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Chicago looks to Twitter for answer to gun problem

CHICAGO (AP) — In an unusual attempt at addressing one of its most vexing problems, the city of Chicago is asking residents with ideas on how to get illegal guns off the streets to share their thoughts — in 140 characters or fewer on Twitter.

The initiative is part of Chicago Ideas Week, an annual forum for innovators, artists, scientists and others to share ideas, make connections and inspire action. Those who think they know how to cut off the flow of illegal guns coming into Chicago are being asked to tweet suggestions with the hashtag (hash)whatifchicago. The best ideas will be debated at an Oct. 11 panel discussion during Ideas Week that will include police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The head of Chicago's Police Department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have made combating gun violence in the nation's third largest city a top priority, and are fighting gangs with a strategy that includes deploying beat officers to trouble spots for longer periods. The city is also paying an anti-violence group called CeaseFire $1 million to mediate conflicts in neighborhoods beset by gangs.

Still, homicides, the vast majority of them involving guns, are up sharply from 2011. According to the most recent police statistics, 382 people have been killed as of the middle of September, an increase of 26 percent from last year. Many of the victims are teens.

The Twitter campaign was announced Thursday, during a week in which at least two 17-year-olds were killed by gunshots to the head. One of those accused of pulling the trigger is a 14-year-old boy, police said Saturday.

"This is an issue that impacts everybody," Ideas Week Director Jessica Malkin told WBBM radio in Chicago. "Regardless of what neighborhood you're living in, it's a huge issue in Chicago."

Many of the tweets so far are from people voicing frustration with violence.

Proposed solutions include more police officers, greater investment in education and keeping gyms open at schools and churches as alternative places for young people to go, especially on weekend nights, when violence typically spikes.

One Twitter user, referring to a Chris Rock routine in which the comedian says the answer is to raise the price of bullets, commented: "It's a joke, but what if?"

Some suggested incentives for getting people to turn in weapons, including "GOOD tickets to sports events" or city funds for community gyms.

Another person said universities should offer scholarships to people who renounce their gang affiliations.

Whatever comes out of the discussion, organizers touted the effort as a new way of engaging the public on challenges facing the city.

"This is an outstanding example of the potential power that social media offers city government," said City of Chicago Social Media Director Kevin Hauswirth.

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