On the street, smarter is safer

November 13, 2011|By Ryan Smith, For RedEye

Being punched in the face for an iPhone is not pleasant. Regrettably, I'm one of the growing number of victims who can say this from personal experience.

A couple of weeks ago, I was mugged on a quiet afternoon in my cozy Old Irving Park neighborhood. I made the mistake of entering what I call The Smart Phone Zone—in which I tried to walk, listen to a podcast and tweet at the same time.

Meanwhile, two large men in hoodies silently sprinted up to me from behind. Before I had a chance to turn around, one of them began punching me in the head and knocking me to the ground while the other kicked me and ripped my iPhone 4 from my hands.

I'm sporting a bump on my head, a sprained thumb and sore ribs, but otherwise, I'm alive and writing this column.

Coincidentally, just days after I was assaulted, Wisconsin's new concealed carry law went into effect, leaving Illinois as the only state that prohibits citizens from carrying concealed weapons in public. So the question is: If I had been allowed to pack heat, would things have turned out differently?

After I shared my harrowing tale, some of my family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers told me that a gun could have solved everything.

"That's RIDICULOUS!" a passionate neighbor of mine barked as I held an icepack to my temple. "We really should be allowed to carry guns in Chicago. That's the only way we can protect ourselves from this menace!" And a friend of mine insisted the country's crime rate would plummet if everyone were to carry a handgun.

Yet in spite of my experience, I still believe that owning a gun wouldn't solve any problems and, frankly, could make things worse.

In my case, even if I were carrying a gun when I was attacked, I still wouldn't have had a chance to pull it out until they were running away. Then would I really feel justified shooting these thugs in the back for a bruised head and a stolen iPhone? And what if they had wrestled a gun away from me like they did my iPhone?

My friend countered that if criminals feared that more people were hiding guns in their pants, they'd be less likely to commit crimes, but the stats indicate otherwise.

According to the FBI's online crime statistics, the number of murders, assaults and robberies in Chicago all dropped from 1985 (the agency's first year of online stat-keeping) through 2009. (The city's handgun ban went into effect in 1982 and was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2010.)

If there's something I should be afraid of, it's runaway buses and falling anvils. According to the CDC, homicide is the 15th-leading cause of death in America, while unintentional accidents are No. 5. We don't stop driving cars or taking public transportation because of the danger of accidents, so why should we alter our lives on the slim chance of a random crime?

I'm not going to judge people who feel more secure with guns in their homes, but as for myself, I just plan to be more cautious. Chicago isn't always a peaceful paradise, and texting and walking at the same time (wexting?) rarely is a good idea. All bets are off if the zombie apocalypse happens, but for now, I'll keep my weapons Nerf in nature.

RYAN SMITH IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR.

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