Mayor Richard M. Daley was right: guns and cities are a dangerous combination.
I learned how right he was, however, as I visited a city where, it seemed, everyone I talked to owned a gun. Unlike Chicago, Flint, Michigan always allowed residents to own handguns. And it’s in a state that permits conceal carry. As mayor, Daley supported laws against handgun ownership and conceal carry.
“I have a gun,” said one woman, whose name I won’t reveal, for her own safety. “I have to arm myself. I can’t have someone coming up on me. I don’t want to shoot somebody. I don’t carry so people think I’m bad. I want to protect myself.”
Not long ago, another gun owner shot up the house two doors down from where this woman lives. Shot up his car, too. In the woman’s neighborhood, it’s not unusual to hear gunfire at four in the morning.
A Baptist minister who helped bring the CeaseFire anti-violence program to the city was not shy about telling me he has a permit for a concealed weapon.
“I believe in the Second Amendment right to protect myself,” he said. “We need to get the guns out of the hands of the illegal owners.”
In Flint, it's hard to make the case that liberal gun laws and a well-armed populace have made it a secure place to live. Last year, the impoverished city, which has lost more than 70,000 auto industry jobs, laid off a third of its police force. Homicides jumped from 36 to 66, breaking a record set in 1986, when Flint had nearly twice as many people as its current population of 102,000. Flint is the deadliest city in America, with a murder rate four times as high as Chicago’s. Some killings were in self-defense: an elderly woman shot a teenage boy who broke into her home. But most were drive-by shootings, robberies and drug murders.
Residents say the understaffed police force takes 50 minutes to respond to a shooting. Which inspires people to take law enforcement into their own hands.
“If you know no one’s going to show up for 50 minutes, that’s plenty of time to get away,” a young African-American man told me. “I’ve got a Glock in my house. If they’re not going to have my back, I’ve got to have my own.”
The citizenry and the criminals are engaged in an arms race that’s filling the morgue with corpses. The Detroit News compared Flint’s lawlessness to the Wild West. Another Baptist minister joined the CeaseFire program after two of his sons were murdered.
“At this point in time, everybody knows somebody who’s been killed, unfortunately, by violence,” Pastor Jeffery Hawkins said. “Members of my congregation have loved ones who’ve been murdered.”
It may feel necessary to own a gun in Flint. But guns haven’t made Flint safer. Certainly not as safe as Chicago, where, until recently, residents weren't allowed to own handguns at all.
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