By Gilman Halsted
So far this year, two people in Wisconsin have died in gun-related murders. Today, Wisconsin Public Radio launches an occasional, year-long series on gun murders. We'll track where and why they occur, and follow law enforcement and community groups' efforts to try to prevent them.
The first gun murder of the year took place at the Sidetracked Bar in Wausau on January 3rd. According to police reports, the victim, 27-year-old KC Christopher Elliot, was fighting in the bar parking lot with the suspect, 30-year-old John Lewis, when he was shot by what police believe was a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun. The gun has not been recovered.
Police say the two men knew each other and the suspect has served prison time for drug trafficking crimes. According to Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, the apparent cause of this gun death fits the typical profile for gun murders in Milwaukee, where 85 people were shot to death last year.
“Many of these things are just arguments and fights between two people who are both carrying firearms,” Flynn says, “and somebody pulls a gun and we have a dead person.”
Milwaukee Police are are now investigating the shooting death of a twenty-year-old man killed on Wednesday on the city's south side. It's the second gun homicide in the state this year, and the first for the city. Yesterday police arrested an 18-year-old suspect in that murder.
In 2012, the last year for which statewide figures are available, two-thirds of the 166 murders in the state involved a gun, and 61 percent of the perpetrators were between the age of 18 and 34 as were 48 percent of the victims.
Mallory O'Brien of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission says usually both the victim and the suspect have a criminal record. “For 2013, looking at the victims and suspects of homicide,” O'Brien said, “76 percent of the victims have an arrest history, and 93 percent of the suspects have an arrest history.”
That's a small consolation to the families of the victims and the people who live in the neighborhoods where the murders happen. Betty, who gave only her first name, lives on the block where Wednesday's south side Milwaukee murder took place.
“Crimes is always everywhere on the south side,” she said. “I think they should put like cameras in each block and have more cops, I guess, driving around.”
Milwaukee police have used cameras to deter shootings in some city taverns where several gun crimes have ocurred. But this week the city got funds from the state to expand the use of microphones to record the sound of gun shots in crime-prone neighborhoods.
Chief Flynn says the ShotSpotter technology is already helping police solve a problem that has hampered investigations in the past: “The data produced by the ShotSpotter technology told us an alarming truth. In some of our neighborhoods -- the most gunfire-afflicted neighborhoods particularly -- only 14 percent of the shots-fired incidents were being called into 911.”
Technology like this is one way police are trying to reduce gun deaths. On the legislative front a bill designed to reduce the number of domestic violence gun deaths could get a vote before the end of the year.
According to Tony Gibart of End Domestic Violence Wisconsin, a preliminary report for last year found guns were used in 19 domestic violence murders. He says the new law would require courts to verify that anyone with a domestic violence restraining order immediately surrender any guns they own.
“We know that some counties are starting to do this, but most counties don't have any kind of active enforcement procedures in place,” Gibart said. “We do see, throughout the years, homicides that seemingly could have been prevented had there been more active enforcement.”
Gibart says that bill has not been scheduled for a vote yet.
Wisconsin Public Radio will continue to follow gun-related legislation throughout the year, and follow up with stories on these and other homicides as they occur and develop.