The Chicago skyline. The city's police chief says his officers can't keep up with the number of illegal weapons on the city's streets.
(Carolyn Kaster/AP)
April 23, 2014

45 People Were Shot In Chicago Over The Weekend

There are more data to add to Chicago's well-documented problem with gun violence.

Headlines such as this from the Chicago Sun-Times — "In violent weekend, at least 8 dead, 37 wounded in shootings across Chicago" — set us off in search of news reports after previous weekends.

There's a rather grim trend. Shootings are on the rise:

— "At least 36 people have been shot, four of them killed ... in Chicago violence since Friday." (NBC Chicago on April 14)

— "27 People Shot In Chicago This Weekend, Including 16-Year-Old In Front Of His Church." (The Huffington Post's Black Voices blog, on April 7)

As our colleagues at WBEZ have reported, Chicago's lawmakers have toughened the city's gun laws.

But The Daily Beast notes that Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says that while his officers have seized 1,500 illegal guns so far this year, "it's like running on a hamster wheel. ... We're drinking from a fire hose, seizing these guns, and people are back out on the street."

Part of the explanation for the weekly increase in weekend shootings, authorities say, is the shift from winter to spring that apparently brings out the worst in some people.

Many of the shootings are gang-related, police say. According to the Chicago Tribune, among this past weekend's incidents was one in which:

"Five children, ranging in age from 11 to 15, were shot by someone who fired from a car shortly after 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the 6600 block of South Michigan Avenue in the Park Manor neighborhood on the South Side, police said.

"The children had been playing at a park near an elementary school and were walking home when a car pulled up and someone asked if they were in a particular gang, family members and police said.

"One relative said they had said they were not in the gang; another said shots rang out before they could answer. The gunman hit four girls and a boy."

Fort Hood
(Staff Sgt. Gregory Sanders/U.S. Army)
April 03, 2014

Should Soldiers Be Armed At Military Posts?

For John Lott, Wednesday's mass shooting at Fort Hood was a test of personal beliefs that struck uncomfortably close to home.  His son is serving at Fort Hood and was close enough to the activity to hear shots and screaming.

But he wasn't in a position to respond. Department of Defense policy forbids soldiers and sailors, in most circumstances, from carrying weapons at installations.

That frustrates Lott. For years, he has been promoting the idea — including in his book More Guns, Less Crime — that relaxing gun restrictions would make for a safer society.

"Even though my son just got back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he had his gun with him all the time, he isn't able to have his gun with him on the base," Lott says. "We somehow don't trust people to carry a gun on base here."

Lott is not alone in this debate. With the third mass shooting at a military facility in five years, some members of Congress want to re-examine the policies that leave soldiers unarmed on base.

"I personally think if you're trained for combat, you ought to be able to carry a weapon," Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday on Fox News. "If they are trained in warfare [and] they can carry weapons in warfare, it seems to me there is some logic to allowing them to carry weapons on a military base, where they can defend themselves."

But it's not necessarily an idea that is going to catch on quickly in Congress. A bill along these lines was introduced last fall, after the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard that left a dozen people dead. But it has seen no action.

"I doubt there's going to be much support in Congress to allow military personnel to carry weapons on base," says Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Weapons Are Prohibited

Last month, Defense Department officials released a report examining security in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting. The department concluded it had done a poor job securing the facility, screening personnel, and recognizing and addressing the mental health issues of the shooter.

The review included 14 recommendations for improving security. Letting soldiers carry weapons on base wasn't one of them.

The report recommended instead that signage be "posted conspicuously" at installations as reminders of the prohibition against carrying firearms in federal facilities.

"I don't think soldiers should have concealed weapons on base," Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the commander of Fort Hood, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Tightening Restrictions

It wasn't always the case that soldiers had to disarm while on post. Prior to the first Bush administration, base commanders determined what the rules were at their facilities. But regulations formalized in 1993 block personnel who are not on security duty from carrying firearms.

Further restrictions have followed. In the wake of the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead, the installation requires soldiers to register their weapons with commanders.

"The carrying of privately owned firearms on Fort Hood is prohibited unless authorized by the installation's senior commander," according to guidance offered to soldiers stationed there. "The carrying of a concealed weapon on the installation is prohibited regardless of whether a state or county permit has been obtained."

