The decision to carry a concealed gun is personal — and it’s a topic that can be pretty uncomfortable to bring up in a city shaken by gun violence.
Especially if you’re a Chicago politician.
“Do I look like I’m packing?” Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th Ward) quipped before a recent City Council meeting, her eyes widening at the question.
WBEZ asked every one of Chicago’s 50 aldermen if they carry a concealed weapon, as part of a project on Chicago violence that looks at who picks up a gun and why.
The members of the City Council all share the experience of having their private lives and their public service intersect in a city threatened by violence. Historically, this particular legislative body has fought against gun use. The city had a controversial handgun ban from 1982 until it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. Even when there was a ban, aldermen were allowed to carry guns.
But in interviews with WBEZ, many aldermen said the conversations about whether to own a firearm are happening in the privacy of their own homes, with constituents or with friends.
Many aldermen, like Laurino, laughed at the question. Others responded with a joke — one alderman said her heels were registered with the police department. Ald. Willie Cochran (20th Ward) said he wasn’t able to carry a gun at the moment — “Remember? I’m under indictment” — but he said he does carry a knife.
Forty-three aldermen told WBEZ they do not carry a concealed weapon, though six of those aldermen said they were seriously considering it. One alderman, Nick Sposato (38th Ward), said he’d likely be getting one “soon.”
Since Illinois keeps concealed carry names private, it’s impossible to fact check the aldermen’s responses. Because of personal safety concerns voiced by several aldermen, WBEZ agreed not to disclose the names with the responses unless they agreed to speak publicly about it.
WBEZ conducted the first round of interviews with all 50 aldermen in the weeks and months before an Illinois man shot at several people, including a U.S. congressman,at a baseball practice in Virginia. Many aldermen contacted afterward said no shooting, including one involving an elected official, would change their stance on whether to carry a concealed weapon. However, some who were already considering it said the Virginia shooting made them feel more strongly that they should carry.
“I think we should think about how to protect ourselves,” said Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward), adding that he “definitely” wants to carry a gun, he just hasn’t had the time yet to file all the correct paperwork.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer
Sawyer said he isn’t sure why talking about carrying a gun is taboo. The alderman said he carries one, as does almost everyone who works in his ward office in the city’s Chatham neighborhood. Sawyer said his choice to carry is about protecting himself on the walk from his car to his South Side house at night. Sawyer said he doesn’t want everyone to walk around “strapped, waiting for something to happen,” and he doesn’t want to ever have to pull out his gun. But, he said, since it is legal, he thinks people who are capable should carry.
Sawyer: “You hear about things that are happening in neighborhoods all over the city, not just South and West Side — North Side, it’s happening everywhere. It’s really those ‘gotcha’ moments where people just thinking they’re secure, whether it’s in Lincoln Park or Wicker Park, Chatham or Englewood, you’re coming home and then someone’s gotcha, you know, and they’ve got the drop on you. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
WBEZ: Do you feel conflicted telling people like, drop the gun or don’t use a gun now that you have one?
Sawyer: “I tell [them] just the opposite. I tell people that if they’re law abiding citizens, they have a constitutional right to carry a gun, provided that you go through the proper classes and training to possess a firearm. I mean, I talk to my seniors about it as well, and a lot of my seniors do carry firearms, you know, legally or otherwise.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston
Hairston represents an area of the South Side hit hard by gun violence. Just a few months ago, a retaliatory shooting happened down the block from her office. During conversations about gun ownership and personal protection, Hairston reflected on sticky situations she’d been in with aggressive protestors or constituents.
Hairston: “Surely there is a more aggressive society out there. I see them more aggressive toward women elected officials than I do the men.”
“The easiest thing would be for me to get a gun. The other thing is, I know me, and I would not be afraid to use it. And, you know, I don’t know what it would be like living with those consequences … I’ve really thought about it. Thought a lot harder than I ever have before. But, I can’t say out of one side that violence is not the answer and then turn around and, you know, be root ‘em toot ‘em cowboy.”
Ald. Anthony Napolitano
Napolitano, a former police officer and a firefighter, called himself a “Second Amendment guy.” He said what he likes best about living on the Northwest Side is that his residents — many of them city employees — all look out for one another. For years, Napolitano carried a weapon as part of his work, but now he said he locks his gun in his safe at home because he wasn’t sure what the rules were regarding politicians and guns.
WBEZ: Is it weird for you to not carry [a gun] since all of your other previous jobs you were carrying?
Napolitano: “It is strange, it is, because you know what: I’ve grown up in a police family. Everybody I know is a cop, and the gun was always on the hip or in the waistband or underneath the cabinet at home where my dad and my brothers and uncles kept it. And then once I got my first big job with the department at 24 years old, with a gun on my hip, proudest, proudest kid in the world. And then for I think it was 15 years I had that gun with me. And I got three babies and a wife I love and, you know, Chicago’s a scary place.”
Ald. Ray Lopez
Lopez has a bodyguard following him around. It wasn’t entirely by choice — it came recommended by the police department. After 10 people were shot, two fatally, in a gang shooting in Brighton Park last month, Lopez said he was thankful no “innocent lives” were lost, seeming to downplay the value of the gang members who were killed. A few days later, police officers arrived at his office to tell him their gang units had heard of “credible” threats against Lopez. Like many aldermen, he said he’s on the fence about whether he should carry a gun.
Lopez: “I can’t picture myself going to a block party with a weapon strapped to my side and I’m trying to tell children, you know, ‘How’s it going,’ or talk to seniors. I know all eyes would be on the weapon …. But I know when the detail goes, and when life somewhat goes back to normal, whether or not I choose to carry a weapon will have to be a discussion that I continue to have.”
This story is part of WBEZ's Every Other Hour project. Find more stories here.
Criminal justice reporting and investigative journalism at WBEZ is supported in part by Doris and Howard Conant, The Joyce Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.