For many Chicago residents, gun control is a personal issue. Gun violence, or the threat of it, pervades everyday life. As the debate over how to curb gun violence takes center stage at the national level and the Illinois statehouse, Chicago finds itself at the center of attention. The city has become a leading example of gun violence in urban America and the testing ground for expansive gun-control proposals. The Chicago Reporter sat down with two activists on opposite sides of the issue. While their opinions differ sharply, the inspiration for their views is rooted in the same place—the safety of their children.
Pamela Bosley grips a laminated, 8-by-10 photograph with both hands. The picture of her late son, Terrell, was taken at his high school prom less than a year before his death. On an early April evening in 2006, the 18-year-old was gunned down by a drive-by shooter in a church parking lot in his Roseland neighborhood.
In the picture, Terrell Bosley is wearing a long, boxy white tuxedo jacket with gold buttons. His round baby face carries a gentle smile, but his stance hints at the performer at the heart of the aspiring gospel bassist. His head is cocked to the side. His left hand tugs playfully on the lapel of his jacket. He’s leaning in on a cane.
For seven years now, Bosley has been consumed by trying to right the wrong of Terrell’s murder, which remains unsolved. She paid to post a billboard advertisement along the Dan Ryan Expressway, offering a reward for information leading to her son’s killer. A few years back, she started a group for parents coping with the loss of slain children that meets at St. Sabina Catholic Church. And she quit her banking career to work with at-risk youth at the church, in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
“If I don’t work with other people’s children, how can I keep my children safe?” she said, while walking down the hallway of a community center, the picture of Terrell pulled close to her chest. “I don’t want to bury another child because of gun violence.”
Bosley has also become an outspoken advocate for new regulations on guns and gun owners. With lawmakers giving gun control more attention this year, she’s been making her case to as many elected officials as she can—from those in the White House to Springfield.
The phrase “common sense gun laws” means different things to different people. What exactly are you advocating for?
We’re not trying to take away people’s guns. We want people to be held accountable.
So on purchasing guns … you shouldn’t be able to purchase 100 guns for one individual. And if you lose a gun, you need to report it. If you’re a citizen and you just want a gun to protect yourself, you wouldn’t mind being accountable for your gun.
We have too many people now who are buying guns and selling them to our youth. We want to make sure that we stop the flow of guns into our communities by holding people accountable for buying guns. And why do we have to title our cars but not our guns?
You mean like a vehicle registration number?
Exactly. Why don’t guns have a registration number like cars? People don’t see that as a threat.
But I want more. If a bullet comes out of a gun, I would like it to have a code on it. If you purchase a gun, say it’s John Doe, and the bullet is found when somebody is shot and murdered, if you can trace that bullet back to a gun, [then trace] the gun back to the person who is accountable for the gun … that way, we can figure out who did the shooting.
If you lose your gun and you report it, we know that the gun was lost. But if you don’t report it, then we’re coming after you because you’re responsible. You purchased that gun.
Experts say that a lot of the guns used on the streets are old. How would putting rules on new guns change things if they’re not the ones being used in crimes?
Gun sales are at a record level. You have to start somewhere. You can’t get all of the guns off the streets, but if you can start now, we can slow the number of guns on the streets in five or 10 years.
These ideas have been around for a while. What’s different now?
We are hearing about [gun control] now from the White House. We have President [Barack] Obama who put in a proposal to change gun laws. I’ve been out here for seven years travelling to and from Washington, D.C., and I haven’t heard this conversation going until this year with the Newtown, [Conn.], shooting and so on.
This is the time that change is going to come. I believe that this is our year.
Do you think mandatory jail sentences for illegal gun possession will make communities like yours safer?
My concern is that when you put them in jail, and you don’t have a rehabilitative process. They go to jail for three years and then come out worse.
If stricter gun laws alone won’t solve Chicago’s gun-violence problem, what else will it take?
It has to be both. It has to be gun control and it has to be better schools for African-American youth. The books children have in our schools are second-hand. The computers are old. We need to invest in our youth. We have so many young people, angry, upset, mad. We need to address that.
You’re now a youth violence prevention worker. Has that changed the way you look at youth who are engaging in violence?
We have one young man here and I said to him one day, ‘Why are you in a gang?’ He didn’t really answer. He was hungry so I got him a cup of soup and a juice. He was so happy. [He] said that his mother never did that. Then I realized, he went to the streets to get attention.
A lot of these young people are angry. If they’re angry, they might use a gun. Look at who is being killed. A lot of [young people] are holding anger because their friends are getting killed.
You and your husband recently sat down with a group of reputed gang members. What did you hope to accomplish?
It was difficult. I kept thinking that one of them could have been the person who murdered my son.
I told them about the pain that I’ve experienced since Terrell was killed. I said that it could be their mother standing up here; that it’s me today, but it could be them tomorrow because a lot of them have children. To think about that.
The purpose is for them to change … so they won’t end up here, in my shoes.