But will a person intent on killing others care about violating such restrictions?

"The problem is you have these good, rule-abiding soldiers, but in this case, the killer knows everyone else is following the rules," Lott says.

Soldiers, Not Teachers

Fort Hood neighbors Killeen, Texas, a town where in 1991 a man named George Hennard drove into a Luby's Cafeteria and shot 50 people, killing 23 of them.

That massacre led to the state's concealed carry permit law.

"Do people have a right to protect themselves? They do outside the base," says Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association.

"Today, there would be some people who would fire back at George Hennard," he says. "If that makes sense outside of Fort Hood, why not inside, with trained personnel?"

After the school shooting at Newtown, Conn., in 2012, the National Rifle Association suggested arming and training teachers and other school personnel. That proposal was highly controversial, but the debate about letting soldiers carry firearms would have to take place on an entirely different footing, suggests Harry Wilson, a political scientist at Roanoke College and author of a book about gun control.

"Clearly, with the military, you can't make the argument that they aren't trained," he says. "It just doesn't begin to fly."

Following the shooting at the Navy Yard and now two shootings at Fort Hood, the military will have to examine the question of allowing soldiers to carry weapons, Wilson says.

"This is the third mass shooting on a military base in five years, and it's because our trained soldiers aren't allowed to carry defensive weapons," Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, the lead sponsor of last fall's legislation to allow soldiers to carry guns, said in a statement on Thursday.

Prospects May Be Dim

Usually, it's the gun control advocates who are frustrated by their lack of success changing policies after a horrific incident. This time, it may be supporters of gun owners' rights who fail to achieve the changes they want.

Any move that loosens gun regulations seems unlikely while President Obama is in office. And policymakers will want to examine all the questions of risk that would be involved, from accidental discharges to the fear that fights between armed soldiers could escalate into serious violence.

If the Pentagon decides that it needs to heighten security by increasing the number of military police, that would be fine, says Murphy, the Democratic senator. Letting all or most personnel walk around with weapons, though, is another matter.

"This is ultimately the military's call, but there's no evidence that putting more guns into a community or into a workplace leads to less violence," Murphy says. "All the evidence tells us that the more guns you put into a location, the more likely there is to be more gun violence."

Lucy Hamlin and her husband, Spc. Timothy Hamlin, wait for permission to re-enter the Fort Hood military post, following a shooting there Wednesday.
(Tamir Kalifa/AP)
April 02, 2014

Shooting At Fort Hood Leaves At 4 Dead, 16 Injured

A gunman opened fire on the military post of Fort Hood, Texas, on Wednesday, killing three and injuring 16, before putting the gun to his head and killing himself, Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley said in a televised press conference.

A Pentagon official tells NPR's Tom Bowman that the suspected shooter is Ivan Lopez, a military truck driver.

Without confirming the name, Milley said the man had mental health issues and was being evaluated for depression and post traumatic stress disorder. The man, Milley said, served four months in Iraq in 2011, but did not receive a Purple Heart, indicating he was not injured in battle.

Milley said authorities don't think this attack is linked to terrorism, but they are not discarding any theory. A motive, Milley added, is under investigation.

According to the lieutenant general, the gunman came on the post carrying a semi-automatic .45 caliber pistol. He opened fire on one building and then got into a car, where he fired more shots. He got off, entered another building and shot again.

Eventually, a military police officer engaged him in a parking lot and that's where he shot himself in the head, Milley said.

Talking to pool reporters in Chicago, earlier in the day, President Obama said he was monitoring the situation.

"We're heartbroken something like this might have happened again," Obama said. The president added that this incident brought back memories of the 2009 shooting that left 13 dead on the post. He said that, today, the sense of safety that soldiers should have at home has been broken.

"I want to just assure all of us, we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened," he said.

Shortly after reports of a shooting, the 1st Cavalry Division tweeted that personnel "should shelter in place immediately, close doors and stay away from windows."

Eyewitnesses told local news stations they saw a stream of emergency vehicles make their way onto the post. One witness said he saw police escort service members and civilians from buildings with their hands in the air.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said during a brief statement from Hawaii that this was clearly "a terrible tragedy."

