the person in custody yet.

Additionally, while looking at narcotic incidents which were not marked as having an arrest, some of those case reports are still in preliminary status and should not have been visible/available on the dataportal.”

Oscillations in Google Trends

NOTE: I originally imagined this post as including embedded Google Trends graphics, which are quite pretty and information-rich. Unfortunately, WordPress is not cooperating with any attempt to embed the code or use plugins to get the graphics, so you’ll have to settle for static pictures and links.
so meta.

Google Trends is awesome. If you haven’t done so before, it’s a lot of fun (and a semi-productive use of an afternoon) to throw whatever random words come to mind into the Google Trends and watch the interesting patterns emerge. The remainder of this blog post is the result of one such afternoon, spent examining random words, free-association style. The overwhelming conclusion is that the use of words–on the internet at least–is constantly changing. But that’s a much larger point, and outside the scope of the current exercise.

A Positive Control

To get an idea of how Google Trends works, it is instructive to consider a search term with aknown pattern of activity. A starting point for this might be “Guy Fawkes”. Guy Fawkes is connected primarily with the 5th of November, so we might expect that searches for Guy Fawkes would increase yearly in November. What’s more, Guy Fawkes was popularized by the 2006 movie V for Vendetta, whose hero wields Guy Fawke’s mask. V for Vendetta was released in March 2006, so we would expect that there would be a boost in searches around then, as well. Consider the trend:

guy_fawkes

The expected pattern holds. Interestingly, one can view the expansion of Guy Fawkes geographically in the visualization on the Trends page (under regional interest). Note that it starts exclusively in the UK, moves outward to most English-speaking countries when V for Vendetta is released, and then, for whatever reason, New Zealand decides that Guy Fawkes is awesome and starts searching for him like mad.

I have no idea why New Zealand likes Guy Fawkes so much–preliminary internet searches revealed nothing obvious. Perhaps New Zealanders just have good taste in graphic novels.

 

The Internet of College Students

I was initially interested in asking about the relative popularity of various academic disciplines through time, but a more interesting pattern began to emerge. Take, for example, this search for chemistry:

chemistry

You may notice a peculiar oscillation in this graph. Look closely at the months in which chemistry is least and most searched. The troughs fall in months in which school is not in session–December, with its lengthy winter break, and most obviously, the summer. This pattern is not restricted to chemistry; consider computer science:

computer science

Same overall pattern, although less distinct. The obvious reason which jumps out is college kids, either researching courses prior to choosing them or in the first few weeks of the class.
Why college and not high school? Consider a class unlikely to be taught at the high school level, political science:

political_science

What surprised me about these graphs is just how much they seem to be driven by college students; the seasonal oscillation is by far the dominant pattern. On further reflection, it made more sense to me. Chemists don’t search for “chemistry”, even though they do plenty of searches about chemistry; they search for particular things. Similarly, I suspect that when computer scientists are searching the internet with queries relating to computer science, they don’t necessarily have either of the words “computer” or “science” in the queries. Which fact highlights an important pitfall of Google Trends: there isn’t necessarily any connection between the meaning of a word and the way it is used (e.g. try searching Trends for “tree of life“).

 

Global warming and seasons

Finally, I wanted to ask about global warming and its pattern of search interest. I hypothesized that global warming, and all the variant words surrounding it (climate change; anthropogenic; greenhouse effect; etc.) would exhibit especially dynamic patterns of search interest, on account of the great political will to relabel or redefine the names for the effect which I refer to for simplicity’s sake as global warming. Witness, for instance, Frank Luntz’s infamous 2002 memo, in which he urges George W. Bush to refer to global warming as “climate change” (one of his focus group participants remarked that climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale”).

Best to plot it overall:

global_warming_climate_change

Interestingly, despite Frank Luntz’s efforts, global warming has stayed “global warming”, although “climate change” did surge somewhat during the Bush years.

You might also note something else about the graph, namely that there is another oscillation. Which month has the lowest interest in global warming every year? August. Indeed, interest in global warming wanes in the summer, and paradoxically heats up in the winter.

Initially I was convinced that this pattern emerged from many global warming deniers searching like mad in the winter months, as I have heard the following idiotic argument too many times: “if global warming is happening, why is it so damn cold?” But this appears not too explain it, for if one searches trends for any number of phrases on either side of the global warming “debate”, all terms seem to come with a seasonal oscillation.

What’s more, this oscillation seems to be related specifically to the temperature. Consider this graph of “global warming”, confining ourselves now to Australia:

australia_globalwarming

You can see the oscillation remains, but is inverted, such that the times of lowest interest are in Australia’s summer.

