I live in Chicago, not “Chiraq.” Chicago is my city, and I love it. Calling it Chiraq is an insulting, misguided attempt to describe and to cast blame for the gun violence that plagues us. Instead of constantly trying to use my city as a scapegoat when violence occurs, we need to recognize that gun violence is a national issue and not just a local one.
As a kid, I developed my professional grit playing basketball at the South Side and Austin YMCA. I watched the sun rise every morning while driving up Lake Shore Drive on my way to school in Oak Park. Chicago is a work of art, from Harold’s Chicken to the Frank Lloyd Wright houses. When I bought my first home, there was never a question that it would not be in South Shore.
It is true that Chicago has a problem with gun violence; there were 3,457 shooting victims in 2017 and 4,349 victims in 2016. It is also true that legislators have enacted laws to try and stop this violence. Illinois requires gun owners to obtain a Firearm Owners ID Card, which requires a background check, and imposes a waiting period on gun purchases. Chicago prohibits possession of “assault weapons,” and any gun owner must “immediately” report a gun that is lost or stolen from them.
In the last couple of years, national politicians have repeatedly pointed to Chicago after each mass shooting to counter calls for federal legislation. They cite the contradiction of the city’s gun deaths and Illinois’ gun safety laws and claim that stricter laws will not make a difference. But casting Chicagoans as thugs and Chicago as a war zone won’t solve the dangers of gun violence in America. The “Chiraq” argument, misses two things: gun violence impacts every American community, and solutions will only come with a change in federal laws.
First, gun violence is everywhere — it extends well beyond the dog-whistle insinuations that urban communities cannot escape this culture of violence. So far in 2018, there have been nearly 300 mass shootings, in communities both big and small. Earlier this month, a police officer in Florence, South Carolina (population 38,000 people) was shot and killed and six others were wounded. Almost a year ago, a gunman killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, (population 600 people). The fact, though, is that suicides make up 60 percent of all gun deaths, not mass shootings or gang violence.
As I’ve talked about gun violence with other WNBA players, I’ve learned that almost everyone has their own awful story. Ariel Atkins lost a friend in high school from a domestic violence dispute in Duncanville, Texas; Seimone Augustus was held up at gunpoint in Baton Rouge; and Sylvia Fowles had a brother go to prison as a result of a shooting incident in Miami. My own cousin was murdered in Baltimore.
Second, it is a stretch to claim that strong state or local laws will yield a solution alone. Illinois has the second highest gun import rate in the country, and a 2017 study found that 60 percent of the guns recovered by the police came from out of state. Neighboring states such as Indiana and Wisconsin do not require a waiting period, license, or permit to buy a gun. The state line between Illinois and Indiana is a 10-minute drive from my home on the South Shore.
An estimated 35,000 people die from gun violence in the United States each year, and nearly 90,000 are injured, leaving a national wake of mourning, anger, and fear. We will only stop gun violence when we elect representatives who vote for effective federal legislation.
The group Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, March for Our Lives, and other gun safety groups have spelled it out. The answers for Chicago, Florence, Sutherland Springs, and the rest of the country will come with federal legislation that requires universal background checks, that bans assault rifles and high capacity magazines, targets gun trafficking across state lines, and disarms all domestic abusers. We also need more research on how to keep guns away from people with mental illness and we need more funding for other preventative programs.
This November and in 2020, we have to make candidates and elected representatives understand that we are prioritizing gun safety in how we vote. Enough with dismissive rhetoric, victim blaming, and the empty logic that we have to arm ourselves or live in fear and continued tragedy. Gun violence is a national problem, and it is time for us to vote for national change.
Devereaux Peters is a two-time WNBA champion and a Chicago native.