All of the dead and all of the injured were military.

"Events in the past have taught us many things," Milley said. "We know this community is strong and this community is resilient... We will get through this."

Fort Hood was the scene of a mass shooting in 2009, where 13 people were killed and more than 30 were wounded. The AP reports it was "the deadliest attack on a domestic military installation in history."

This is a breaking news story. We'll update once we know more. And as we always tell you when stories such as this are developing, information may come in that later turns out to have been incorrect. We'll do our best to sort through what's out there and reliable and update as needed.

Update at 10:59 p.m. ET. Suspect Had Mental Health Issues:

During a televised news conference, Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley said the suspect had mental health issues.

He served for four months in Iraq in 2011, but did not receive a Purple Heart, indicating he was not injured in battle.

The suspect was under evaluation for post traumatic stress disorder, but had not been diagnosed, Milley said.

The man is married and had transferred to Fort Hood from another military facility in Texas in February.

Milley said he would not confirm the suspect's name, because his family had not yet been notified.

Update at 10:19 p.m. ET. Fort Hood History:

While we await a press conference from Fort Hood, we'll point you to this USA Today story that gives you the Fort Hood basics.

The military says Fort Hood is "the largest active duty armored post in the United States Armed Services."

USA Today reports it opened in 1942 as Camp Hood "as the U.S. military kicked into high gear for World War II."

It's worth noting that in 2010 a report that followed the 2009 shooting rampage said the military needed to be better at identifying "insider threats." USA Today reports:

"It recommended that the Defense Department update training and education and coordinate with the FBI, which has studied behavioral traits that might provide an early warning of potential violence.

"The report also recommended that the Defense Department develop procedures to better share information among agencies so commanders would know of any adverse information in an individual's past."

Update at 9:36 p.m. ET. Fort Hood Will Prove Resilient:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued this statement:

"Today, Ft. Hood was once again stricken by tragedy. As Texans, our first priority must be caring for the victims and their families. Ft. Hood has proven its resilience before, and will again. Texas will support those efforts in any way we can, with any resources necessary. The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with everyone affected by this tragedy."

Update at 9:25 p.m. ET. Suspected Shooter Thought To Be Dead:

A U.S. law enforcement source tells NPR's Carrie Johnson that the suspected shooter is thought to be dead and law enforcement is considering it a "possible suicide."

Update at 9:01 p.m. ET. Suspect Named:

A Pentagon official tells NPR's Tom Bowman the suspected gunman is Ivan Lopez, a military truck driver.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, confirmed Lopez's name in a conference call with reporters, earlier this evening. The Bell County Sheriff's office also confirmed the name to the Killeen Daily Herald.

McCaul said authorities had not yet established a motive.

Update at 8:49 p.m. ET. Stable To 'Quite Critical':

Glen Couchman, chief medical officer for Scott & White Memorial hospital, said 4 patients had already arrived to their hospital and two more are on the way.

He said their conditions vary from stable to "quite critical."

Couchman said they are seeing gunshot wounds to the extremities, chest and neck. Update at 8:14 p.m. ET. 'A Terrible Tragedy':

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said during a brief statement from Hawaii that Fort Hood remains locked down.

He said he did not have any new information, but that it was clear this was "a terrible tragedy."

We're expecting a press conference from Fort Hood at any moment.

Update at 7:52 p.m. ET. 'Heartbroken':

"We're heartbroken something like this might have happened again," President Obama said this evening.

Obama talked to pool reporters in Chicago. He stood in front of large black curtain with an American flag.

"We're following it closely," Obama said. "The situation is fluid right now ... I want to just assure all of us we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

Update at 7:47 p.m. ET. 1 Dead, 14 Wounded:

NPR's Tom Bowman tells us a U.S. official tells him one person is dead and 14 are wounded.

Update at 7:46 p.m. ET. President To Issue Statement:

NPR's Tamara Keith tells us President Obama will make a statement about the situation in Fort Hood to the pool "shortly."

Update at 7:34 p.m. ET. Injured Personnel Are Being Transported:

In an updated statement, Fort Hood says injured personnel are being transported to local hospitals.