I have no particular interpretation for this finding, and I can’t think of a basis to disentangle all of the possible alternatives. One possibility is that people search most for global warming when it is affecting them (through record high temperatures, for instance), and that such occurrences happen more in the winter than the summer (I believe this is predicted in some climate change models, although now I can’t find a source). Perhaps in the summer, people just take it easy and don’t worry about pressing geopolitical issues less. Conversely, maybe the depressing effect of the winter causes everyone cooped up inside to fret terribly about the fate of the Earth. I’ve no idea.

 

A Modest Proposal: Chicago Murder Day 2014

An Artless Imitation of a Great Essay

Motivation

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great city or others like it, when they see in the streets, the roads, the parks, crowded with mourners, followed by dozens of anguished faces, all in black and importuning every god for the rest their lost loved ones deserve.  These bereaved, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in memorial ceremonies honoring their lost relatives and friends: who, as they grew up were either shot due to misplaced loyalty or the tragic coincidence of simply bad luck.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious tide of victims of gun violence is, in the present deplorable state of the Nation, a very great additional grievance; and therefore, whoever could find out a just means of averting their deaths would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a hero.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation.  It is true that reducing the number of guns or requiring background checks might lessen the terrible burden of deaths in our cities; but such naïve solutions ignore the constitutional reality that guns are here to stay, their regulation never to be touched so long as the NRA exists.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide safety only to those at risk of gun violence; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take into account the whole cohort of children at a certain age who are born into environments replete with soaring bullets and the full knowledge of one’s own mortality.  This generation cannot be made to evade gun violence, so they at least ought to enjoy it.

The number of souls in this City being usually reckoned 3 million, of these I calculate there may be about 600 per year whose eventual end lies at the tip of a bullet; from which number I subtract the suicides; but this being granted, there will remain about 500 victims.   The question therefore is, how will this number of tragedies be managed and treated, which, as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed.  For we can not require a more extensive vetting of gun owners; despite an overwhelming level of public support, a mountain of money opposes this action, and indeed any other aimed towards reducing either the number or power of legally purchased arms.  Moreover, although opinion polls presently establish a record level backing some gun control, those who oppose it are acutely aware of a powerful fact: the population’s interest in regulation is fickle, and likely to be swayed this way or that by the happenings of the day, so that while gun control might be the topic of conversation on Friday, it will be soon forgotten by the next Monday.

I am assured by our statisticians that gun violence itself does not fluctuate in this manner.  Whether Monday or Friday, children are caught regularly in deadly crossfire; but being spread about through the days of the year, the toll of their deaths is misreported as an incident here and another there, when it might more honestly be called an epidemic, a horrific, decade-long shooting spree the result of which is no fewer than 250,000 fatalities.

A Proposal

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I offer it to public consideration that of the 500 victims already computed, a set of 100 be reserved for random acts of unpremeditated violence, the sorts of crimes of passion which are unavoidable and accomplishable with any weapon.  That the remaining 400 may, at a planned event occurring once per year, be executed in a well-organized fashion, through the use of a firing line established in a public place; always advising the victims to so enjoy their last days that the specter of death will not prove a bother until they stand hooded with rifles to their chests.  Victims of gun violence, their murders now centralized to a single day, can be mourned efficiently, as their bodies may be easily driven into a single mass grave; and bereavement for these victims can be limited to this day, so that the time spent on wailing and gnashing of teeth may all be expended in one afternoon, a great sympathetic cry towards the heavens.  I offer the name “Chicago Murder Day” for the ceremony, and humbly suggest that work be cancelled to facilitate all the necessary grieving.

I have reckoned that the execution of 400 victims yearly will provide great entertainment for a substantial number of bloodthirsty young men who adore violence; therefore, to increase the utility of this ceremony, we may consider adding a bill of music or other diversions and auctioning tickets, the revenue from which shall at a minimum defray the cost of the ceremony and potentially offer a little profit above (crucial, in these trying budgetary times).

I grant that some setup will be required before the first Chicago Murder Day may be organized; therefore I propose 2014 as the year at which it will start.  Applications for murders would be accepted Jan. 1 until Dec. 31, and prospective victims would be required to stay in Chicago until the next Murder Day.  While some victims might attempt flight, it is likely that the vast majority are already resigned to their apparent destiny, and those few who did dodge justice could be dispatched with in the usual manner.

