Party bus shootings don’t need another ordinance

By Editorial Board

Three men in a party bus pulled into a Dunkin Donuts parking lot, 6332 N. Broadway, on March 12. Two of them died after a “verbal altercation” resulted in gunfire.

Two dead, one injured—the victims are now a part of the growing list of  those injured in party bus altercations that turned deadly. Since 2015, there have been 11 shootings—three fatal—while aboard what has been called a “rolling cemetery.”

The alcohol, laughter and merriment of a rented bus filled with closed friends and cruising through the city is no place for a loaded weapon, and it seems Mayor Rahm Emanuel agrees. 

Emanuel introduced an ordinance March 27, amended and approved by the City Council April 19, that requires a licensed security guard or security camera when the bus has 15 or more passengers consuming liquor either on board or at stops. Intoxicated passengers may not be admitted unless the next stop is the last or point of origin. 

The ordinance does not mention firearms because under the Illinois concealed carry law, carrying loaded guns is legal except in specified places such as bars or restaurants, where more than 50 percent of sales are alcohol-related. That restriction does not apply to party buses because passengers bring their own liquor on board.

On party buses, owners decide whether to ban guns, a decision that seems easy enough to make: no guns, no exceptions. While some party bus companies do have weapons policies, company officials told the Chicago Tribune that those bans are rarely enforced, according to an April 14 Tribune article. Companies that will not enforce no-weapon policies will not pay for the security cameras and unnecessary security. A few ordinances have been introduced in the past to try to stop party bus violence with little success. In October 2015, Ald. Edward Burke (14th Ward) proposed an ordinance that required a responsible person 25 or older to check IDs and the use of a licensed vendor for alcohol sales on buses, but it failed to gain support. In September 2016, drivers were required to be responsible for making sure no one under 21 is drinking, no weapons are fired, no marijuana is possessed and no one is engaged in “disorderly conduct.”

If the city is serious about enforcing gun regulations, it could address the issue of shootings on party buses by requiring drivers to have security and Emergency Medical Technician training so they can assist if guns are discharged or a critical emergency occurs. This may increase operator cost, but the solution has worked for other youth excursions, including outdoor activities such as kayaking and backpacking.

Mixing guns and alcohol yields bad results. Victims include Quentin Payton, a 28-year-old father, and Chaz Johnson, a 22-year-old who took himself to the hospital 20 minutes after the March 12 shooting in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts. 

Payton and Johnson are part of a longer list of victims for whom Emanuel has half-heartedly fought for justice. This ordinance, while a commendable effort to stop a specific scenario, will not solve a much larger issue.  Emanuel wants a triumph, but he is no closer to getting it if people in the city—not just on party buses—keep getting killed.

Gun violence anywhere —whether on buses, the street, cars or inside homes—cannot continue. Instead of reveling in small victories, Emanuel has to push for the big ones because the city depends on it.

There is no easy way to stop violence in a city as large and complex as this one. However, Emanuel needs to stop taking baby steps in protecting Chicagoans and help ensure a safer city.