Chicago's Gun Violence Part I - Are you more likely to get shot living in Chicago?

Chicago's Gun Violence Part I - Are you more likely to get shot living in Chicago?
Students at POW! learning gun defenses. Training session took place outside to layer in additional environmental stresses after in gym training. An example of progression and safety in training.

Are you more likely to get shot living in Chicago?  According to a USA Today story, violence is soaring in the Windy City.  There has been a 40% increase in shootings, 29% have resulted in homicides.

I have always taken so much pride in the fact that I am a true-blue Chicagoan.  A true downtowner – raised on Chicago Avenue and Wells Street.  My home, was a photo and art studio just a couple blocks from Cabrini O’ Green.  While in the 70s and 80s, this neighborhood was laced with its own daily violence, I just was not afraid.  We lived with a cautious presence, as everyone should.  But with over 350 shootings so far this year, I am more afraid of the crime in Chicago than at any other time in my life.

The presence of gun violence in Chicago has an epidemic presence.  And, sadly as the weather gets warmer there seems to be more gun violence.  My husband a Chicago Firefighter of 18 years tells me first-hand that is he amazed with the number of gun shot calls his firehouse responds to every time a warm day breaks out in the Spring season.   So, does the reality of living in Chicago mean you need to become more familiar with guns – I believe YES!

It might seem like I am trying to lead into an editorial on conceal and carry for every Chicagoan.  I am not.  I am simply saying that understanding guns, how they work and how to defend yourself against them has tremendous relevance.  I would never impose a criteria for living in Chciago that says – All Chicagoans should own a gun.  But, I do believe that self-defense is as relevant a skill, as any other living saving skill one could possess. To clarify my position, I would also like to state that I believe everyone should know CPR.  Another life-saving skill that one may or may not need to use one day.  In order to have the skill, you must review and train CPR yearly.

A Gallup poll shows that Americans are 55% more dissatisfied with the current U.S. gun laws.  The position is that gun laws are too strict.  To be objective, this poll was taken after the December 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting tragedy.  Setting the timing of the poll aside, it did reveal a decrease of 7%  for Americans who want stricter gun laws.  So now it is essentially divided as follows:  1/3 want tougher laws and 2/3 want more lenient laws.

Chicago Conceal & Carry Success Story

There are many stories that support both sides of the argument for conceal and carry.  But I want to share one because it occurred this past weekend and the outcome was successful.  An Uber driver shot an active shooter this past Friday.  He was trained to use a firearm and he had a legal conceal and carry license.  After dropping off a fare,  22-year old Everardo Custodio opened fire into a group of people near his car.  The 47-year old Uber driver accessed his weapon and shot at Custodio.   Custodio finally went down after being shot 3 times!  No charges are being placed on the Uber driver from Little Italy.  According to Assitant State’s Attorney Barry Quinn, the driver’s actions were in self-defense of himself and others.

Regardless of your position on Chicago’s gun laws, you can not deny the amounting presence of gun violence in our city.   It is a valuable use of your time to become more familiar with guns and understand how to handle a firearm.  You can learn to shoot and still not own a gun.  You can learn how the most common firearms operate and still choose not to own or carry.  And mostly important, you can learn to defend yourself against a gun threat/attack without owning a firearm or seeking out a conceal and carry license.

Yes, you can learn to defend against a gun threat.

Learning to defend against a gun threat used to be a special topic course at my martial arts training gym in the West Loop.  The reason why I did not integrate gun defenses into our weekly classes in earlier  years was because I honestly believed that there were so many other relevant attacks.  Gun defenses were taught in a workshop style format every quarter.  Since 2015, I have added gun defenses into my weekly schedule – because I believe there is a much higher probability of gun violence in the communities where my students live.  Since bringing Krav Maga to the city of Chicago in 2002, I have always adapted our program and content to reflect relevant crime trends.  When flash mob violence was prevalent a couple summers ago- we trained defenses and combatives if you ended up stuck in one of these mob-situations.

Let me be clear – learning to defend yourself against a weapon attack is harder than learning how to throw a punch or scratch the eyes off an attacker’s face.   Critics of learning disarming techniques against weapons like gun, base much of their argument on a person’s diminished fine-motor skills under stress.   This might be true in general, but humans are the most trainable animals.  Anyone can improve his or her fine-motor skills under stress.  The same continuum that separates highly coordinated people, from less coordinated people still applies.  We all can learn, train and acquire skills, it just takes everyone a different length of time to learn.  Great training programs take this fact into account.

Krav Maga, a reality based self-defense system addresses the need to ‘re-wire’ the brain’s and body’s response to stress of all types (emotional, mental, physical and physiological).  Great Krav Maga schools use consistent vocabulary to help with the ‘re-wiring’ process in every class. Whether a class is focused on gun disarms or not, the principles of defense need to be the same for when learning defenses for one-on-one attacks from the very first class.  This is one key differentiating characteristic between quality Krav Maga and other systems that focus on self-defense.  Experienced instructors who have focused mostly on teaching civilians (non-law or military citizens) understand how to build both gross and fine-motor skills in the young and old, the athletically inclined and less coordinated, and those with no firearm skills.

