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1 in 3 young people surveyed in four Chicago neighborhoods say they carry a gun

Sun-Times file photo

A new study tries to shed light on why some young people choose to carry guns in four neighborhoods on the South and West sides.

For the study titled “We Carry Guns to Stay Safe,” 345 people, age 18 to 26, were surveyed in the North Lawndale, Auburn Gresham, Englewood and Austin neighborhoods – areas with lots of shootings. A third of them said they carry a gun for protection.

“What is a really interesting finding is the nexus between gun carrying and victimization,” said Jocelyn Fontaine, a senior research fellow at the Urban Institute and co-author of the study.

In addition to one in three saying they carry a gun, the survey also found that of those who carry a gun, more than one-third also reported being shot — or shot at — recently. That’s about 11 percent of everyone surveyed.

The Urban Institute conducted the study with funding from the Joyce Foundation.

The report didn’t pinpoint cause and effect — that is, if carrying a gun makes someone more likely to become a victim, or if being victimized means someone is more likely to carry a gun.

It did show that men who were victims of gun violence within the last year were three times as likely to report carrying a gun as those who had not been victims.

And those who carry guns think there is little chance of being caught by police for illegally possessing or selling a firearm — or even for shooting at someone.

Wesley Skogan, a Northwestern University professor who researches crime policy, said that perception stems from the low rate at which murders are solved.

“Your risk of being shot by someone else is greater than your risks of being caught by police,” Skogan said. “If you think somebody is coming after you, you shoot them first because there isn’t going to be any justice afterward if you’re shot.”

Lamar Johnson helps run the youth violence prevention program at St. Sabina Church – one of four community partners in the study.

“You can’t just make a judgment without understanding the context behind those findings,” Johnson said.

“It is a reflection of the trauma that we are experiencing every day,” he added. “People don’t have hope that crimes will get solved or that detectives will solve a case. … That hopelessness is not an unfair assessment and is very accurate when you look at how often police are solving crimes.”

In 2017, 17.5 percent of murders were solved; that’s the worst clearance rate in recent Chicago history, and that rate has been declining for decades. Police touted a clearance rate of 60 percent in the early 1990s, but by 2000, that rate had declined to 41 percent. Since 2010, the same-year solve rate for murders has fallen from 30 percent to its current rate.

Fontaine believes the best way to keep young adults from carrying guns is for police to work with community-based groups and others in a neighborhood; officers must earn their trust.

“The whole idea of this is not to just collect data and come up with some percentages, but rather to help inform policy and practices,” she said.

Those surveyed were chosen from people deemed to be “at risk” — such as by living near areas where shootings occur.

Researchers and their community partners will discuss the study Thursday at Build Coffee, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. as part of City Bureau’s Public Newsroom series. Build Coffee is at 6100 S. Blackstone Ave.