Editorial: Potential victims are shooting back. This should raise alarms for Chicago public officials.

When a large slice of the public believes that crime is out of hand and most offenses go unpunished, some people inevitably take the law into their own hands.

Worryingly, we’re seeing more signs of that phenomenon in Chicago, with three separate episodes over the last weekend in which would-be victims proved to be both armed and willing to fire at their assailants. Four people who police said were attacking these concealed carry holders were shot and wounded, all of them critically, according to a report by Block Club Chicago.

The three incidents took place in various parts of the city. One was in Belmont Cragin on the Northwest Side at 11:30 p.m. Friday, where three assailants were shot by a man they attacked, according to police. All four were injured critically. Four hours later, at around 3:30 a.m. Saturday, a concealed carry holder fired at three men attempting to steal his car in the Irving Park neighborhood on the Northwest Side. Nobody was reported injured. Then, in the early hours of Sunday, another concealed carry licensee shot a 50-year-old man trying to break into his home in Chatham on the South Side, according to the report. The would-be burglar was transported to University of Chicago Medical Center in critical condition.

We’ve seen more of these cases since 2013 when Illinois first allowed people to carry guns in their cars or concealed on their person once they obtain a license to do so. The licenses cost $150 and require applicants to take a 16-hour course on how to use a gun. There are about 450,000 concealed carry license-holders in Illinois. That’s a lot of armed Illinoisans.

Here’s the situation: People who go through a relatively minimal process can legally defend themselves in their homes or even on the city streets with a gun. More and more of them are doing just that.

Some applaud, saying it’s a positive that more people aren’t accepting the risk of being victimized as the price of day-to-day life in Chicago. In addition, this line of argument goes, would-be criminals might think twice if more of them believed there was a good chance their targets could respond with deadly force. Perhaps.

But the majority of Chicagoans, we’re convinced, don’t feel any safer when they read stories of good-guy-with-a-gun responses to street crime. They may feel some satisfaction when street criminals feel the same level of fear their would-be victims do. But overall, it’s not a healthy environment in a city — where by definition people live close together — when gun-packing citizens become more the norm than the exception.

This is not to pass judgment on those who for their own protection go through the steps necessary to get a concealed carry permit and then take advantage of the legal rights that license gives them.

It is to say that it’s the job of the mayor, the Police Department, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, judges and all involved in the criminal justice system to make it so that those prone to crime feel there’s a decent chance they will be caught, prosecuted and punished if they commit those acts. For several years now, it’s fair to say, the risk-reward calculation has been far too heavily weighted toward the reward side for street criminals in Chicago.

Chicagoans considering whether to purchase a gun and get a license to carry and use it aren’t likely to be dissuaded from doing so when, for example, the Cook County state’s attorney says she favors simply not prosecuting those accused of gun offenses when illegal guns are discovered during a police stop of a car for a minor violation. They can be pardoned if the thought occurring to them when reading stories about that prosecutorial policy is that they better get a gun because those tasked with combating the scourge of illegal firearms say they won’t take action when they get the opportunity.

It would be unsurprising as well if residents mulling carrying a firearm for self-defense felt more convinced to go ahead and do so when they read that the mayor of Chicago disagrees with his police superintendent on continuing to employ ShotSpotter, the gunshot detection technology that enables faster police response to the scenes of shootings.

On social media accounts dedicated to public safety reporting, stories abound, too, of criminals victimizing people while on supervised release as they await charges for similar offenses.

Surely, it doesn’t help the narrative, either, when the Chicago Police Department has more than 1,000 openings for officers that it’s struggling to fill, in part because the job has become so controversial amid stark divisions within the city over the role of the police.

And, no, the statistics don’t show a significant decline in overall crime. While year-to-date homicides as of June 2 thankfully are down 15% from the same period last year, robbery, aggravated battery, burglary and theft remain at levels ranging from 20% to 77% higher than in 2021, according to the Chicago Police Department. Public safety fears are not all in people’s minds.

Surely, our public officials, no matter what side of the criminal-justice-reform divide they’re on, can agree that the growing risks of more ordinary citizens taking responsibility for their own safety at the point of a gun isn’t a healthy development. They ought to think of an ordinary Chicagoan, maybe right now mulling whether it’s a good idea to carry a firearm as they head to the store, and prove to them there is no need. For crime in this city won’t be allowed to pay.

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