The news: A Chicago Reporter investigation found that minors in Cook County are routinely sentenced to hard time for adult felony gun crimes even though court records show many were never implicated as a gunman.
Behind the news: A new Reporter analysis of the court data found that virtually all, or 98 percent, of the juvenile gun cases opened in Cook County courts between 2006 and 2010 involved males.
That’s not entirely surprising considering that, while access to guns has been in a steady decline over the past two decades, men are still far more likely to own a gun. In 2010, 1 in 3 men owned a gun nationwide compared with 1 in 10 women, the Washington D.C.-based Violence Policy Center reports.
The masculine culture around guns has contributed to “a belief [among teens] that a lot of other boys are carrying guns, which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy—or not,” said Harold Pollack, the co-director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab.
What’s less obvious is why most of the youth charged with gun crimes are black boys. The Reporter found that an overwhelming majority, 80 percent, of the defendants were black.
Pollack chalks up the disparity to the level of violence in Chicago’s South Side communities where most of the juveniles live. “It’s a tough gig to be a 17-year-old in Chicago. We leave it to them to navigate a tough world, a violent world. … A gun is a great equalizer if you’re afraid seven guys are going to jump you.”
“Unfortunately,” Pollack added, “some of the people are being prosecuted for gun crime and aren’t using [them]. That’s a genuine cost.”