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Milwaukee’s high gun rate rivals New York’s
If Your Time is short
The gun recovery rate in Milwaukee in 2016 was about 400 guns per 100,000 people.
Milwaukee’s rate was 10 times higher than New York City’s rate of 42 per 100,000 people.
The city routinely recovers more guns than larger cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles
Gun violence has racked the city of Milwaukee for decades, and May saw a weekend with a new set of shocking headlines, as 21 people were injured in three late-night shootings near Milwaukee's crowded Deer District after a Bucks playoff game.
Tackling gun violence was among the issues at the top of Cavalier Johnson's priority list in his successful bid to win the Milwaukee mayor’s office.
Days after his historic win, Johnson had this to say April 9, 2022, on PBS Wisconsin’s "Here & Now" show, telling anchor Frederica Freyberg:
"Unfortunately, at the local level, we don’t control gun law. We just react to it. In one of the more recent years in Milwaukee, our police department collected more guns per capita off the streets than in New York."
That caught our attention, given the vast difference in size — and reputations — between the two cities.
Is Johnson right?
Let’s start with gun recoveries by the Milwaukee Police Department, a number that has been on the rise in recent years.
2015: 2,504 guns recovered
As of April 20, 2022, the police department had recovered 927 guns — compared with the 681 reported at about the same time the year before.
To be sure, a per-capita approach is the best way to compare Milwaukee and New York City, which is approximately 10 times larger. In this case, though, Johnson was pretty vague in declaring the city led in "one of the more recent years." Which year?
When asked for backup, Johnson’s staff pointed to 2016 and provided two articles — one published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the other by Wiscontext, which is part of PBS Wisconsin.
Both articles reported that Milwaukee had a higher gun recovery per capita versus some of the country’s largest metropolitan cities.
In 2016, the 2,421 guns recovered by Milwaukee police translated into a rate of 406.84 guns per 100,000 people, according to the Journal Sentinel article.
That same year, New York City reported 3,583 gun recoveries, which translated into about 42 per 100,000 people, according to a 2017 report issued by the city of Chicago. The numbers do not include any guns obtained through turn-in or buyback programs.
The city of Chicago report was comparing its experience with that of other large cities, and was largely aimed at determining where guns used in crimes come from.
In any case, that means the rate in Milwaukee, in that year, was 10 times that of New York.
Milwaukee even surpassed two other major U.S. cities featured in the report: Chicago and Los Angeles.
In 2016, Chicago counted 6,644 gun recoveries, with a rate of 244 per 100,000 people, while Los Angeles had 5,908 gun recoveries in the same year, with 149 per 100,000.
Many factors go into gun recoveries, including more aggressive policing, special patrols and initiatives and the like. But Johnson made a narrow, focused claim, and on it hit the mark.
Indeed, as the Journal Sentinel article noted, Milwaukee police routinely recover guns at a higher rate than many other major cities — so, truly, Johnson probably would have been safe even if he had been more expansive in making his point.
Johnson claimed that in a recent year, the Milwaukee Police Department "collected more guns per capita off the streets than in New York."
Although the time frame Johnson referred to was vague, the claim was on point, as Milwaukee’s gun recoveries per capita numbers in 2016 were more than 10 times higher than what New York City reported for that year.
We rate the claim True.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 21 people were injured in shootings in downtown Milwaukee; Mayor Johnson imposes curfew Saturday night, May 14, 2022.
Records request for gun recoveries 2015 to 2022 by Milwaukee Police Department.
Wiscontext, Milwaukee police seize more than 2,400 guns In 2016, Feb. 20, 2017.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee police seize 4 guns, more than 300 grams of marijuana over New Year's holiday, Jan. 1, 2018.
City of Chicago, Gun Trace Report, 2017.
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