Correction: Chicago Violence-Gun Laws story

Sunday - 2/3/2013, 1:43pm EST

CHICAGO (AP) - In a story Feb. 1 about gun violence in Chicago, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the city reported 506 gun slayings in 2012. Chicago reported a total of 506 homicides last year, which included gun slayings as well as other killings. A corrected version of the story is below:

Chicago takes leading role in national gun debate

Gun deaths put Chicago at center of national gun debate; both sides cite city's death toll


Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) _ They are counting the dead from gunfire again in Chicago, a city awash in weapons despite having one of the strictest gun-control ordinances in the nation.

After a year in which Chicago's death toll surpassed 500, the bloodshed has continued in 2013 at a rate of more than one killing a day. It was the city's deadliest January in more than a decade.

Now with this week's death of a 15-year-old drum majorette who had just returned from performing at President Barack Obama's inauguration, the mounting losses have put Obama's hometown at the center of the intensifying national debate over guns.

The slayings are no longer dismissed as an only-in-Chicago story about violent street gangs. They are almost a Sandy Hook Elementary School attack unfolding in slow motion: an honor student gunned down at a high school basketball game, two men in their 40s killed outside a hamburger stand, a woman whose bullet-riddled body was found early Friday in a van on the world-famous Lake Shore Drive.

Both gun-rights and gun-control advocates are seizing on the city's woes _ one side to push for greater access to guns for self-defense, the other to seek greater restrictions on gun sales.

"You've got these two philosophies that are butting heads, and they're butting heads in the biggest city in the middle of the United States," said David Workman, of the Bellevue, Wa.-based Second Amendment Foundation. "And both sides are holding up Chicago as a punching bag."

Obama has made a point of mentioning the gun violence in Chicago when he laments last year's shooting rampages in a Colorado movie theater and Newtown, Conn. He offered condolences to the family of Hadiya Pendleton, the promising teen who was shot to death Tuesday as she talked with friends after school in a park about a mile from Obama's Chicago home. He stressed later that the threat posed by guns in his hometown is part of a larger story about dangers across the nation.

"I mean what is absolutely true is that, if you are just creating a bunch of pockets of gun laws without having sort of, a unified, integrated system _ for example, of background checks _ then ... it's going to be a lot harder for an individual community, a single community, to protect itself from this kind of gun violence," the president said in an interview with Telemundo.

His political opponents are making the most of the body count, too.

Newt Gingrich says he's trying to persuade House Republicans to hold hearings on Chicago's shootings. During an interview on CBS News, Gingrich called the city "the murder capital of the United States," adding, "If gun control works, Chicago ought to be safe."

Critics of gun control say Chicago's spike in homicides offers clear evidence that sharply restricting weapons endangers the public. The city banned handguns until a 2010 Supreme Court ruling threw out the ban. Chicago then adopted a strict gun ordinance that requires gun owners to be fingerprinted, undergo a background check, pass a training class and pay fees that can be higher than the price of the weapons.

"If you restrict firearms, only criminals have firearms," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. "In the city of Chicago, the citizens are simply looked at as easy prey because it is so difficult to have a firearm at home or your business for self-defense."

From the other side comes another familiar argument _ that Chicago illustrates the need for tougher restrictions because existing laws in the city and beyond its borders in the suburbs or Indiana have made it too easy for criminals to get guns and too difficult to lock them up when they are caught.

Gingrich "has been in Chicago, and he can see we don't have a Berlin-type wall with checkpoints around it," said Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat. "You can go to any gun show in Indiana ... and get a gun without a background check."