The most expedient season for Chicago Murder Day is likely early winter; for we are told by grave scientists that sunlight decreasing over the fall months, depression in Chicago reaches its apex in early January; therefore, given the salutary effects of Chicago Murder Day in terms of entertainment, the ceremony will reach its maximum utility sometime in January.  It will be held for all of the victims of the past year at this time.

I have already computed the charge of bullets and manpower necessary to end the lives of 400 innocents, which vastly discounts the usual price we are charged for a murder nowadays; whereas, as currently constructed, a prospective murderer must waste his time procuring a weapon, locating his victim, and then exchanging gunfire until either murderer or victim or both are deceased, Chicago Murder Day will facilitate the victim’s death via the use of a single, well-aimed projectile.  And whereas the police must presently put on a show for the city by attempting vainly to track down the murderer once he has fled, Chicago Murder Day would enable easy identification of murderers in the application process, sparing us the substantial cost of police investigations.

Chicago Murder Day need not be limited to the formalities of firing lines.  I am told by an eminent Somali warlord that there are much more stimulating means of execution suitable for the public’s enjoyment.  Additional methods include, but are not limited to: strafing them with helicopter gunships; forcing them to flee as snipers pick them off one by one; allowing the murderers themselves to hunt their victims down in Grant Park; or requiring the victims to murder one another until none remain.  Though these alternate mechanisms will add further expense to Chicago Murder Day, the additional cost can be recouped through higher ticket sale revenue garnered by the increased merriment.

Feasibility

Some persons of a despondent spirit are in great concern that the gun industry’s main lobby, the NRA, shall oppose any and all efforts to limit the scope and scale of gun violence, being the principal beneficiaries of all expenditures put towards arms and ammunition; and so, would oppose my scheme as well.  But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, for my scheme does nothing to reduce gun violence; it merely makes that to which we have all grown accustomed more efficient.  It offers further benefits to the manufacturers of weapons as well, in the form of large, no-bid government contracts for the guns and bullets used in Chicago Murder Day.  Through these contracts, the major manufacturers can extort yet more money from the taxpayers; and for this reason, I fully expect that the NRA would support my proposal.

I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.

First, as I have already observed, there are a large number of inefficiencies in the present system of gun violence which would be remedied through the centralization of murders at Chicago Murder Day.  The City of Chicago could achieve substantial savings on post-murder cleanup, not to mention collateral damage to city property.

Second, the great spectacle of Chicago Murder Day will attract visitors from all around the country, providing an additional source of tourism-related revenue.

Thirdly, although it is known that the majority of murders committed in Chicago occur by means of firearms, the scope of Chicago Murder Day could be expanded to incorporate other methods of killing as well, which would undoubtedly add a great deal more gaiety to the proceedings.  For whereas guns are known to kill quickly and without panache, stabbings and beatings can add another level of martial revelry to Chicago Murder Day.

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of innocents will be thereby much reduced in the city.  This I freely own, and ‘twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world: for if gun violence cannot itself be reduced, it should at least be made more economical.

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing guns to prohibitively high prices: Of employing clever advances in technology to limit when and where firearms may be discharged: Of pursuing further advances which would identify each user of a firearm uniquely: Of banning weapons of such great destructive power that they have no place in human hands: Of constraining the global arms trade: Of requiring the buyers of weapons to be screened: Of curbing the rate at which weapons might be fired or the number of times thereof: Of introducing a vein of research, so as to learn more about gun violence and the most prudent means of ending it: Of learning to love our fellow men, and to resolve our conflicts without violence: Of teaching the proprietors of gun stores at least one degree of caution or deliberation in whom they choose to sell their guns: Of quitting our animosities and factions, and recognizing that we are one people of diverse origins, united in our hope of a better life.  Lastly, of teaching the manufacturers of those guns the value of human life, and that democracy may not be bought so easily.

The Only Choice

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ’till he has at least some glimpse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice that the NRA will not abruptly end.

But, as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering conceited, impossible, pompous thoughts, and after some time utterly despairing of success, I considered this proposal, which, as it ought to satisfy the makers of weapons, stands some real chance of becoming law.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least monetary interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no motive other than good of my city, by saving money, expediting suffering, and producing a grand entertainment for the winter months the likes of which gun manufacturers can safely enjoy.  I have no stake in reducing gun violence, being myself not especially affected by the tide of blood which overwhelms my city.

