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EDITORIAL: Chicago’s priority in 2019 — keep pushing that homicide rate down

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Homicides — mostly people killed with guns — dropped dramatically in Chicago in 2018, which would be good news if our city still were not No. 1 in murders among the biggest American cities.

And if certain West Side and South Side neighborhoods did not continue to be the victims of the worst of the violence.

EDITORIAL

Without a doubt, it was progress in 2018 that the number of homicides dropped for the second year in a row, especially given the ominous warnings all year long that the police were sitting on their hands because of frustration with critics of their policing tactics. Homicides dropped by 15 percent in 2018 and shootings by 18 percent.

The question then is why? Why the decline in homicides? That will point our city in the right direction for the coming year in curtailing the level of violence even more.

Chicago’s homicide rate is still much higher than those in New York and Los Angeles. Chicago had more than 530 homicides in 2018. New York — a city with more than twice the population of Chicago — had only 278 by mid-December, and Los Angeles had 243 homicides.

Research has showed much of the difference is due to the size of Chicago’s illegal gun market, which is much bigger than in New York or Los Angeles because Chicago is bordered by states with lax gun laws.

One way to address that is for incoming Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign a bill requiring state certification of gun shops. That will help put the clamps on the handful of problem gun shops that supply hundreds of guns that turn up at Chicago crime scenes. But more than half of the illegal guns come from out of state.

Pritzker also should ask leaders in nearby states to do more to stop the flow of guns into Illinois. Such an entreaty might fall on deaf ears, but it is worth a try. And he should call on Congress — which will have a different makeup after the Nov. 6 election — to do more to stop the flow of guns across state lines.

Illinois also could revise the process for issuing Firearm Owner’s Identification Cards, which are required for buying a gun. The way it works now, the State Police approve any FOID application in which the applicant has passed a basic background check. But a “permit to purchase” law, such as Massachusetts has, would give local police chiefs — who know the troublemakers in their communities — the power to challenge FOID cards for people who, for example, are frequently involved in domestic violence.

More support also could be given to small organizations that do great work helping to turn people away from gun violence by helping them get a GED or discouraging them from getting involved in fatal feuds involving shootings.

Also, the state Legislature, which finally in 2013 enacted a law requiring people to report lost or stolen guns, should write real penalties into the new law. The wrist-slaps we have now — a petty offense (usually involving court supervision or a small fine) for the first violation and a misdemeanor for subsequent ones — make it easy to ignore the rules.

Perhaps best of all, as we consider what’s behind the declining homicide tally in Chicago in 2018, we see proof that our city’s cops are pros. They continue to do their job, despite pressure and criticisms — often in the service of reform and necessary — from many sides.

We expected nothing less.

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