Five years later, one of the gravest challenges faced by a city now run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, and Obama's former White House chief of staff, is how to stop the guns from blazing. Police and social workers alike are asking why, exactly, Chicago's murder rate has remained so high.
Murder rates in Chicago and New York were similar in the 1990s. Even though killings in both cities dropped substantially, Chicago's current rate is three times higher than New York's, said Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. It is also higher than the rate in Los Angeles, a sprawling city long associated with gang violence.
"The gun violence problem in America gets a lot of attention when 20 white kids in Connecticut get shot all at once, but in general it doesn't get nearly as much attention as it really needs to," Ludwig said. "It's a huge problem and it's very localized_and it's localized among the most disadvantaged people in the city."
One puzzle is that gun violence has remained high in Chicago while the incidence of other crimes has fallen.
"Our struggle is with violence and particularly gang violence and more specifically gun violence," Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told WBEZ radio this week. He cited free-flowing weaponry on Chicago's streets as a major challenge for the 12,500 members of the city's police force. Seizing guns, he said, offers limited benefit, with Chicago already seizing guns at a rate three times greater than Los Angeles and nine times higher than New York.
"We're in a position where we're drinking from a fire hose," said McCarthy, who also served in Newark and New York City. "Guns are bought legally and transferred illegally and those are the guns that are ending up killing people here."