The statement adds that the base's "Directorate of Emergency Services has an initial report that a shooter is dead but this is unconfirmed."

There have been reports of the number injured, but Fort Hood did not give a specific number. KCEN-TV reports that the police activity coming in and out of the post has calmed down a bit.

Update at 7:26 p.m. ET. President Informed:

In a statement, the White House said President Obama has been informed of the situation in Fort Hood.

"He'll continue to receive updates on the situation throughout the evening," spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Update at 7:09 p.m. ET. Reports Of Active Shooter:

The Associated Press reports the Bell's County Sheriff's Office, which is responding with deputies and troopers, says there are reports of an "active shooter."

NBC News quotes Waco Police also reporting an "active shooter."

Update at 7:05 p.m. ET. Clearing Buildings:

A soldier on the base tells KCEN-TV that police seem to be clearing buildings, escorting civilians and service men and women out with their hands in the air.

Update at 6:45 p.m. ET. Shooting On The Post:

Fort Hood's press office reports:

"There has been a shooting at Fort Hood and injuries are reported. Emergency crews are on the scene. No further details are known at this time."

Update at 6:41 p.m. ET. Lots Of Police Activity:

During its live broadcast, KCEN-TV showed police vehicles streaming into the post. An eyewitness told the station that a helicopter was flying over the post and he had counted tens of ambulances and police vehicles as well as a SWAT team.

April 02, 2014

'Race Card Project' Is Among Peabody Award Winners

This year's Peabody Award winners for excellence in electronic media include The Race Card Project from NPR's Michele Norris.

Her project, which was featured in a series of reports on Morning Edition, invites people to distill their "thoughts, experiences or observations about race into one sentence that only has six words."

The Peabody judges say those six-word submissions "became the basis of compelling reports about race, pride, prejudice and identity."

This year's winners were announced Wednesday on CBS This Morning. The other honorees include another public radio project — This American Life's five-month embed at Chicago's Harper High School. That's a school, as the judges say, "where gun violence was epidemic." They laud This American Life for producting "a pair of hour-long documentaries that were vivid, unblinking, poignant, and sometimes gut-wrenching."

Also, the Center for Investigative Reporting and Public Radio Exchange are winners for their investigation of a huge increase in opiate prescriptions at Veterans Administration hospitals.

The Peabodys are administered by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. They honor both journalistic efforts and entertainment programs. The full list of winners is here. Others winners this year include:

— AMC's Breaking Bad, the fictional series about a high school science teacher who turns into a methamphetamine kingpin.

— WBZ-TV and WBZ Newsradio in Boston, for their coverage of the marathon bombings.

— PBS-TV's Frontline, for its documentary League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis.

Last year, NPR's Kelly McEvers and Deborah Amos were honored for their coverage of the crisis in Syria.

Flowers, candles and stuffed animals at a makeshift memorial in Newtown, Conn., the week after 20 children and 6 adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
(Eric Thayer/Reuters/Landov)
March 10, 2014

Sandy Hook Killer's Father Wishes His Son Hadn't Been Born

"How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he's my son? A lot." The New Yorker has posted a long piece based on six interviews with Peter Lanza, whose son Adam killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.

Peter Lanza, who until now had avoided the news media, talks at length about the emotions he feels — "Peter declared that he wished Adam had never been born," The New Yorker says — and the life his son led.

Much of the piece is about the way Peter Lanza and his ex-wife, Nancy Lanza, tried to deal with their son's problems. It's a subject that's been delved into before by other news outlets, including PBS-TV's Frontline.

Nancy Lanza, with whom Adam lived, would be the young man's first victim on that awful day. He killed her before going to the school. Adam's rampage at the school ended when he shot and killed himself.

In The New Yorker, writer Andrew Solomon reports that:

— "All parenting involves choosing between the day (why have another argument at dinner?) and the years (the child must learn to eat vegetables). Nancy's error seems to have been that she always focused on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son."

— "Peter gets annoyed when people speculate that Asperger's was the cause of Adam's rampage. 'Asperger's makes people unusual, but it doesn't make people like this,' he said."

