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High-crime and cop neighborhoods tops in concealed-carry permits

Otis McDonald — the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that overturned Chicago’s gun ban — would have been delighted that many of his neighbors now have permits to carry concealed weapons, according to his fellow gun advocates.

McDonald, who died of an illness last year at 80, was an African-American resident of Morgan Park on the Southwest Side. The onetime robbery victim was a vocal advocate of allowing law-abiding citizens to carry hidden weapons to protect themselves against criminals.

It appears many of his neighbors — and many other Chicago residents in safe and high-crime neighborhoods alike — agree with him.

A Chicago Sun-Times analysis of concealed-carry permits issued since 2013 shows the 60643 ZIP code where McDonald lived is ranked 23rd out of more than 1,300 ZIP codes across the state.

Ten of the top 50 ZIP codes in the state were in Chicago.

“This is what Otis McDonald was telling us before he passed away,” said Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Illinois. “People in his neighborhood and others were hungry for this but were denied by the political class.”

“He was saying, ‘The gangs have their guns; we want ours, too.’ ”

NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde. | Sun-Times file photo

NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde. | Sun-Times file photo

The General Assembly approved a concealed-carry law in 2013, making Illinois the last state to have one.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the Sun-Times obtained an Illinois State Police database of the 119,337 concealed-carry permits issued between Dec. 18, 2013, and June 6, 2015. The names of the people who received the permits and their addresses were removed because of privacy restrictions.

About 12 percent of the permits in Chicago were granted to women; the rest are men. Statewide, about 14 percent are women.

The state’s No. 1 ZIP code for concealed-carry permits is 62040 in Granite City in southwest Illinois. That city — just north of St. Louis and across the Mississippi River from embattled Ferguson, Missouri — is a steel town. Most of the residents are white, according to the U.S. census. There are 808 residents with permits there.

The top five ZIP codes for concealed-carry permits in Chicago include upper middle-class, safe and predominately white neighborhoods on the Southwest and Northwest Sides — but they also include high-crime, minority neighborhoods on the South and Southeast Sides, the Sun-Times analysis showed.

Chicago’s highest concentration of permits is in the 60617 ZIP code — in the East Side neighborhood on the city’s Southeast Side — with 538 permits. According to the census, about 55 percent of the residents in 60617 are black, 34 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent white.

Rounding out the top five: Dunning on the Northwest Side; Garfield Ridge near Midway Airport on the Southwest Side; Avalon Park and Chatham on the South Side, which share a ZIP code; and Auburn Gresham, also on the South Side.

Avalon Park, Chatham and Auburn Gresham are minority neighborhoods that have been plagued by gun violence like East Side. Dunning and Garfield Ridge are predominately white neighborhoods with large populations of Chicago Police officers and city workers. Crime is relatively low in those areas.

Vandermyde said the Chicago neighborhoods where lots of cops live, such as Dunning and Garfield Ridge, might have large concentrations of permits because retired police officers are getting them.

Retired cops can obtain a federal concealed-carry permit, but they must reapply every year. Illinois’ permit only requires recertification every five years, which may be more attractive to some retired cops, Vandermyde said.

Vandermyde also said it makes sense that lots of permit holders are in high-crime neighborhoods because they are preparing themselves to fend off attackers.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, the outspoken pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church in Auburn Gresham, said he was “saddened but not surprised” that his neighborhood was in the top five in Chicago in the number of permits issued to residents there.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger talks about fighting passage of the concealed carry law in Springfield during the legislative veto session on Nov. 26, 2012. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

The Rev. Michael Pfleger talks about fighting passage of the concealed carry law on Nov. 26, 2012. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

“It used to be that you would hear young brothers saying, ‘I need this [handgun] to be safe in my neighborhood.’ Now I am hearing more adults say it.”

Pfleger accused the National Rifle Association of “selling a lie” that “the only way we can be safe is to have your own gun.”

“Rather than deal with the realities to stop the violence, we play into the fear,” he said.

Pfleger said he unsuccessfully lobbied the late Cardinal Francis George to declare that churches in Chicago’s Roman Catholic archdiocese were “gun-free zones.”

“Cardinal George said he talked to priests who said they wanted concealed-carry permits,” Pfleger said. “That’s how crazy it is out here.”

He noted that the Roman Catholic archbishop of Atlanta recently banned guns in churches there. Pfleger said he sent Chicago’s new archbishop, Blase Cupich, a letter to point that out.

But Vandermyde, the NRA spokesman, said guns protect people from criminals — even in churches.

He pointed to Mary Shepard, who was beaten and left for dead in 2009 during a holdup in a church in Union County in southern Illinois. Shepard, a handgun owner at the time, has argued that she could have protected herself if she had been allowed to carry a concealed weapon then.

Shepard was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that forced the General Assembly to pass a concealed-carry law in 2013.

Vandermyde said there are lots of examples across the state of people with concealed-carry permits who have used their guns to protect themselves.

He noted that an Uber driver, who was a concealed-carry permit holder, shot and wounded a man who allegedly fired at a group of people on a sidewalk in Logan Square on April 18. Cook County prosecutors have said the driver was acting in self-defense and came to the defense of the other people.

But there’s also the example of the Uber driver — another concealed-carry permit holder — who is charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm because he allegedly fired a gun at his passengers on June 6 after one of them threw a rock at his vehicle in Rolling Meadows.

Despite that case, Vandermyde insisted most concealed-carry holders are law-abiding citizens.

“Everything hasn’t turned into the O.K. Corral,” he said. “It’s not the Wild West that a lot of politicians thought it would be.”