I wrote last week about Governor Pat Quinn’s press conference with the Illinois Anti-Violence Commission. As it turns out this may have been the critical moment in the stand against H.B. 148 due to the Commission’s unanimous decision to oppose the legislation combined with the Governor’s public declaration that he would veto the vote should it come to his desk. As of last Thursday, the bill had been officially put on “postpone consideration” (a parliamentary procedure similar to legislative life-support). This means that H.B. 148 is down but not out. Continued vigilance against this bill and other ill-conceived gun legislation will be an essential component of making our cities safer.
Many Commission members offered testimony at the press conference last Tuesday. One of the most inspiring and pointed was the short but well-edged words shared by Rev. Phil Blackwell of First United Methodist (Chicago Temple). Rev. Blackwell is a long-time SCUPE collaborator, member of the National Planning Committee for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry, and pastor to at least one of us SCUPE staffers. The witness of Rev. Blackwell and others may not have gotten a ton of play in the local and state news but their perspectives certainly deserve our ears (there are scant audio snippets here). With Rev. Blackwell’s permission I am pleased to post the entirety of his comments in front of the big cameras:
House Bill 148, the “Family and Personal Protection Act,” is illegitimately named. Permitting every citizen of the state of Illinois 21 or older to carry a concealed, loaded gun, with a few modest exceptions, would make us more vulnerable, not safer.
It does not take researchers at Harvard University to tell us, but, in fact, they have, that in homes, cities, and states where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide. It simply is common sense, though the truth is that most gun deaths are not homicides but about 65% are suicides. And for children in homes with guns, the rate of death by gunshot, especially suicide or by accident, is enormous when compared to children in gun-free households. On the streets of this city the danger is obvious, with 21 shootings just last Friday and Saturday.
We who lead religious communities see the impact of this violence since we are in the neighborhoods seven days a week – on the streets, in the shops, involved in peoples’ lives, often people in desperate situations. So, now we are alarmed that there are people in the Illinois legislature who want to increase the presence of guns in our society by allowing people to carry them hidden and loaded wherever they go. They say it will make us safer; the facts say otherwise. The National Academy of Science says that there is no evidence that right-to-carry laws have an impact positively or negatively on the rate of violent crime. A 2009 study (Branas, et. al.) concludes that actually carrying a loaded gun makes us much more vulnerable to violence. “Individuals in possession of a gun at the time of an assault are 4.46 times more likely to be shot in the assault than persons not in possession.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, as House Bill 148 states, that the Constitution guarantees “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” Personally, I think that is a fanciful reading of the Constitution, each citizen being his or her own militia. But even if it were the individual’s right, it would be the wrong thing to do. It increases the chance of being shot; it does not reduce it.
America has a fixation on guns unmatched anywhere else in the world. We have this fantasy of the rugged gun-toting individual making things safer for all. It is an enchanting image, but it is a lie. The truth is that more people kill family members with guns and themselves with guns than protect themselves against an armed adversary.
I suspect at the heart of House Bill 148 is money. There is big money in the manufacture, sale, and re-sale of guns. There is big political money in the campaign contributions from the gun lobby, most lucratively from the NRA. There is big money in fear; fear always sells. But I call on members of the House of Representatives not to be afraid of big money, even if it is gun-slinging money. Carrying guns on the streets, on our highways, into our schools, into the corner bar, into the diner, to our kids’ ball games, to the theater, to work, to the day care center, to the gym, and to the church. The only exception in the current draft of the bill is the library; you could not carry a gun into a library, not even with a silencer. Carrying concealed weapons will make this a more dangerous place to live, not a safer one. It will not protect either us or our families, both the facts and common sense say so.
Philip L. Blackwell
First United Methodist Church
at the Chicago Temple