A Look at the Military’s Basic Training Methods

The military’s strategy for building soldiers is one of the best references that supports our ability to learn physical feats reliant on fine-motor skills with or without stress. I use aspects of their methodology, in my personal teaching style of Krav Maga.  First, you teach a soldier how to shoot.  He begins on a target range, with no stress.  Once the simple, draw, aim and fire concept is down, moving targets are added.  Those targets change, from enemy to hostage or civilian cutouts.  This builds a soldier’s  (and a police officer’s) ability to make quick decisions.  Their reaction and accuracy becomes the tool of evaluation under these training circumstances and validates when more stress should be introduced.  This training has the option to progress.  For some, new layers are added developing new skill sets, which are taught, trained and learned.  Obstacle maneuvers are added in, with new variables, integrated into the training to add survival-based stresses.  These stresses include: time, extreme temperatures, loads carried, handicaps and even simple environmental distractions (like explosions & noise).  Men and women learn to improve their fine-motor skills under survival-based stress all the time.  To say survival techniques that rely on fine-motor skills cannot be taught is simply saying that humans cannot learn to become resilient or cope with extreme stress.  This is simply not true!  Colleagues of mine like Co-Owner of Fit to Fight, Ryan Hoover, Instructors like Raul Martinez, Owner of Krav Maga Illinois, Sue Garski and Owner of Buffalo Grove Martial Arts, Bert Witte can speak at length about many of their students that entered their schools with no skills and now can successfully defend themselves against gun attacks/threats.

Great Krav Maga/Self-Defense training centers and instructors understand this relationship between teaching the physical movements of combat or combatives (i.e. punch, kick, knee, elbow) and the necessary ‘re-wiring’ of the brain to layer in the various stresses. This effort if organized, ultimately builds a person’s survival skills, confidence to defend themselves and resilience when faced with fear or a traumatic event.

Tomorrow I will follow up with Part II for this blog.  I will discuss more the details that go into learning to defend yourself against a gun.


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  • I told someone (about 4'10") who playfully told me that she would "give me a punch where it would hurt" that she should take Krav Maga.* However, my impression of Krav Maga is that it is for close in fighting, not if someone is spraying a playground with gun fire.

    However, that gets to the question raised by the first 4 paragraphs of your post. It isn't clear from the news how much of it is random, how much is organized gang violence or retaliation, how much is drug deals going bad,** etc. The reports are about victims like Hadiya Pendleton or someone in Park Manor killed while washing his car, but they all can't be innocent bystanders. There was the report today about 3 shot across the street from the U of C, but unlike most of the instances where robbing students was the motive, WGN TV just said the 3 had gang connections.

    *I became familiar with it when the people from Garden Fresh Market started a school.
    **Most in the north suburbs turn out to be that.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack- thanks for your comment- I agree that much of the gun violence is in communities with a high presence of gangs. But my heart breaks for the non-gang affiliated citizens who live in the communities where gun violence is the highest. They are often innocent bystanders or direct targets because gang members need victims. I want them to learn to defend themselves and their families too. But I can tell you from experience - that many students at my school have experienced violent crime first hand in the last few years living in the city. In fact, in the 14 years I have been open- I have been confided in more acts of robberies, assaults, etc.. than in the early 2000s when I first opened.

    As for Krav Maga - there are several levels of gun defense training. The most basic is close range. Gun defense occurs when the weapon is in reach. Active shooter training is a much more advanced level of training and skill. But it is part of the Ryan Hoover system included in his instructor's tactical training.

  • On your last paragraph, it seems like the usual defense would be in a robbery situation. You made me look up ;-) "active shooter," it seems more like barricading the assailant out of the classroom, or cornering him and then trying self defense techniques. I doubt it would have done much good vs. Adam Lanza shooting his way through the entrance door, or as indicated by the Uber driver example, charging the shooter outdoors.

  • Actually there's only 2 reasons Greed and Ignorance which is endemic to the big city so either get over it or get some money and live amongst the wealthy ........Worked for Lee Miglin ....huh?

  • I never thought I'd say this, but I feel safer in the city of Detroit, on its average streets, than in Chicago. Not because I am a target, but getting caught in the crossfire happens.

    Rahm, like Daley before him, pay lip service to protecting citizens, while turning his back on the cops.

    The cancer spreads and will eat the heart of Chicago.

    But it will be Ambassador Rahm or Sec of State Rahm by then.

    He doesn't care. Black lives only matter to him when they vote -- for him.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Thanks for making a comment. My story was not politically intended. I believe all lives matter and self-defense is a skill that everyone should learn. I also believe everyone should learn CPR and how to swim.

  • I'm afraid you cannot take the politics out of it. Politics defines and allows and punishes peoples' actions.

    All the self defense skills falls short when in the path of a gun. The lawlessness fostered by city leaders -- of both parties-- who don't give a damned, is what puts us all in danger. I understand you not wanting to make it political, but that same restriction does not hold for me. I am not punished by the city for my opinions.

    CPR is valuable, but as your husband is a firefighter, I am sure he has been the unintended target of gangs of thugs, so his skills are not appreciated -- by the city leaders and those in the community.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Good comment.
    The "good citizens" that live in these areas need to do their part also. When criminals (gang members) understand that the home owners will use force if necessary to protect their homes and families, the criminals either go somewhere else or change professions. No police force can do it all alone. The city can go a long way to help the residents by making it clear that they will support the homeowner when using force to protect themselves is necessary.

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