When I touched down in DC for winter break this afternoon, my phone was flooded with texts about the elementary shooting at Sandy Hook earlier today. I couldn’t believe what I was reading—that a 24-year-old guy (my age!) decided to murder a bunch of children (who were, incidentally, the same age as my little brother). How sickening. How repulsive. My instinct, like many others, was “something must be done…this can never happen again.”
Unfortunately, this kind of mentality tends to sway in one direction: blame the guns, don’t blame the shooter. If there are no guns, no one will shoot anyone, right? Wrong. When guns are illegal, only criminals have access to firearms—the exact people we don’t want owning guns.
I live in a shady part of Chicago—on the border between Hyde Park and Washington Park. If I plug in my address to a crime map, someone has been assaulted on every single block around my apartment in the past year. When I first moved here, I bought pepper spray on the recommendation of a mentor. Why didn’t I buy a gun? At the time, concealed carry was illegal in Chicago. Soon after, I used the spray to defend my life while walking home alone late at night. The pepper spray that I carry in my right coat pocket or around my neck gives me comfort that I might get home safely. However, it is a reality here that only criminals own guns, because firearms are not allowed outside the home; my spray cannot stand up to a bullet.
That might all change though. This past week, a federal appeals court in Chicago tossed the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons and gave Illinois’ Legislature 180 days to craft a law legalizing concealed carry.
In areas like Hyde Park, concealed carry can have a dramatic positive effect on the neighborhood. Judge Posner recently wrote, “A Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of Park Tower. To confine the right to be armed to the home is to divorce the Second Amendment from the right of self-defense.” Having guns solely in the home here do little for personal protection. Many of the bad guys—the thieves, the rapists, the murderers, the gang members—already have access to and own guns through the black market, and they are out on the streets. It is time for the good guys to be able to protect themselves too.
In a strange way, there is a bit of a herd mentality when it comes to guns. Crime is likely to go down when criminals do not know who is packing and who isn’t, and a wallet is not worth a bullet to the chest. Regardless of if everyone buys a gun or if only a few do, it will make the entire community safer. At the time of my writing, I do not know if the shooter obtained his gun legally—to be honest, I don’t think it really matters; he is largely a statistical outlier. But in the processing of everyday interactions, in a bad neighborhood like mine, legalized guns are a good thing.
Unfortunately, this new legislation does not guarantee this reality. In the construction of legalized concealed carry, the state could continue making concealed carry next to impossible; if a permit costs thousands of dollars, then only the wealthy will be able to carry guns outside their homes.
The defense also has 180 days to appeal the decision, which would take the case to the Supreme Court. This victory has not been finalized. Ultimately, the ideal situation would involve lazy politicians copying another state’s concealed carry legislation. This way, the laws would not be delayed, and Chicagoans would quickly be able to defend themselves better than they can now.
Ultimately, yes, something should be done about Sandy Hook Elementary. But banning guns is not the answer. Instead, people should focus on the killer and ask, why? What do we, as a country, need to fix so that when people feel like they need to shoot up a school to solve their problems, they have somewhere to go and someone to talk to, without fear of stigmatization?
That is the question we should be asking.
Gina Luttrell has written previously on gun control which is particularly relevant to the topic today. Should this topic interest you, I recommend reading “And They Say We’d Have Less Violence Without Guns.”