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Invisible to outsiders, the dangers in one man's neighborhood keep him armed and ready to shoot.

A young politician strolls through Vincent Stewart's neighborhood, flanked by exuberant college students in identical crisp, white shirts.

Their crusade toward Election Day has brought them to a place that, otherwise, none would ever venture.

"What are you going to do for us?" asks Stewart, a stocky man who is watching over a giggling group of children..

"What do you need?" the politician responds.

"Do something about crime," he says.

Stewart rattles off a list of troubles: So many stolen lawn mowers that people just stop replacing them. Car thefts. Shootings. Young men with no respect. Homeowners who have taken up arms to protect themselves and their property.

"It's chaos," Stewart says.

The line has been drawn, and in this neighborhood, Stewart and his neighbors are on the right side.

The politician, a big supporter of the right to own weapons, shares his outrage, then moves on.

Stewart, 39, keeps talking. He has much to say about crime and the teenage thugs who terrorize his neighborhood.

Up two houses, a car was stolen. At the end of the street an armed robbery. Next door, the lady homeowner keeps a shotgun.

"You can't touch her grass at night. She'll fire in the air," he says. "The young people, they say "You work all day and make $4.80 an hour. I work an hour, I make $500. What's wrong with you old people?' "

Stewart gave up his .45 and a rifle early this year. A relative thought he was getting too trigger-happy. But he bought a .22-caliber handgun a few months back, after kids stole his truck.

He talks softly, steadily, without a hint of drama.

Two toddlers playing in a neighbor's yard break his monologue to dangle from the hem of his Chicago Bulls T-shirt and clamor for attention. He stops talking, briefly, to distribute oranges to them from a mesh bag.

Crime comes too close to home, he mentions.

The previous night, someone again tried to steal the truck as he was stopped in a nearby neighborhood. He fired a warning shot past the would-be carjacker, who had climbed into the passenger seat beside him. Then he fired again, point blank.

"You hit me," the stranger said.

Stewart reflects on this.

He does not know where the bullet struck. He does not know what happened to the stranger. He drove home after the incident. No, he says, he didn't call the police.

What's the point?

No one has contacted him about the incident, either. "I haven't heard anything. I'm not running and hiding," he says. "I'm not shaky. I'm fed up."

The politician has covered two city blocks in this time. His entourage stops at a yard sale, they sidestep two girls clattering down the sidewalk in pink rollerskates. Somewhere, someone revs a lawn mower.

An earnest campaign aide who has lagged behind strides fearlessly toward the campaign van.

She remarks on the calm.

"They said they have a lot of crime here," she says. "You wouldn't know it."

Civil Matters now appears on Tuesdays. Marty Rosen can be reached at 226-3384.

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