What To Know Today

Ohio governor signs “stand your ground” law. Republican Governor Mike DeWine on Monday signed legislation that significantly expands the state’s self-defense protections. Under current law, there is a duty to retreat from danger before resorting to deadly force. The new law will allow Ohioans to shoot in self-defense or defense of others in public places without retreating. DeWine signed the bill despite hints that he might veto it because lawmakers refused to take up a modest gun reform package he proposed in the wake of a 2019 mass shooting in Dayton. He said he did so in the “spirit of cooperation,” hoping new members of the Ohio General Assembly, sworn in Monday, would advance his reforms. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley tweeted that the governor “folded” to extreme elements in his party: “Gov. DeWine came to our city and stood on stage for a vigil for our murdered friends and neighbors, and then told us he stood with our community in our fight against gun violence. Now it seems that he does not.” — Chip Brownlee, investigative fellow

Cities finalize grim 2020 shooting statistics. Shortly before the break we reported on the rise in homicides across the country. Since then several cities have published record-breaking end-of-year tallies: 

  • In New York, at least 1,868 people were hit by gunfire last year, more than in 2019 and 2018 combined. Nearly 70 percent of last year’s shootings remain unsolved. The vast majority of the victims were Black or Hispanic. The pandemic and the resulting economic instability is “creating a tremendous amount of stress in already stressed communities,” one policing expert said, “and some of that is getting expressed as interpersonal violence.”
  • Philadelphia logged 499 homicides, a 40 percent increase over 2019 and the second-highest total on record.
  • St. Louis’s 2020 homicide rate of 87 killings per 100,000 residents was the highest in 50 years.
  • Kansas City, Missouri, recorded 180 homicide victims in 2020, the highest single-year total in its history. 
  • Cincinnati logged 92 homicides, its deadliest year on record.
  • Cleveland’s homicide rate of 48.6 homicides per 100,000 residents was the highest in its history. Mariama Jalloh, a teacher at a local church, told The New York Times that she and her children run to the basement whenever gunfire erupts, which is several times a week. She said she performed similar drills when she was growing up in Sierra Leone during its civil war.

Chicago recorded its second-highest homicide total in two decades. But experts have hope for the future. Academics and frontline workers tell WBEZ that the year’s gun violence toll should not be taken as a sign that anti-violence initiatives spearheaded in 2016, another high-water mark for shootings, have failed. For one, gun violence is up across the country, not just in Chicago. And 2020 had something 2016 didn’t have: a pandemic, which fueled the violence. Yale University’s Andrew Papachristos said homicide spikes historically boil down to government distrust and the disenfranchisement of young men: “When people don’t think the state is doing what they need to do, they settle disputes by themselves. And you had a perfect storm of that in 2020.”

Police took a backseat to violence interrupters in one NYC neighborhood. Cops in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, a community that experiences among the highest rates of violence in the city, curbed their patrols over a two-block stretch for five days last month and let conflict mediators take over. Assemblymember Latrice Walker dubbed the experiment “‘defund the police’ in actuality.” City agencies and nonprofits lined the strip and offered information on education, jobs, and housing. The result: No one called 911 during that period. “For the first time in a long time,” Walker told The City, “the block felt safe.” The effort is the brainchild of the precinct’s new commanding officer, who grew up in the neighborhood and has been praised for maintaining an open line of communication with community leaders.

Circuit court halts release of ATF gun suicide data. Last August, a federal judge in New York ordered the agency to publish statistics on guns used in suicides or attempted suicides. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had argued that it was prohibited from doing so by the Tiahrt Amendment, a law first passed by Congress in 2003 that forbids the release of gun trace data to the public. But late last month the Second Circuit reversed that decision. The Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, which brought the suit, said it was “considering all our options.” The ruling is at odds with a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision last month that said the ATF could release crime gun trace data to the public. (Everytown’s nonpolitical arm provides funding to The Trace. Here is a list of our major donors and our policy on editorial independence.)

Related: The ATF could be the ideal vehicle for President-elect Biden to enact gun reforms without Congress. Experts tell The New Republic that a big budget increase could revitalize the beleaguered agency. Staffing shortages have prevented the ATF from inspecting the majority of the nation’s gun dealers and manufacturers on a consistent basis. They also say Biden could direct the agency to go after major weapons traffickers instead of low-level offenders, and crack down on the market for barely legal gun accessories like pistol braces.

FBI again labels Black “extremists” a domestic terror threat. In 2017, the agency was criticized for suggesting that “Black identity extremists” pose as much of a threat as white supremacists, which is contrary to what top FBI officials have said. But in new guidance on “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism” obtained by Yahoo News, the agency places white supremacists on a par with people who use “political reasons — including racism or injustice in American society” to justify violence. 

Data Point

50,000 — the estimated number of people wounded by gunfire in Chicago since 2000. [WBEZ]