- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2014

In Chicago’s South Side earlier this month, a 16-year-old boy was shot dead, the seventh person killed this year in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.

The boy was able to give his name and reportedly pleaded with the responding police officers, “Please don’t let me die.”

If you live in 60624, the ZIP code where the shooting took place, you don’t expect your streets to be safe. In the last 30 days, that neighborhood has recorded more homicides, robberies, assaults, thefts and narcotics charges combined than any other ZIP code in Cook County when measured on a per capita basis. Its population is 98 percent black and averages a median income just above the poverty line.

It also is one of the ZIP codes that registers the fewest active concealed carry firearms permits per capita in the county, according to concealed carry numbers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by The Washington Times.

Ditto for the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Englewood and West Englewood. Combined with West Garfield Park, out of their 114,933 total residents, only 193 concealed carry licenses have been issued — less than 0.17 percent of the population.

It’s a completely different story in affluent Palos Park, located in southwestern Cook County. The 60464 ZIP code boasts a negligible crime rate: Only one homicide has been committed in 10 years, according to the most recent state police data. Ninety-six percent of its residents are white, earning an average income of $121,000.

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It also has the most concealed carry licenses in Cook County this year, with 1.24 percent of its residents authorized to carry a gun.

The majority of Illinois’ 73,714 active concealed carry licenses — 90 percent — have been issued to white people, demographic data shows. Only eight percent of African-Americans have secured licenses, according to the FOIA information.

Within Cook County, the top five concealed carry ZIP codes per capita are all predominately white, middle class and are in areas that have low crime rates. However, the most violent neighborhoods within the county — all of which are on the South Side of Chicago — are predominately black, where residents earn less than $48,000 annually and hold the fewest concealed carry licenses as a percentage of the population.

If the same data trends occurred in banking and insurance, there might be outcries of “redlining,” denying a group of people access to goods or services because of the color of their skin or income levels. But there’s little public concern expressed so far about the possibility that poor blacks are being disenfranchised from the right to carry a concealed weapon.

“You really need to ask whether or not politicians are consciously trying to disarm certain groups of people,” said Dr. John Lott, a Second Amendment expert and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. “Why do they want a law that primarily disarms blacks and gives guns to only well-to-do whites? Don’t they think it should be equal for everyone to protect their lives?”

Illinois residents say the disproportionate statistics all boil down to cost. Of right-to-carry states, Illinois has the highest registration and training fee, costing an applicant about $650 on average for fingerprinting, taxes and logistics — excluding the price of the gun.

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“In these gangbang neighborhoods, people can’t afford the license. They’re making choices between food and medicine, and they can’t even guarantee they’ll get even that,” said Shawn Gowder, 49, who lives in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, where two homicides have taken place in the last 30 days. “We need to arm ourselves and protect ourselves from these gangbangers, but we just can’t afford to do it.”

Illinois also has the longest training requirements of right-to-carry states, requiring potential licensees to take a 16-hour course that includes range time. There are no gun ranges within the city of Chicago, and carrying an unlicensed gun on public transportation is a crime.

“There are a lot of systematic and economic barriers that make it difficult for South Side of Chicago residents, many of whom are African-American, to obtain concealed carry permits,” said George Mitchell, president of the NAACP Illinois State Conference. “Some of the barriers include the high costs, time commitment, bureaucracy and the community’s distrust of the police.”

Mr. Gowder is one of Auburn’s 292 residents who saved money to get a concealed carry permit as soon as the state began processing requests this January. As a U.S. veteran, Mr. Gowder values his right to carry but says the cost of obtaining a license in Chicago has prohibited his mother and girlfriend from doing the same, which he believes is vital to their safety.

The ACLU declined to comment for this story.

When Colorado passed its gun control law, there was an amendment that looked at exempting people below the poverty level from having to pay transfer fees to help make the cost of carrying a little more equitable, Mr. Lott said. It was unanimously voted down, he said.

Denials without explanation

In addition to the high price tag, Mr. Gowder attributes an uninformed public for the disparity in Cook County ownership. When a U.S. court struck down Illinois’ ban on concealed carry last year, most of his friends didn’t follow the news, and now they don’t know it’s legal for them to own and carry a firearm.

“It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the state. Chicago’s politicians aren’t even informing us this is an option,” said Mr. Gowder. “It’s people like me getting out the word. As soon as the criminals know more of us are armed, the crime rates will drop.”

Mr. Gowder, who is an African-American, asked Alderman Latasha R. Thomas to hold a precinct meeting to educate the population on their right to carry. She declined. Ms. Thomas didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Times.

Ms. Thomas’ reluctance is not surprising. Chicago politicians have long been against concealed carry, being of the mindset that more guns leads to more violence, no matter who is packing. And with Chicago being dubbed the “murder capital” last fall after it had more homicides than any other U.S. city in the FBI’s 2012 Crime Statistics release, politicians are even more sensitive to the issue.

When Illinois became the final state to allow its citizens to apply for concealed carry, it applied a loophole that allows local law enforcement to deny permits for any reason. The Cook County Sheriff’s office has said it would like to object to as many concealed carry applicants as it can worry about.

The county’s objections are then passed on to a seven-person state review board, which delays the process and can deny the license. So far the state board has denied more than 800 licenses without any explanation. The denials have prompted almost 200 Illinoisans to file lawsuits against the state police to try to get justification.

“The Cook County sheriff, if you ever had anything on your record ever, he will request a denial,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. “We have some guys getting denied for having a DWI, having to go to a few hours of rehab as part of their charge, and then having the sheriff come back and say that’s a mental disability and rule against them.”

Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart declined comment when contacted by The Times.

Sonny Brown, a retired part-time police officer who lives in Bellwood, 13 miles west from Chicago’s Inner Loop, admits the probability of being denied in Cook County is a deterrent to some in the inner cities who may want to legally obtain a license.

“Some people have a record, you know. It’s called driving while black,” said Mr. Brown, 66, who has applied for his license and is waiting on its approval. “The politicians don’t care if this saves lives or even consider the fact when concealed carry goes up, violent crime rates go down. All they want to do is stifle our Second Amendment rights.”

Not true, says State Senator Kwame Raoul, a South Side Democrat.

“I do appreciate law-abiding gun owners wanting to be able to protect themselves,” said Mr. Raoul. “However, the problem we have with gun violence happens with illegal transfers. [For] a large part perpetrators of violence are not people who legally own guns, but they are people who got their guns from people who legally obtained them.”

Part of the reason for the pricey concealed carry application fee is to cover the state cost associated with processing the licenses, doing background checks and setting up the infrastructure necessary to make sure private gun transfers are done legally, Mr. Raoul said.

Of the $150 fee, $20 dollars goes to the state to support mental health, $10 to state crime labs and $10 to the state’s firearm owner identification cards, which is required to purchase a gun and ammunition.

As for the belief that higher concealed carry lowers crime rates, Mr. Raoul isn’t so sure.

“People can pull out and manipulate statistics. I don’t know if it’s true or not,” said Mr. Raoul. “It just seems the more guns we have out there, the more accidents we’re likely to have, and the more illegal gun transfers there’ll be.”

• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

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