Worried transit officials asked lawmakers to imagine a CTA train packed with inebriated, possibly irate fans after a Cubs night game, then consider the wisdom of adding gun-toting passengers to the potentially volatile mix.
Or what if a thief grabbed a bus rider's iPhone — a not-uncommon crime — and an armed commuter tried to stop the criminal?
Those scenarios were raised Friday by Chicago transit officials, who called on state legislators to prohibit anyone from carrying a weapon on buses and trains if a concealed-carry law is adopted in Illinois.
Transit agencies across the state contend that allowing individuals to carry firearms on buses and trains would be dangerous, even catastrophic, because "interpersonal conflicts are commonplace" among passengers, testified Jeanne Wrenn, a Pace official.
The issue boiled up at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Chicago the same day that a divided federal appeals court rejected Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's request for a rehearing on the case in which the state has been ordered to allow citizens to carry guns in public.
Madigan made the request after a decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December gave legislators six months to pass a law that would allow concealed weapons in Illinois, the only state in the nation that doesn't permit the practice in some form.
The attorney general has not decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokeswoman said.
"Allowing people to carry concealed weapons in a confined space like a bus or a train, especially on an elevated track or a subway, would create an unsafe environment for the more than 2 million people who use mass transit in Illinois every day," said CTA President Forrest Claypool. "It would be a recipe for disaster."
Claypool said violent crime has decreased across the transit system and that only three people were shot, none fatally, while riding the CTA last year. He worried that number would increase, and the potential for accidental shootings would be high with concealed carry.
"You have a system ... particularly at rush hour, where any bullet that was discharged, either accidentally or by someone who thought they were doing the right thing by targeting a criminal, would, in all likelihood, also injure or kill other innocent bystanders," Claypool said.
Some gun-rights advocates, however, believe that allowing armed passengers on public transit could be a crime deterrent, and that concealed carry would "level the playing field" between the thugs and their victims.
Taking the other view was Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who pointed to the case of Bernhard Goetz, the so-called subway vigilante who shot four teenage boys on the New York City subway in 1984.
Goetz said he was protecting himself after they asked him for money in a threatening way. Prosecutors alleged the shooting was not about self-defense but vengeance for a previous mugging. Charged with attempted murder, assault and several gun offenses, he was found not guilty on all charges except illegal firearms possession.
Other transit officials who testified at Friday's hearing noted the possibility of armed passengers overreacting.
"Just because someone is trying to steal your iPhone is no reason to start shooting up a train," said Jordan Matyas, deputy director of the Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees the CTA, Metra and Pace.
Nor is it just a Chicago issue, Matyas added. Concealed carry on buses and trains is opposed by the Illinois Public Transit Association, which represents 50 agencies, including agencies outside the Chicago area where gun-rights advocates are stronger, he said.
In making his case for concealed carry, Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, cited the 2007 death of Blair Holt. The 16-year-old was shot and killed when a gang member opened fire at a rival on a crowded CTA bus.
Vandermyde testified that his group was not willing to compromise on allowing passengers to carry guns on buses and trains.