Chicago gun crime
A Cook County Sheriff police officer holds an assault rifle in Chicago in 2015. Rounding up illegal guns is an increasing priority for police who attribute sky rocketing violence in the city to a proliferation of firearms.Reuters

The city of Chicago's shooting toll for the Memorial Day holiday weekend climbed to a startling 63, while the number of deaths reached 5, reports on Monday (30 May) confirmed.

The only good news was a lower mortality rate than last year's holiday, when 12 people died in 44 shootings, reports NBC Chicago. The station's tally of the 2016 shootings began as the holiday weekend just got underway on Friday afternoon (27 May).

Police were relieved by the lower death rate, but spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Chicago Tribune that the department will "never say it's good until we can go an entire Memorial Day weekend without a single shot being fired."

Shootings are up so far this year, more than 50% over 2015, plus there have been 60 homicides in the single month of May — 25% more than May 2015 and the highest monthly count in the city in three years. More than 1,400 people have been shot in the city this year.

Investigators blame the stunning level of violence on gang conflicts, more firearms on the street and weak gun law enforcement. Memorial Day marked the first warm three-day holiday weekend since the fallout from the release of the Laquan McDonald video, which showed an officer shooting the teen and subsequently killing him, as prosecutors said he was walking away. The release of the video triggered waves of protests.

In the only arrest following the shootings, a 26-year-old woman faced felony charges for reckless discharge of a gun after firing warning shots into the air when an unknown gunman fatally shot her fiance — and father of her two children — in the head as the two sat in a car together.

"That sounds like self defence to me," said the perplexed judge before setting bail, the Tribune reported.

Three of the last five shootings of the bloody holiday weekend were drive-by attacks, and almost all of the victims were under the age of 30, with the youngest a 15-year-old girl, Veronica Lopez, struck by a bullet as she travelled as a passenger in a car. Her mother had hoped to move with her daughter to Florida in 2017 to escape the city's violence. "Now they took my baby," she said.

Another mother worried about getting her 17-year-old son through "one more summer" until he can escape the city for college. "Every time you look up, it's a shooting, it's an innocent, it's gangs shooting each other," said Shequita Evans. "Who's to say someone wouldn't come along and shoot him? I fear for my son."

The next test for the city will come over the Independence Day weekend on 4 July, which usually has had the highest violence of any holiday weekend in Chicago.

Last year, in 2015, shootings during the July holiday weekend left 10 dead and 55 others wounded. The 2014 holiday left 14 dead and 68 wounded.