____________________________________________________

A Serious Companion to a Modest Proposal

In 1729, Jonathan Swift’s home country of Ireland was in a bad way.  At the time, Ireland was virtually a colony of England, and suffered under a series of regressive laws meant to punish Catholics.  Beset by famine and poverty, Swift describes the streets as overrun with beggars followed by starving children (Paragraph 1).  Swift’s solution, as described in his landmark essay “A Modest Proposal”, was patently ridiculous.  He suggested that his readers convert the nation’s supply of infants (or most of it) into food.  In other words: eating babies.

Of course, Swift is not advocating for eating babies sincerely.  His writing is satirical, and so he covers the real list of solutions under a thick layer of sarcasm and hides them near the end of the essay (after saying they are things which couldn’t possibly be done).  The set of issues facing Ireland was a multifaceted, complex, and difficult, but as it turns out, the list of his “real” solutions is frighteningly idealistic—a cynic might even say unrealistic.

Though the epidemic of gun violence in our country’s present day is orders of magnitude less severe than the famine of the 18th century, the deaths of men, women, and children are no less tragic.  We are, in Chicago, daily confronted with terrible stories of appalling murders, the victims of which are often completely innocent bystanders trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The scale of violence is simply shocking: hundreds of deaths per year in my city alone.

But there is murder, and then there is preventable murder.  The truly staggering thing about this toll of lives is that it is utterly unnecessary.  Whereas the problem of Swift’s time was vexing in its causes and the possible remedies were intertwined with essential societal questions about poverty and class, the problem of gun violence is as obvious as it is tractable.  It’s the guns, and more precisely, the availability of guns in our country as a whole.  Though individual states and municipalities can address gun availability by adopting various gun control laws, so long as evading those laws is as easy as a 15-minute drive, gun control must be affected at the national, not local level.

Before anyone offers up a protest, I understand that were one to disappear all of the guns in the world, murders would not stop.  That is a strawman.  The question is, can gun violence be substantially attenuated without overpowering cost?  To which the answer is easily yes: for there exists a panoply of options, each scientifically proven to reduce gun violence, each handily rejected by the NRA.  Gun violence may itself be a convoluted issue, but the first steps to reducing it are starkly overt.

Yet knowing the cure for a disease is not the same as administering it.  As has been recently shown, our government is simply unwilling to take the necessary actions to reduce gun violence.  The reasons why our Senators refuse to act are mysterious: polls showed overwhelming support for more gun control measures, and yet… our government did nothing.

I posit that though government officials may be evil, they are not stupid.  They know that public opinion favors gun control, but they also know that most support is transitory and rapidly diminishing.  As the news cycle shifts, other priorities displace gun violence.  This pattern is not because gun violence is not as deadly as, say, terrorism.  It is orders of magnitude more deadly.  It is the result of a complex soup of incorrect heuristics, cognitive biases, and misreporting by the media.

Because instances of mass deaths caused by e.g. plane crashes are more memorable, we overestimate the number of deaths they cause, a mental shortcut called the “availability heuristic”.   While gun violence inspires some horror, it is no match for the strong emotions stirred up by, for example, terrorism; as a result, we overestimate the frequency and danger of terrorism relative to gun violence (the affect bias).  Because gun violence occurs at a constant but relatively slow rate, the media chooses to report on other, less usual stories.  In short, we underestimate the extent of gun violence because we see snippets of it here and there.  The few times that gun violence is concentrated enough to attract widespread coverage, it is treated as a serious issue (see Newtown, Connecticut).

Which leads me to my own Modest Proposal.  Like Swift, it was made in jest; unlike Swift, I think there is an awkward grain of truth to the idea of Chicago Murder Day, and underneath it there lies a more serious proposal.  If the solution to Chicago gun violence is known, but the public lacks the focus to pursue it, then the necessary action is to focus that attention.

Therefore I advocate the following: let’s treat gun violence in Chicago like the massacre it is.  Let’s set aside one day, and for that day, let’s behave as if a single rogue shooter went about the city’s south and west-side neighborhoods slaughtering innocents, 500 at a time.  Because that’s how many die in a year.  If we are misleading about the cause, let us be crystal clear about the effects: 500 souls, their blood on the gun industry’s hands.

It is for that purpose that I propose Chicago Murder Day: not to glorify gun violence, but to mourn it, and require the attention it deserves.  It should involve great public marches upon the Loop, memorials for all those lost, and sufficient outcry to wake even the most privileged and safe Chicagoans.  There should be a day to remember all of the children who have lost their lives, for their pictures to be shown, so that the advocates of the 2nd amendment are made to answer to them.  We should demand that the dangers of guns are not only noticed but remedied.  If the only means to accomplish that objective is by the pretense of concentrated calamity, then we should pretend.