— The last time Peter Lanza saw his son was in September 2010. After that, Adam Lanza refused to have any contact and Nancy Lanza rebuffed Peter Lanza's suggestions that they meet. Peter Lanza believes his son no longer had any affection for him: "With hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he'd had the chance."

— He "constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam. 'Any variation on what I did and how my relationship was had to be good, because no outcome could be worse,' he said."

— His feeling that it would have been better if Adam hadn't been born, "didn't come right away. That's not a natural thing, when you're thinking about your kid. But, God, there's no question."

"You can't get any more evil," Peter Lanza says of what his son did.

Solomon was on NBC-TV's The Today Show this morning to talk about his reporting:

"He's haunted," Solomon said about Peter Lanza. "He wishes he could go back in time and fix what went wrong. He's a kind, decent man, and he's horrified that his own child could've caused this destruction."

Maryland shooting
(Jose Luis Magana/AP)
January 25, 2014

3 Dead In Shooting At Baltimore-Area Shopping Mall

Three people are dead after an assailant armed with a shotgun entered a suburban Baltimore shopping mall on Saturday and shot two store employees before killing himself, police said.

"We were able to identify three victims at an upper level store," Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told reporters. "One of the victim appears to be the shooter."

The Washington Post reported:

~~"It happened just after 11 a.m., about 25 miles north of Washington, when a gunman opened fire on the mall's second level, killing two employees of Zumiez, a clothing store for skateboarders and snowboarders, Howard County police said. Minutes later, when officers arrived, they found the shooter dead of an apparently self-inflicted wound."

~~Later Saturday, police identified the two slain store employees as Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Md., and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, Md.

The shooter had not been identified.

The Washington Post cited an unnamed law enforcement official as saying the weapon used was a 12-gauge pump-action Mossberg shotgun.

McMahon said authorities are "confident" there was only a single shooter at the Columbia Mall, located on the outskirts of Baltimore. He said no motive had been determined.

At the time of the shooting, Howard County police tweeted that officers "made entry and found three dead, one found near a gun and ammunition."

~~Officials later said four people were also hurt, but none of them seriously.

Early in the day, the Baltimore Sun reported:

"Customers inside the mall are reporting that the mall is in lockdown and customers have been directed toward the AMC Theater. Other customers reported hearing gunfire before fleeing the mall."

McMahon said that the first 911 calls from the scene came in at about 11:15 a.m. ET.

The Associated Press quotes Laura McKinzles of Columbia, who works in the mall, as saying she heard between eight and 10 gunshots, followed by people running and screaming. She ran into the backroom of a perfume store and locked the door.

Mexican artist Pedro Reyes received 6,700 weapons from the Mexican government, from which he sculpted instruments.
(Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
January 25, 2014

Artist Transforms Guns To Make Music — Literally

Pedro Reyes says being Mexican is like living in an apartment where an upstairs neighbor has a leaking swimming pool.

"Just what is leaking," says Reyes, "is hundreds of thousands of guns."

He wants people to think about the availability of guns in the United States, and the impact that has in Mexico.

At the University of South Florida in Tampa, he recently held a series of workshops and a performance, using theater to encourage a discussion about guns. It's called "Legislative Theater," a style of performance pioneered in Latin America in the 1960s to influence social change.

In Tampa, Reyes called his project "The Amendment to the Amendment." Specifically, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms. Reyes asks his actors and the audience to consider if there are possible changes that might improve the amendment

Reyes believes art should address social issues like gun violence, even when they're difficult and controversial. "We have to be allowed to ask questions," he says. "If you are not allowed to ask questions, you are not free."

Reyes also addresses the issue of gun violence in another way, by using guns themselves. His first project began in 2007 in the Mexican city of Culiacan. As part of a campaign to curb shootings, the city collected 1,527 guns. He used them to create art.

"Those 1,527 guns were melted and made into the same number of shovels," he says. "So for every gun now, there's a shovel. And with every shovel, we planted a tree."

Now Reyes is working on a new project. It is one that transforms guns into something more musical.

An exhibition of the work is on display at the University of South Florida's Contemporary Art Museum. It's called "Disarm," and consists of guns that have been turned into musical instruments.

