This city, where violent street gangs shoot it out dozens of times a week despite some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on guns, now faces a new challenge: Well-meaning citizens with the legal right to hit the streets with loaded firearms, whenever they want.
As Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn mulls whether to sign off on eliminating the country’s last concealed carry ban, the question in Chicago is whether it will matter in the crime-weary city. Will a place that long had some of the nation’s tightest restrictions on handguns be more at risk? Or will it be safer with a law that can only add to the number of guns already on the street?
Neighborhood leaders, anti-crime activists and police officials worry about additional mayhem in Chicago. But other residents, including some who live in Chicago’s more violent areas, believe more guns will allow them to defend themselves better.
“We just had a weekend where something like 48 people were shot, seven died,” said Otis McDonald, 79, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court tossing out Chicago’s strict gun ban three years ago. “Now law abiding citizens like myself … can carry them when they want to and not carry them when they don’t want to, and the people out there who will do us harm won’t know when we got them and when we don’t.”
At City Hall, where Chicago’s anti-gun campaign has centered for years, the reaction to concealed carry legislation has been relatively quiet. The reasons seem to boil down to this: The city can do little about stopping the law because a federal appeals court ordered Illinois to end its public possession ban by this summer.
“We would prefer to have the (gun) bans we’ve always enacted… (but) it’s the best we could do based upon the mandate we have,” said Alderman Patrick O’Connor.
The bill sitting on Quinn’s desk is a hard-fought compromise between conservative downstate lawmakers who opposed most gun restrictions and anti-gun lawmakers from Chicago and other urban areas. The legislation requires state police to issue a concealed-carry permit to any gun owner with a state-issued Firearm Owners Identification card, and who passes a background check, pays a $150 fee and undergoes 16 hours of training.