How Shameful Policies Increase America’s Gun Violence
This week, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing asks the question, “what should America do about gun violence?” As usual, the primary focus is on guns rather than those who misuse them, but unfortunately both President Obama’s and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposals will do little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. There are 300 million guns in America, and, without a politically impossible and undesirable program of mass confiscation, it will continue to be quite easy for wrongdoers to get weapons in America. Perhaps, instead of trying to extract a thimbleful of water from that ocean of weapons, we should shift our focus to why so many Americans want to harm each other.
Studies of gun violence often use a compare-and-contrast methodology to find variables between nations that may explain a difference in violent crime rates. Many of the proposed causes for America’s uniquely violent culture — from video games to taking God out of schools — have little scientific backing and seem like irrelevant squabbles over tastes and preferences. Yet government programs that do real, measurable harm to our citizens and predictably push them toward gun violence are too often overlooked.
First and foremost is the oppressive and ineffective drug war that has destroyed inner-city neighborhoods and severely harmed the life prospects of millions of Americans, most acutely, young, African-American men.
As Prohibition-era America showed, banning a highly in-demand substance increases the violence surrounding that substance. When legal methods cannot be used to settle contract and other disputes, extra-legal methods (i.e., the point of a gun) will be used. Moreover, unsavory characters will tend to traffic the prohibited substances, further escalating violent business practices. These new businessmen also facilitate the illegal gun trade, brazenly ignoring assault weapons bans and other cosmetic limits on gun ownership. Those guns then flood the black market, giving easy access to would-be criminals and mass shooters. A 2001 Justice Department study found that 20 percent of prison inmates received their guns from a drug dealer or off the street. Comparatively, only 0.7 percent of the weapons were obtained at gun shows. Which “loophole” should we be focusing on closing?
Caught in the middle of this is the American citizen, particularly young, black males, who often grow up in inner cities that have more in common with war zones than suburban neighborhoods. The U.S. government’s “solution” to this problem has been mass incarceration on a level rarely seen in world history; with a prison rate currently six to 10 times the rate of any other developed country. In many American inner cities where the drug war is most earnestly waged, up to 80 percent of young African-American males have criminal records. These young men will endure a lifetime of legalized discrimination, and difficulty finding employment, often because they simply chose to put a prohibited substance into their own bodies.
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