In 2012, Michigan gun enthusiasts rallied in support of 18-year-old Sean Michael Combs, of Troy, who was arrested in Birmingham while carrying a rifle. Photograph: David Guralnick/AP
Detroit police chief James Craig – nicknamed “Hollywood” for his years spent in the LAPD and his seeming love of being in front of the camera – has repeatedly called on “good” and “law-abiding” Detroiters to arm themselves against criminals in the city.
His words have not fallen on deaf ears.
Patricia Champion, a 63-year-old lifelong Detroiter, a grandmother and retired educator, decided to get her concealed pistol license – a CPL – two years ago after her son said he was increasingly worried for her safety. Champion, a resident of northwest Detroit, mostly keeps her gun, a 9mm Glock 19 that set her back $600, in her house.
“That’s why I got it: because I’m going to be in the house. Now, if somebody chooses to come in and I didn’t invite you, between the Glock and the dog, you’re gone. If one doesn’t get you, the other one will.”
“The police are not going to protect you when something is being perpetrated on you. They may turn up after the fact and run after that person, but you have to protect yourself,” Champion says.
Champion’s fears of facing a threat in her home are not ill-founded. Besides having the worst homicide rate among large American cities, Detroit experienced 12,935 burglaries last year. With around 250,000 households, that means Detroiters have roughly a 1 in 20 chance of being burgled. To residents who have been victims of crime, being allowed to carry a weapon, whether openly or concealed, is not just reassuring, it’s part of the pragmatic reality of living in the Motor City. Wayne County, which encapsulates Detroit and its metro area, counted 83,950 active concealed-pistol permits as of 1 August 2014 – meaning one permit for every 21 households.
The city, strapped for cash, has only 2,300 police officers – unchanged from a year ago, before the bankruptcy, but still not enough. Many Detroiters feel they have to rely on themselves first for their own security and survival.
For Rick Ector, a Detroit-based NRA firearms instructor and former Chrysler systems analyst, it is quite simple: “You are your own first line of defense.”
A crime map of Detroit over the last week, as tracked by the city’s police department. The offenses the department tracks include larceny, vandalism, assault, robbery, vehicle break-ins and sex crimes. Photograph: /City of Detroit police department
But that’s not without conflict. This week, police chased and shot two men after allegedly seeing them illegally purchasing a gun. Coincident with the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, it added another layer of tension to a city already high-strung about guns and crime.
In a city where houses sometimes sell for $500, buying and maintaining a gun is a significant expense. For those who choose to earn concealed pistol licenses, like Champion, the application fee is $105 and courses might set you back anywhere between $100 and $250. Purchased guns cost interviewees of this story between $450 and $700, with accessories; including ammunition, add another possible $200-$300.
“A good investment,”the retired grandmother says.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on around here. We watch the news, and every day it’s something,” says 37-year-old Tanisha Moner, a former hospital administrator.
When Moner was 17, she was raped and robbed at gunpoint at a pay phone in Detroit. Four years later, 21-year-old Moner was attending Wayne State University in the city and working as a manager at a Burger King on the side. One morning, while she was counting money in her Burger King office, she was once again robbed at gunpoint and left in the fast-food restaurant’s freezer. After that, Moner says she became petrified of guns and loud noises.
“Finally, two years ago I said, I’m either going to let my fear overcome me, or I am going to beat my fear. So I got my [concealed pistol license] in the event that something else should ever happen.”
Moner carries her $650 fourth-generation Glock 19 most places she goes.
And if, as in the case of Patricia Champion, Detroit residents plan on resisting criminals, the law is theoretically on their side.
Michigan passed a self-defense act in 2006, referred to nationally as a “stand-your-ground-law”. The law removes an individual’s duty, when acting in self-defense, to retreat.
Instead, it allows individuals who have an “honest and reasonable belief” that they are in imminent fear for their life, serious bodily harm or sexual assault to use deadly force.
Skeptics have called this a “shoot-first” law.
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