Any serious effort to reduce gun violence in Chicago, especially homicides, needs to directly include voices of the shooters and illegal gun carriers, themselves. They are seldom included in serious discussions for solutions although they have special insights and are the main agents for change.
From 2002 to 2011, there were 4921 murder victims in Chicago, 3889 (79 percent) of them, shot. Handguns were used in 97 percent of the shootings. What do shooters and illegal gun carriers have to say about the guns that fill our streets?
During my many years of doing field research in some of Chicago's roughest neighborhoods, I have interviewed, hung out with, and mentored hundreds of shooters, illegal gun carriers, and other survivors of the city's mean streets in order to better understand the causes, effects, and solutions to violence. Here are a few voices from these survivors of Chicago's violent streets.
Why carry Illegal guns?
-“It is better to be judged by 12 than carried by eight to the cemetery...The catching comes before the hanging, and the catching may never happen:” W.A., former mob member turned rehab worker, Black male, age 60.
-“Better have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” O.L., former gang member turned college student and businessman, Hispanic, age 32.
-“Some people carry their gun to the bathroom in case someone breaks in while they are there.” T.K., drug dealer and student, White male, age 22.
-“Fear for your life, gang affiliation, drug dealing. I carried a gun because I was selling drugs; needed to protect my drugs. Things happen and people get killed. In the game, you never trust nobody,” T.J., former gang member and drug dealer, served over 15 years, Black male, age 52.
-“The dusties [age 60-70] carry because they scared... to be robbed by younger people, younger people carry because they scared they will be hurt by other young people.” W.A., former mob member turned rehab worker, Black male, age 60.
-“The older generation failed us. There is a war out there. It's life or death; kill or get killed; no body wants to die.” R.P., former hit man with one bullet still in leg, Black male, age 21.
- “Turf battle: you cross over and kill one of us, we kill one of you. Whoever gets caught in the crossfire, is a casualty.” D.O., recently served four years for drug dealing, Black male, age 25.
-“We women in certain situations certainly have a gun, because of fear.” A.R., former gang member turned City employee, Black female, age 45.
-"Living where I'm at, and walking down the street, and seeing what I see, for me to have no gun, that would be crazy:” D.I. former gang member and drug dealer, served over 18 years for murder, Black male, age 37.
-“You are taught to go out and have a gun, you are not taught to go out and call the police, and call 911." R.D., street hustler and burglary still healing from gunshot wound to chest, Black male, age 25.
- “Preachers sold out the community, politicians sold us out, police too corrupt. It is every male for himself to protect family: M.P., former drug dealer and hit male, Army veteran, turned youth advocate, Black male, age 32.
Where do the guns come from?
-“Mobs supply the pistols to protect their supplies. They say, 'Don't let people come and take our merch [merchandise]. This is what you protect it with,' and they give you a gun to protect the CDs [drugs].”W.A., former mob member turned rehab worker, Black male, age 60.
-“Pawn shops, crackheads, people that break into other people's houses.” T.B., active burglar, gang member, Hispanic male, age 23.
-“Mainly guns get taken from White people neighborhoods. They have lots of guns in the shoe box under they bed, in their cabinets, dresser near they beds, over the fireplace.” D.I. former gang member and drug dealer, served over 18 years for murder, Black male, age 37.
-"Police who are still gang bangers; they take guns off other gang members, and give them to you.” R.P., former hit man with 1 bullet still in leg, Black male, age 21.
-“Army, Navy, Marines—veterans who are still gang bangers. They have gun cards; they may be homeless or not, in a tight financial situation. Bam--they gone go ahead and let you get a gun and go do what you gonna do.” M.P., former drug dealer and hitman, Army veteran, turned youth advocate, Black male, age 32.
-“Some people who use drugs have guns they don't need, so they sell them.... to buy drugs. T.L., former street prostitute turned social worker, White female, age 38.
-“Outside of Chicago; any place without long waits for permit. We got maley from Mississippi.” T.J., former gang member and drug dealer, served over 15 years, Black male, age 52.
- “Anywhere where majority White folks live.” W.B., recently served six years for burglary and gun possession, White male, age 38.
Why are handguns so commonly used in murders?
-“Because you don't got to see the guy after you pull the trigger.” D.I. former gang member