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Thursday, April 25, 2013 08:07 am

Chicago and Downstate live in two different gun worlds

Continuing gun violence in Chicago and the right to carry a concealed firearm are at the center of a heated debate in the Illinois House. Different social climates in Chicago and downstate Illinois have stirred up a political storm that has brought lawmakers to a standstill on the issue.

“The only hunting that’s happening in my neighborhood is of young men.  More guns are not the answer to our gun problem in Chicago,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, during the debate.

Cassidy said Chicago and downstate Illinois have different social climates.

“We have different needs, we have different communities and different cultures,” she said. “I respect that their community is different than mine. I’d like them to do the same.”

On April 19 Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, endured a setback as an amendment to the concealed carry bill was defeated. Phelps, the sponsor of the bill, needed 71 yes votes to move the bill forward but received 64 yes and 45 no votes.

Currently, Illinois is the only state to not allow concealed carry. Supporters and opponents of the bill question whether carrying a gun will change the state’s atmosphere, keep families safe and stop the violence in Chicago.

Opponents said the bill’s language was not clear on several issues. The bill expands the definition of a handgun, does not restrict the number of handguns a person can carry at one time, is unclear on carrying guns around children and on whether or not Chicago will be able to set its own concealed carry regulations.

However, for Phelps and his supporters, the time is now or never for Illinois legislators to make a decision.  A federal court decision said Illinois has to establish a concealed carry law by June.

In an interview with Illinois Times, Phelps said criminals don’t fear retaliation in gun-free zones, making it appealing for them to commit crimes in areas like Chicago. He also emphasized the importance of having a uniform law throughout the state. He said having guns laws that vary in each part of the state potentially criminalizes law-abiding citizens because they may be unclear of the gun rules in each city or town.

In previous years Phelps and gun rights supporters have tried to get concealed carry passed in Illinois. This year during the debate it became clear the differences in the Chicagoland area and downstate Illinois has created tension and made it difficult for lawmakers to agree on what is best to include in the bill.

“For years, it’s always been we throw a bill up and then we get beat, but now it’s different because of the court ruling. So now we can’t just not pass something. Clearly what this week has shown is that the anti-gun and the pro-gun sides don’t have enough votes to pass anything right now,” he said.

During the debate, proponents of the bill referenced the gun violence in Chicago. In 2012 Chicago had more than 500 murders and more than 400 were gun-related. But some lawmakers said adding more guns to Chicago will not help to stop the violence.

“I hate to say it but, unfortunately, I think this will actually get worse in our state before it ever gets better,” said Will Davis, D-Hazel Crest. “I think you’re going to have more incidents when this becomes law than anyone would have imagined and I hope that we’re prepared. Matter of fact I hope we’re willing to stand up and give moments of silence to all the individuals who are probably going to get harmed as a result of this open and unabridged concealed carry that we’re going to have in the state of Illinois.”

While some think most representatives from Chicago are anti-guns, Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, has a different perspective. Ford served as the chair for the Firearm Public Awareness Task Force during the 97th General Assembly. He said he understands the need for Illinois citizens to protect themselves, but he said he is mainly concerned about the decreasing police presence in Chicago and what adding more guns could do to the situation.

Ford said statistics have proven in cities with concealed carry that violence has decreased.

He said the bill lacked adequate gun training and education for civilians. He said putting guns in the hands of people in a violent atmosphere could create isolated incidents when they are trying to protect themselves.

“So what I see happening is you have people with guns and they see a threatening person and they’re going to feel strong and empowered and try to take that person down. That’s where we have increased violence,” he said.

He said in upcoming negotiations lawmakers are going to have to acknowledge their differences and use education and training to effectively regulate concealed carry.

“I’m very sympathetic to the people in Chicago and understand that they have a right to protect themselves just like the people in rural Illinois. But I’m also sensitive to the fact that the unemployment rate in Chicago is much greater than in rural areas. We don’t have the jobs; we have the closing of schools and a dropout rate that’s very high and a large number of people returning from state prisons. We have all these social ills and we have to deal with them.”

Jacqueline Muhammad can be reached at intern@illinoistimes.com.
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