“It’s certainly good to get guns off the street and the more guns you can acquire can’t hurt. But in places like Chicago where you can go outside the city line and buy all the guns you want, it’s not clear that [gun seizures] have any demonstrable impact on crime,” says Richard Berk, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
For one, keeping track of guns is notoriously difficult. Straw gun purchasing, in which guns are purchased legally but are passed to another person for criminal purposes, is a problem in every major city. In Chicago, 20 percent of the guns used to commit crimes between 2008 and March 2012 originated in the suburb of Riverdale, Ill., because of a single store there – Chuck’s Gun Shop, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The store owners say they follow federal and state laws and are not legally responsible for how, or where, the guns they sell are used.
The state of New York faces a similar problem. Some 84 percent of gun crimes were carried out with guns purchased over the state border, according to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“Coordination [of gun laws] is a big problem, not just because there are so many different philosophies of government, but also because of the nuts and bolts of enforcement,” says Harold Pollack, a co-director of the University of Chicago lab.
What does separate Chicago from New York City is its gang activity. Chicago leads the country in terms of the number of individuals who are direct gang members or involved in gang factions, which are splinter groups associated with larger criminal organizations. There are an estimated 70 to 100 gangs in the Chicago metropolitan area with a membership of between 68,000 and 150,000, according to the 2012 Chicago Crime Commission. New York gang membership is about 22,000, reports the National Gang Intelligence Center in 2009.