Take Two: Bloomberg’s The Trace, Race, Crime, and Concealed Carry in Chicago

I should have been more critical when I saw a recent item about African American’s and concealed handgun permits in Illinois that was promoted by Bloomberg’s The Trace gun violence reporting site.

I should have been more critical but the idea that there are alot of African Americans in high crime neighborhoods in Chicago who have concealed handgun permits resonated with me. It made sense because I have been reading Jennifer Carlson’s book about gun carry in Detroit. Among other things, Carlson finds African Americans to be more likely to have concealed carry permits than whites in her area of study.

Keith Hearn has a license to carry a gun but says he was arrested for it last year. Chicago police finally realized he had it legally and freed him, he said. (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)
Keith Hearn of Chicago has an Illinois concealed handgun permit (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-concealed-carry-one-year-met-20150203-story.html#page=1) (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

Since The Trace’s initial item ran, two writers for Armed with Reason (now seemingly incorporated into The Trace) stepped in to clarify that the Chicago Sun-Times’ original reporting was based on the raw number of permits issued in various zip codes. But, of course, what we usually want to know is not the raw number, but the per capita rate of permit holding. And when we look at permits per capita, a very different story emerges.

As Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes write in The Trace, “For example, the report claimed the zip code 60643 — the former home of Otis McDonald, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that forced Illinois to allow concealed carry — ranks No. 23 among some 1,400 Illinois zip codes for permit carriers. But when you consider that the 60643 zip code is among the most populous in the state, it actually ranks No. 989.”

Chicago Violence

Thinking about it now, it makes good sense that people in the highest crime neighborhoods are not as likely to have carry permits as those in low crime neighborhoods. Not because of any “more guns, less crime” argument, but because of the economics and process of permitting in Illinois. As I have written previously, the concealed handgun permit in Illinois is one of the most expensive in the country (perhaps THE most expensive) and time consuming to receive. A permit costs $150 for 5 years, plus the cost of fingerprinting, plus the mandatory 16 hour training course (with the possibility of extra expense for range fees and ammunition). In addition, because the training has a live fire component, a person might need to travel some distance to meet the requirements.

Clearly all of these requirements of the Illinois permit put the biggest burden on those with the fewest resources. And because those who live in high crime neighborhoods also tend to be low income, they are penalized all the more.

Michael Thomas with his gun at his home on the south side of Chicago, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Michael Thomas has sued the Illinois State Police for denying his application for a concealed carry license without giving a reason why. (Alex Garcia / Chicago Tribune)
Michael Thomas has sued the Illinois State Police for denying his application for a concealed carry license without giving a reason why. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-concealed-carry-rejection-20140706-story.html#page=1) (Alex Garcia / Chicago Tribune)

Moreover, there have been some questionable denials of applications for permits in Illinois. For example, South Side Chicago resident Michael Thomas, pictured above, may have been denied due to his zip code, his race, or his poor trigger finger discipline. No one knows, but the process in Illinois certainly doesn’t make it any easier for those who lack economic, culture, and social capital to exercise the rights that others freely do.

The Armed with Reason guys want to highlight the fact that those in the lowest crime areas are the most likely to have concealed handgun permits. They should also ask why those in the highest crime areas are the least able to GET permits to carry.


  1. I am from Chicago. To add a few details, in Chicago the average resident must spend ~$800 to get armed. I broke it down like this:
    $10 for FOID Card (required to own a firearm or ammo in Illinois)
    $200-$250 for training
    $15 for exam ammo (box of 50 9mm target from Walmart)
    $150 for the application

    That is $375-$425, not including the gun.

    $300 for a low tier but decent handgun (think Taurus or SCCY) bought online through an FFL. (in retail stores, a SCCY goes for $350, PLUS 8% sales tax, PLUS the Cook County “violence tax” of $25).
    $25-$50 for a holster
    $25 for a box of self defense/JHP ammo

    That comes to $750 to $800 to go from zero to concealed carrier.

    You may think that including the price of the handgun isn’t fair, but it is. Remember that until 2013 handguns were BANNED in Chicago, so the vast majority of residents don’t have one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for adding these details from your experience in Chicago. I certainly think it is fair to include the cost of equipment since without it the permit does you no good.


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