Chicago and the state of Illinois have seen gun-control measures thrown out by federal courts, most recently this month when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a ban on carrying concealed firearms. City Council member Joe Moore said there is only so much that local authorities can do.
“Obviously, we’ve got a problem. Gun violence is way too high in Chicago,” said Moore, whose district lies on the quieter North Side. “Sensible gun regulations really have to be done on a national level. Because guns are so transportable, you can’t rely on cities or even states to carry the burden.”
Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, says gun violence should be seen not just as a crime but as a public health scourge. In addition to doing “a lot more to stop the flow of illegal guns coming into the city,” he said, authorities should pay more attention to mental health and help the most vulnerable young people.
“You have to address the thinking,” Hardiman said.
Bullets flew Nov. 26 on the South Side as the first mourners stepped outside St. Columbanus Catholic Church, where as many as 500 people had gathered to lament the death of a reputed gang member. Two young men were hit. One died.
Police said both were foot soldiers in the Gangster Disciples who had come to church to bid farewell to their late comrade. In a gang war that benefits only funeral directors and gravediggers, it seemed fitting that St. Columbanus was once the home church of Al Capone’s wife and his mother.
On the sidewalk outside St. Columbanus this week, not 10 minutes from where Obama gave his 2007 gun violence speech, Larry Steele talked about three splintered gangs fighting to control neighborhood street corners. These are the Chicago street corners Obama mentioned at his election victory rally Nov. 6 and again in his post-Newtown remarks from the White House.
Steele, a contractor, has seen violence aplenty during his 54 years on the South Side, but “there was never anything like this. It’s just a sad thing to see. The people don’t come together, and everyone’s fighting for something they can’t have. The street corners. The corners don’t belong to them.”
In the Park Manor neighborhood that should be safe, Steele said, residents are sometimes afraid to walk through a group of loitering young men, because they fear getting caught in a drive-by shooting.
“The guns are used to mark their territory. I guess it’s block by block,” said Steele, who has watched Chicago police staking out gang funerals and believes tougher gun penalties would help. “A lot of guys do time like a piece of cake. . . . They go into the system and come right out.”
A few blocks away, near the corner of East 75th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Ron Smith sees the young men and their guns as they pass in front of his window at League Styles Barber Shop. “They all have ’em,” he said.
Smith says arming even more people to stop the young gunmen sounds promising but would probably be pointless: “It would turn into the wild, wild West. Wyatt Earp.”
“At this point, it’s about reaching the kids that can be reached. Trying to help them achieve something,” Smith said, adding that Obama and the federal government could help in a time of debilitating city and state budget deficits. “If they had more programs for the youth, more things for them to get involved in, they wouldn’t be out here on the streets doing what they’re doing.”