Conversations about gun regulations have been top of mind lately as the country, including the Chicago region, experience ongoing gun violence.
This comes as a new law will take effect soon in Indiana that some fear will make the availability of guns even easier — in the Hoosier state and in Illinois.
On recent weekends in Chicago, police brace for the potential of another cycle of gun violence. The ongoing deadly shootings have put pressure on elected officials and law enforcement to respond.
But it’s not only in Chicago.
Across the state line in Northwest Indiana, two people were shot outside of Railcats Stadium in Gary following a graduation ceremony for West Side Leadership Academy on June 5.
Growing incidents of gun violence in Indiana, especially in Indianapolis, which experienced record-setting homicides for the second consecutive year in 2021, is why some feel the need to protect themselves with their own weapons.
People like Joe — who declined to provide his last name — who attended a gun show at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Crown Point recently.
“I see a lot of crime out there and no one’s paying attention to it. I think you need to protect yourself. It shouldn’t be someone telling me I’m allowed to protect myself,” Joe said. “It should be my decision, my right, my freedom.”
And that’s the argument Republican lawmakers in Indiana used earlier this year when they repealed the state’s requirement for a permit to carry a handgun in public. Come July 1, no one 18 years or older will have to apply for such a permit. That’s as long as they’re not a felon, under indictment or have serious mental health issues.
“Licenses, they don’t stop a bad person from doing bad things,” said Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas, one of the sponsors of the bill. “The only thing a license does is just infringes upon the rights and makes it more difficult for a law-abiding person to lawfully carry a handgun. People that do obey gun laws are made easy victims for people that don’t obey gun laws.”
At the gun show, everything from pistols, rifles and ammunition was on display. Even the AR-15, the semi-automatic rifle used in last month’s deadly shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was prominently showcased despite renewed calls to ban the weapon.
Mark Jordan, of far south suburban Bourbonnais, Illinois, attended the show. He said Indiana’s new permitless law is a good one. As for gun violence in Chicago, he puts the responsibility on Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“Lightfoot does not take blame for anything, like talking about Indiana’s lax gun laws? No, they’re all stolen,” Jordan said. “I don’t have a problem with it. As long as the right people are carrying them.”
But determining who are the right people and who are not will be made more difficult for Indiana law enforcement agencies and prosecutors after July 1.
“Most police departments and FOPs were against this bill because they know it’s violence,” said longtime Lake County, Indiana Prosecutor Bernard Carter.
His jurisdiction includes Gary, a city that also struggles with gun violence.
The new law means prosecutors in Indiana will no longer be able to charge someone with possession of a handgun without a permit, a useful tool to keep guns away from those who shouldn’t have them.
“From an investigative standpoint, that helps the police officers with probable cause,” Carter said. “It helps them with going even further as far as a search incident to arrest, finding drugs, now you won’t be able to do that.”
He worries that guns will end up in the wrong hands since applying for a permit came with built-in safeguards.
“The unfortunate part of it is there’s no screening process of who can carry a gun to the level that we need,” Carter said. “Mentally ill people, people who have some type of domestic violence going on, some of these things are going to not be detected soon enough to have a preventative measure. You’re putting all these individuals out there with guns without knowing who that individual is with that gun, I think is going to hurt us all.”
There is also concern on the Illinois side of the state line.
Historically, Indiana has been a major source of illegal guns into Illinois — mostly from gun shops and even from gun shows, according to data from the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab.
“We’ve never had more guns on the streets as we do now,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. “We get a disproportionate amount of them coming over from Indiana.”
So far this year, more than 20% of the 356 guns recovered in local crimes have been traced to Indiana, according to Dart’s office.
Indiana has reciprocity agreements that allow Hoosiers to transport their guns into many other states — but not in the Land of Lincoln.
“We don’t allow that in Illinois,” Dart said.
Dart adds he’s not surprised Indiana lawmakers did not consider the law’s impact on Illinois since they also ignored the concerns of some of their own law enforcement groups — including the head of the State Police.
“For the people who passed this bill, this is what appealed to their constituents, for whatever reason. So they did it,” Dart said. “The concerns of law enforcement were not high on their list of concerns. If there was a bill like this that was brought here in Illinois, I would have opposed it too.”
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince said the new law opens the door to more guns on the streets.
“I fully understand the concern of many people to protect Second Amendment rights, but I am against any law that allows anyone to carry firearms without the requirement of a permit,” Prince said. “The permit is more than a piece of paper. It’s an important record that documents the responsibility and accountability of the person carrying a firearm.”
Prosecutor Bernard Carter believes there’s no doubt that more guns will likely end up on the streets because of the permitless carry law. That may force law-abiding citizens, even himself, to rethink their own safety.
“I’ve never carried a gun and I go everywhere in Lake County, Gary. I was thinking in the back of my mind, should I start carrying a gun? I think it will cross the average citizen’s mind also,” Carter said.