Pedro Reyes says he believes art should address social issues like gun violence, even if the issue is difficult or controversial.

Pedro Reyes says he believes art should address social issues like gun violence, even if the issue is difficult or controversial. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

One is a marimba made entirely from gun barrels, cut to different lengths to play a musical scale. "You have these different notes, so you know, you can bang and say this is an A, this is a B, this is a C, depending on the length of the barrel."

A few years ago, a government agency in Mexico gave Reyes 6,700 guns that had been confiscated from criminal gangs and rendered inoperable. Since then, he's been turning them into electric guitars, violins, flutes and percussion instruments.

Musicians and technicians help him make the guns playable; Reyes is mostly interested in the concept and how they look. When he builds them, he says, he begins by laying out gun parts on a table and visualizing how they'll go together.

"Like a kind of assemblage, like a collage, no?" Reyes says, "You put parts and then you see how they make up a shape, and that can be kind of the body of the instrument."

University of South Florida students played some of Reyes' instruments in concert. Caleb Murray, a graduate student in the school's jazz composition program, has a few of Reyes' instruments in front of him. One looks like a small tenor saxophone.

"It sounds a little bit more like a clarinet if anything," Murray says. "But yeah, it's a saxophone made out of a gun ... a gun barrel."

Dominic Walker and Teague Bechtel, both guitarists in the university's graduate jazz program, are playing what look like steel guitars fashioned from 9 mm semiautomatic handguns.

"That was pretty surprising the first time that we went and saw them," Bechtel says.

Laughing, Walker adds, "We just make sure the safety's on."

Another jazz grad student, Zach Pedigo, is playing a bass. The neck is made from a double-barreled shotgun. Curved magazines from AK-47 assault rifles form the body of the bass guitar.

"To me at least," Pedigo says, "the concept is about taking weapons that are destructive in nature and chaotic and trying to make them for something else. So, instead of objects of destruction, they become objects of creation."

That's exactly Reyes' point. Art, he says, is about transformation.

"It's the same metal," he says, "but it is no longer a gun. It's now a flute or a guitar."

Asked whether that's an improvement, whether musical instruments are better than guns, Reyes responds, "Yes, I do believe guns are bad. Because, you know it's an industry that to thrive, it needs conflict."

It's a political statement that many will disagree with. But it is one, Reyes says, that is at the heart of his work.

The instruments played in concert this week in Tampa are just the first generation of his musical creations. He's now beginning to turn guns into more sophisticated electronic instruments that can be programmed through a computer. Reyes says he expects to be working on this project for some time — he still has thousands of guns to turn into art.


Pictures of Chicago residents who have died by gunfire are posted on the city's South Side.
(Scott Olson/Getty Images)
December 31, 2013

Despite The Headlines, Chicago's Crime Rate Fell In 2013

In 2013, Chicago newspapers and television stations kept a daily deadly count, listing those slain each day, most by gun violence.

One of the most noted occurred early in the year when Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot and killed about a week after performing at inauguration events in Washington, D.C., with her high school band. Two young men were charged with opening fire on Pendleton and a group of friends standing in a park about a mile from President Obama's Chicago home.

After the shooting, her father, Nathaniel Pendleton, grieved before throngs of reporters at a news conference: "They took the light of my life. This guy, the gunman, man, you took the light of my life."

The city's gun violence has also deeply touched the life of Shirley Chambers. Over a nearly 20-year span, she lost all four of her children to shootings. The last one, her 33-year-old son, Ronnie Chambers, had said the murders of his three siblings made him decide to change his life. He was killed this year.

"It's too much out of control now. They've got to get stiffer penalties for these guys," said Shirley Chambers. "They go out here and murder people for no reason."

In September, a shooting in a Chicago park left more than a dozen people wounded, including a 3-year-old boy. Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says in that shooting, assault-style weapons were used.

"Illegal guns. Illegal guns. Illegal guns drive violence. And military-type weapons like the one we believe to have been used in this shooting belong on a battlefield — not on a street or in a corner or in a park," McCarthy says.

