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Chicago Students Talk About Gun Violence

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Chicago Students Talk About Gun Violence

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh/file)

It’s been a violent year, and so far a violent summer for Chicago Public School students. A lot of adults—politicians, school principals, ministers—are talking about kids and guns. We wanted to know what kids have to say. We surveyed nearly 400 Chicago public high school students and talked with them about what they know about guns, where to get them, and how they survive the violence that’s so much a part of their everyday lives.

View the

survey that students completed about gun violence in their community. [pdf]

Tewnty-three Chicago Public School students were killed during the past school year and another three have died in the first few weeks of summer break. On one of the last days of the semester I went to a school on the South Side and talked to students in a large art classroom. Students from the class next door also joined in the discussion. Out of the 43 kids crowded onto chairs and tables around the room, more than half said they knew someone who had been killed by gun violence.

SOT: My Friends mother got shot by a gun while she was walking down the street. They said she was a prostitute and that she owed some people some money but me knowing her personally, I would never thought that.
My friend...they just said they found him in the garbage can, shot like three times in the back of the head. I don’t know what happened, but they just said he was dead.
Me, I was actual a witness to a shooting. I was at my best friend’s house and dudes ran in the house and we hid. And they found her and I watching them terrorize her, asking her questions about her father and then they shot her twice in her chest, and I ran out to try to comfort her, stop her from bleeding, but I couldn’t so I called the ambulance and two days later, she was dead.

All of these kids are 14, 15, 16 years old. And what’s so striking is that they don’t have to reach back very far to come up with these stories.

SOT: This was around February.

Kids come from all over the city to attend this school which has a pretty good reputation. And the students seem pretty serious about their studies. Several begin working on projects before class even begins and one offers to help the teacher clean off desks.

They don’t act like gang members looking for violence, violence just finds them. And while they’d like to see the problem solved they’re not about to cooperate with police to make that happen.

SOT: I wouldn’t tell because they type of stuff, it gets around quick. When their people find out they’re locked up because of you, they’re gonna come after you.
You wanna live them you don’t tell anything.

In addition to talking with students we surveyed them. Three-hundred and 75 Chicago Public School students from four high schools in different parts of the city filled out questionnaires about guns and violence. Four percent reported that they currently owned a gun and 8 percent said they had previously owned one. Forty-one percent said they had a friend with a gun and half of the kids said they could get one if they wanted to. One student wrote that he would quote, “talk to a man named Duck who stays around the corner.” And buying a gun comes up in everyday conversation.

SOT: I live by FP, that’s Foster Park and these boys they just talk guns, girls, anything you think boys talk about and we sit around chillin, me and my girls or boys and whatever, and they, ‘I got this new 44, you all wanna buy it? I can get you any kind of gun you want, any finish you want. They talk about how they want the silver, stuff like that. If you just tell them you have money, you can get a gun.
How I found out how I can do this, yeah it’s really easy. I’m like walking down the street with some friends, and so one of them starts to talk to this dude but then the gun was brought up, and yeah it was easy as that. Yeah, that’s how I meant to do it anyway.
Basically you can just ask around and they’ll tell you where to go.

In fact it’s so easy that guns are literally laying around in the streets. Several students said they’d found guns in alleys shortly after a shooting had occurred in the neighborhood.

SOT: It’s like around my house, it’s like these train tracks, I stay at 122nd, and I was going to my cousin’s house, she stays on the other side of the tracks and we looked because we usually leave something over there, like a stick or something in case we have to get into with somebody, and we looked and there was a gun right there, and my cousin was fittin to pick it up, and I was like, ‘Don’t touch that because you don’t know what happened, what they did with that gun.’

A quarter of the students who participated in our written survey said, not only could they get a gun, but it would be easy to do so. And a hundred and twenty kids, or 33 percent, said someone at school could help them.


Special thanks to Becky Schlickerman who compiled the data for this report.

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