The streets of Chicago are violent. We have a lot of gun crime. I have written extensively on gun-related issues. Over the last couple years, I've seen a pattern of gun possession cases that are alarming.
Many of our city's youth are carrying concealed handguns. That's a fact. But why are they carrying them? The reasons vary. Some kids want to be hard. Some kids want to shoot rival gang members. But many of my clients have carried them for protection. Or at least they say.
If you live in an extremely violent neighborhood where shootings are common, you have some limited choices (assuming moving isn't one of them):
A. Don't leave the house.
B. Don't carry a gun and risk being killed because you can't defend yourself if shot at.
C. Carry a gun and risk some prison time if caught.
Unfortunately all three choices stink, so maybe D. None of the above?
But I have had to ask myself what I would do. I know these neighborhoods. I know how violent they are. I've seen some of the bodies. I go in during the day and don't get near them at night. As the crow flies, Chicago isn't that big. But it's incredibly dense. My neighborhood is pretty safe from random street violence. But drive as little as one mile away and it's gangland.
My investigator is a retired homicide detective. He's allowed by law to carry a concealed firearm. He never leaves home without his .38. It's neatly clipped to the inside of his trousers like a beeper.
Survival is an instinct. A few million years of evolution have firmly implanted it in the human psyche. We eat to survive. We seek shelter in inclement weather to survive. We seek medicine to survive.
Thus the question is: is it morally wrong to arm yourself if it extends to your own survival? Not withstanding the law, is carrying a 9mm in Englewood different than wearing a winter coat when it's -10? Or eating to prevent starvation? This is an interesting philosophical question geared towards a college classroom where it can be examined in the abstract. I haven't the time for it. There's argument on both sides.
Arming oneself could also have a deterrent effect if it's well known you're packing. This could also work the other way if someone has to deal with you. They're going to be sure to bring a gun since they know you have one. You never want to be the one that brings a knife to a gunfight.
Personally, I don't condone arming oneself. I don't like pistols. But I understand why some do so. And it's probably why pistol cases are as benign to me these days as jaywalking. Two years ago my reaction was different. A mother would call and tell me her son got caught with a gun. I would think "oh, he must be a real thug if he's walking around with a gun!"
Then I would go to the jail and meet the son. And more often than not, son wasn't a thug. Son was a 17 year old boy that lives in fear of getting shot and killed because he's surrounded by violence. Sure, I've had gang banging clients that sling dope. This is Chicago. I am a felony defense attorney. One party is sure to meet the other.
But I honestly believe that many of my pistol carrying clients were simply scared. The kind of person that would pull out a gun in a split second and shoot someone is markedly different than a kid carrying it for protection. They are as different as rabbits and pigeons. And I can tell in 2 minutes which one they are.
I've had very few clients that scared me. There have been a few, but most of them were just caught up in a series or poor decisions. Sometimes I think I've helped break that cycle, but in others, I'm just another tooth on the gear.
I still respect the law, however. Protection or not, it's illegal to carry firearms in most scenarios. The idea behind the law is public safety. But when too many people violate that law, public safety goes out the window and you end up with what we have now: violent streets.
This feeds the argument that if people (criminals) are arming themselves anyway, law abiding citizens should be allowed to as well. For protection. There's argument on both sides of this proposition as well. However, I don't see the logic of adding more guns to increase safety. I don't need a gun for protection. I don't live in fear. I avoid situations that unnecessarily put myself at risk. But if trouble somehow did find me, am I going to get in a shootout over my wallet? My car?
I don't carry cash and most would-be carjackers can't drive a stick, so I am ok. But not everyone in the city is like me. Some people do live in fear, like some of my clients. And they feel they need a gun for protection. But the law says "no".
If public safety is questionable and police efforts futile, what's one to do? Some choose to survive by any means necessary. A few months in prison is surely better than a box and 6 feet of dirt before you're 20, right?
I am thankful it's not a choice I have to make. Really thankful.