In 2013, at least 412 Chicagoans lost their lives violently — about 100 fewer than a year ago. That's more than those murdered in New York, and more than Los Angeles. But a Yale University analysis says that despite Chicago's grim numbers, the city's crime rate is not exceptional when compared with other large cities. It ranks Chicago 19th, with violent crime levels similar to those of Houston or Minneapolis, and half that of Detroit or St. Louis.

The study, which looks at Chicago's crime levels over nearly 50 years, says the city is on track to have the lowest crime rate since 1972 and the lowest murder rate in 45 years. McCarthy says it's not victory, but it is real progress.

"We're putting additional officers in high-crime areas through Operation Impact. We're using intelligence to prevent retaliatory gang shootings. We're moving officers from administrative positions back into the streets. And we're partnering closely with the community," McCarthy says.

In a city of neighborhoods, though, crime rates are not equal, and many of the shootings here are gang-related in the city's South and West sides.

A memorial at a Chicago park marks where Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was shot and killed earlier this year. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

'One Too Many'

Community activists and ministers recently attended a public hearing convened by the Rev. Al Sharpton. "They say that the shooting is down. Well, if one person is shot, it's one too many," he said.

People like Lucy Moore don't believe the rate of gun violence in Chicago is actually down.

"I think it's poppycock. They're not telling all of it. The murder rate is even higher. They just want to save face, and that's what I feel. It's not down. I see too much shooting and too much killing," she says.

Natjuan Herrin lives on Chicago's West Side and is also skeptical. "Well, where I come from, they shoot every day, all day, but it's not safe nowhere in Chicago. Wherever you go, it's not safe," Herrin says.

Shirley Chambers lost her four children — three boys and a girl — to gun violence in Chicago over a period of 18 years. The last of her children, her son, Ronnie, was killed in January. (John Gress/Reuters/Landov)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that while he understands that skepticism, the numbers don't lie.

"We are not going to rest until people feel the reality of these numbers. It is day-in-and-day-out work, and I'm not going to let anybody working for me rest until that feeling is shared throughout the city," Emanuel says.

Emanuel has pushed for thousands of summer youth jobs, more education initiatives and recreational opportunities, which he says have resulted in less gun violence. He's calling for tougher gun laws, including mandatory minimum sentencing for anyone possessing an illegal gun. That effort comes as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced changes that would relax mandatory sentencing requirements — at least when it comes to drug policy. But Holder says the federal government will help Chicago as best it can.

"The Justice Department will seek new ways to ensure that resources provided to the Chicago Police Department by our Asset Forfeiture Fund can be better used to keep more officers on the beat," he says.

Holder was in Chicago for the swearing-in ceremony for Zach Fardon, the U.S. attorney for northern Illinois. As an assistant U.S. attorney, Fardon successfully prosecuted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan on public corruption charges. Fardon says he doesn't believe the city can arrest its way out of its gang problem.

"It is too big. It is too deep. It is too insidious. It starts at too young an age," Fardon says.

He says that even though his office will continue to focus on public corruption, white-collar crime and terrorism, it will also work on violent crime. "We're all in. We'll be aggressive and strategic in going after the worst of the worst," Fardon says. "We do have limited resources, and so we have to focus on the gang leaders, and we have to focus on the violent offenders. And we will do that, and we'll do it with vigor."

It's an attitude that the mayor here and even his critics say everyone must have — just ask Shirley Chambers.


In this frame grab taken from video by KCNC television news in Denver, students of Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., gather at a running track on Friday after a shooting at the school. Two students were injured in the shooting incident befor
(KCNC/AFP/Getty Images)
December 13, 2013

2 Students Injured, Suspected Shooter Dead At Colo. High School

A student armed with a shotgun killed himself after opening fire at a Colorado high school, wounding two fellow students, police said Friday.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said the armed student entered the school and said he was looking for a specific teacher. Robinson said another student confronted the gunman and then was shot.

"The teacher began to understand that he was being looked at [and] exited the school," Robinson said.

"The suspect has been found and has been deceased as a result of what appear to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound," he said.

The Associated Press quotes a hospital spokesman as saying the wounded student was taken into surgery.

Robinson said police later found another student inside the school whose injuries were considered minor.

The shooting took place at Arapahoe High School, located about 8 miles from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where 13 people were killed in 1999.

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