Welcome back, Bulletin readers, and Happy New Year! In this first briefing of 2019, we catch you up on some of the stories you may have missed over the holidays.

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Gun violence in Chicago dropped by double digits for the second year in a row. As of December 28, there had been 570 homicides in the city, an over 15 percent decline from 2017’s total of 675, according to statistics kept by The Chicago Tribune. Shootings fell by 18 percent, year over year. And 2018 was the second year in a row in which gun violence fell in Chicago; in 2016, the city experienced a level of gun crime not seen since the 1990s.

NEW from THE TRACE: Experts still haven’t been able to determine why gun violence in Chicago surged in 2016. Brian Freskos spoke with Max Kapustin, a researcher at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, about its recent finding that the spike remains “an enigma.” But Kapustin offered one possible reason for the decline: Strategic Decision Support Centers, established in early 2017, where cops work alongside crime analysts. Read their full conversation here.

Meanwhile, homicides in Washington, D.C., were up nearly 40 percent last year. At least 160 people were murdered in the capital in 2018, up from 116 in 2017. What’s behind the rise, according to police: “The more frequent use of guns in crimes and more fatal outcomes when a shooting occurs,” The Washington Post reports. The picture is brighter in the D.C. suburbs: Homicides fell from 80 in 2017 to 60 last year in Prince George’s County, Maryland, with a similar drop in nonfatal shootings.

Internal ATF data reveal that a significant share of people who lie on gun background check forms go on to commit crimes. CNN obtained a 2006 analysis from the bureau that found that between 10 and 21 percent of people banned from firearm ownership who “lie and try” to buy guns go on to commit a gun-related crime. One expert believes the problem has gotten worse in the dozen years since, thanks to the proliferation of online gun sales. Running the numbers: If the rate found in 2006 held steady, up to 2,600 people who were denied gun purchases in 2017 could go on — or have gone on — to commit a gun crime.

Ohio legislators overrode Governor John Kasich’s veto of a bill addressing self-defense shootings. The new law shifts the burden of proof from gun owners to prosecutors. An earlier version of the proposal removed the duty to retreat before resorting to lethal force, but that provision was removed. The outgoing Republican governor rejected the package in December because it didn’t include a “red flag” measure, but three-fifths of both legislative chambers voted to override his decision during a rare post-Christmas session.

An Episcopal diocese in Massachusetts is buying enough stock in Smith & Wesson to become an activist shareholder. In late December, the diocese of Western Massachusetts voted to buy 200 shares of the company, the minimum number needed to place an initiative question on the shareholders’ ballot. The diocese is pushing for universal background checks and for the company — which is based in nearby Springfield — to stop making guns that are illegal to possess under Massachusetts’s strict gun laws. Earlier in 2018, the national Episcopal church decided to pursue similar shareholder activism.

A Georgia teenager accidentally killed his friend, and then killed himself. Devin Hodges, 15, was showing a group of his friends a handgun in a shed in suburban Lawrenceville when the weapon discharged and hit 17-year-old Chad Carless. The boys ran from the scene, and one of them called 911. When officers arrived they saw Hodges running between houses, then found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Authorities have not said who the gun belongs to.


Credit cards give mass shooters the ability to amass arsenals undetected. A New York Times investigation found that in eight of the 13 shootings that have killed 10 or more people in the last decade, gunmen used credit cards to finance their attacks. Many of the shooters did not have flush bank accounts, and credit allowed them to buy guns they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Credit card companies that spoke with the Times said reporting transactions to law enforcement isn’t their responsibility — but experts say that financial rules that already exist to combat organized crime and terrorism could be implemented to monitor large and unusual gun purchases.