By Paul Helmke
Gun violence in Chicago is boiling. Toddlers are being shot. The number of homicides in Chicago this year is only slightly below the number of our military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. And now two Illinois state legislators say the answer may be to bring in the National Guard.
As a former Mayor, I know cities need all the help they can get in fighting crime, but do we want to concede that it’s time for military intervention? Still, this suggestion is worthy of debate – not because it would be a sensible solution, but because it helps focus attention on how desperate the need is in too many parts of our country to do something now about the shootings, the injuries and the deaths.
One of the problems with this proposal to bring in armed troops to deal with an armed population of criminals is its potential to make a bad situation worse. In a way, it’s not much different from what the gun pushers keep telling us. They say the problem is not that the bad guys have guns, it’s that not enough good guys with guns are countering them. But do we really want to be like Baghdad circa 2005? More guns in more places leads to more gun violence – whether accidental, unplanned, or intentional.
But cowardice in the face of the gun lobby drives elected officials to push more guns into more places, and even leads a company like Starbucks to allow guns in its stores. Alarmingly, the Starbucks officials say one of the reasons they’re for it is they don’t want their employees to have to ask customers with guns to leave – after all, those customers are armed.
So what we’re being told, either by elected officials or private sector officials, is that we don’t want to do things to restrict access to guns or where guns are taken, because we don’t have the guts to upset the people with lots of guns. We just try to stack the deck and “escalate the conflict” by trying to get more “good guys” (who we hope won’t make mistakes) with guns in our communities to counter the “bad guys” with guns.
Instead of conceding defeat, let’s take steps to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons. That’s the proactive approach. That’s the courageous approach.
If we stopped the illegal trafficking in guns, and strengthened the ability of law enforcement officials to prevent shootings before they happened, then we wouldn’t have to be talking about calling in the National Guard.
Unless we wise up now and do the work needed to prevent a rise in gun violence, then this National Guard suggestion may be a glimpse forward into the future, when troops in our cities are the only option decision makers will think they have for dealing with 20-month-old children dying from gunshots.