Fireworks and Guns and Empathy in Chicago

My Facebook feed has been chock full these past few days with angry friends and family who live in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.  Are they angry about the 101 shootings that occurred in Chicago over the long 4th of July weekend?  Probably, but that’s not what they’re talking about on Facebook.  They are annoyed at the loud and booming fireworks that have disturbed their peace over the past few days.

Officially, fireworks are illegal in Illinois.  Just like guns.  Officially, lots and lots of people don’t care.  As easy as it is to cross the border into Hammond or East Chicago or Munster and load up your trunk with fireworks before crossing back into Illinois is about as easy as it is to purchase guns and cross that same border.

Let that sink in for a moment.


There is no question that the noise from fireworks is out of control in the days leading up to America’s birthday.  And there is no question that the loud booms from firecrackers and Roman candles and other fireworks can be harmful to pets, young children, veterans, and others who may experience the loudness as a trigger.  I am sensitive to that and appreciate it is a real problem for a great many people.

But those loud noises are a passing nuisance that can be expected.  Every year around the end of June, we know that we will be startled by the explosive noises.  As I’m typing this, one just went off, and it’s 10:24 a.m. on July 5.  It sucks.  Last night felt especially out of control, as a few friends posted live video of how bad it was in their neck of the woods, and there is no question, it was pretty dang bad. The sounds mimic a war zone, without exaggeration, and go on for long hours late into the night.


These fireworks were shot off by my neighbors across the alley last night. They were “BALLS TO THE WALLS” loud.  The logo tells me they came from Krazy Kaplan’s in LaPorte, Indiana.  It is illegal to use or be in possession of these in Illinois.  It is illegal to purchase them and cross state lines, but, sure enough, thousands of nice and respectable folks, just like my neighbors, were shooting off these illegally obtained and transported fireworks across the city and suburbs.

This morning, I connected the dots between the local news about gun violence and my annoyed friends and family upset over fireworks.  This is an opportunity to practice empathy.  Those same folks whose lives have been disrupted in tangible ways these past few days can use that disruption as a way to better understand what it feels like for those other folks who live in Chicago neighborhoods where gun violence is rampant and disruptive, the difference being that the loud noises are more than a nuisance for some.  Those loud noises are attached to bullets instead of firecrackers.

Actual people in actual neighborhoods not five or ten or twenty-five miles away know to duck for cover while sitting outside or in their living rooms when they hear the loud bang of a gun being shot.  Those loud noises are business as usual in Chicago neighborhoods that are being decimated by gun violence that now garners international news reports and more than occasional tweets from our POTUS.

But that’s the small picture (micro system is what we used to call it in grad school).  The big picture (macro system, for those who like jargon) involves how easy it is to get guns into a city and state that until recently had very strict laws against gun ownership and use.  Because I write about gun violence on the ChicagoNow platform, an almost immediate response to anything I post about guns is, “Yeah, and you live in Chicago that had the strongest gun legislation in America, which just proves that laws don’t work!”

My response has always been the same — the guns are coming from outside Chicago and outside Illinois.  Chicago could have a wall around it and guns would still permeate it easily, given Indiana’s lax gun laws.

It was a gut check this morning to realize that as easy as it was for me to go into a gas station last weekend and purchase a few dollars worth of sparklers, that same ease applies to gun purchases.  And I can pretty much guarantee that those same suburban men who yell the loudest about Chicago gun violence drove their mini-vans across the border to stock up on illegal fireworks to impress the other dads in the sub-division.

We all have to start connecting the dots.  We all have to start taking ownership of the problem of gun violence.  We all have to understand how this isn’t strictly a Chicago problem or, as POTUS’ spokesperson suggested last week, a morality problem.  We all have to better empathize with the folks who live in these Chicago neighborhoods that are plagued with gun and gang violence.

The problems are clear.  Fixing them will be a lot harder than crossing that Indiana border.

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