Annette Nance-Holt was in the minority.
She was among a handful of people to speak out against carrying a concealed handgun during a town hall meeting on the issue hosted by state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th), who represents portions of Riverside and North Riverside, on Aug. 31 on Chicago’s West Side.
Nance-Holt has good reasons. She lost her 16-year-old son, Blair, to gun violence four years ago when a teen fired shots into a crowded Chicago Transit Authority bus. Blair was killed while four others were wounded in May 2007. She said greater access to guns does not equal increase in safety.
“Had everyone had a gun on the bus that day, there would have been a whole lot more people dead besides my son,” Nance-Holt said. “So I understand that people are scared … but I lost everything, and I still don’t want a gun.”
But after the meeting Ford appeared to be leaning toward favoring a law allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns. A bill in the Illinois General Assembly that allowed individuals to carry concealed firearms was defeated in May, but more than likely will resurface in the fall session.
“Right now, all we hear is what the lobbyists want in Springfield,” said Ford, who voted “present” on the bill. “We don’t get the real consensus of the community. For the most part, I hear the community say they want conceal and carry.”
Ford’s town hall meeting, held at a banquet facility on Chicago’s West Side, drew more than 200 people – the majority of whom supported carrying a concealed firearm for self-protection.
Panelists in favor of conceal-and-carry, including members from the National Rile Association (NRA) and the Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA), centered their arguments on several Supreme Court cases, including McDonald v. Chicago. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution’s Second Amendment applied to states and local governments. That June 2010 ruling struck down Chicago’s 1982 handgun ban and Oak Park’s 1984 ban.
The NRA’s Todd Vandermyde explained that the “context” in many of these court cases guarantees “individuals’ right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”
That right goes beyond the “borders” of someone’s home or place of business, Vandermyde insisted, noting that Illinois is the only state that does not have a conceal-and-carry law while 49 others have some version of it.
The rationale that arming citizens with firearms would create more violence is flawed, added Colleen Lawson, a plaintiff in the McDonald v. Chicago case. Crime, she noted is also committed by knives, fist and feet and those victims are just as injured or dead.
“We are the only state in the entire country where criminals are guaranteed a legally disarmed victim on the streets,” she said, adding that city aldermen are allowed to carry handguns. “These are the same people telling you that it is not a good idea.”
Garret Evans, a panelist, however, disagreed. Evans still has a mangled bullet in his leg that serves as a reminder of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting where a semi-automatic handgun left 33 dead.
Evans said nothing good comes from having more firearms on the streets. Instead he wishes for programs to curtail gun violence, which he said is no longer a West or South side phenomena tied to urban issues like drugs.
“We are having shootings all over the place and look at the reasons – spousal issues, no job, no money, no car,” Evans said.
Those opposing conceal-and-carry say gun violence stems from lax gun laws that allow criminals to have easy access to guns. They urged stricter gun control laws that could title guns similar to how cars are registered to owners. They also want identification numbers etched on bullets to better track purchases.
But Tom Vander Berk, of the Illinois Brady Campaign, called conceal-and-carry a “slippery slope” without safeguards ensuring guns don’t end up in the wrong peoples hands. Vander Berk lost his 15-year-old son to gun violence 19 years ago.
“We diverted a disaster and we need to continue to do that until a responsible system is in place.”