The War On Drugs Didn’t Work, So Why Should We Expect It To Work With Guns?

Back in 1963 I got a summer job in a Kentucky shingle mill and reported to the foreman of my shift, a redneck named Slim.  And Slim assigned me to go around the plant helping out ‘that boy sittin’ over there.’ It turned out that the ‘boy’ was a Black man named Gladys Turner who was sixty years old.  We became good friends, at one point I even bought a Browning Hi-Power pistol from Gladys, and we used to joke about how the Whites in the factory referred to him as a ‘boy.’

jail             That was my first but certainly not my last experience regarding the issue of race and, in particular, the assumptions made by most Whites that Blacks were somehow not even with them.  I’m not talking about legal equality; the Civil Rights bill was passed just a year after Gladys and I drove around the shingle factory picking up trash. I’m talking about something less objective but more powerful, namely, the culture of racial beliefs.

Which is why I finally got around to reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which is an argument about how the War on Drugs has resulted in the mass incarceration of Blacks. Once they are in the penal system as prisoners, parolees or ex-cons, Blacks become a sub-caste denied de facto all the basic socio-economic amenities (employment, affordable housing, voting rights, etc.) that are basic for all.

Professor Alexander argues that over the thirty-year period beginning in the early 1970’s, the American incarcerated population increased from 300,000 to 2 million, that these convicts were disproportionately Black young men, and that most of them were in jail because of convictions related to drugs. In addition to the number of Black prisoners behind bars, there are another 5 million who are marginalized politically and economically because they are on parole or under some kind of supervision in lieu of being behind bars. For Professor Alexander, this is what creates what she refers to as the ‘new Jim Crow,’ because convictions and jail sentences for drug offenses among Blacks is seven times higher than convictions and sentences for Whites – even though there are little racial differences in the number of people who use or sell illegal drugs.

Now why would I write about this book when I usually write about guns? Because it’s when you get to the end of the book where the author discusses advocacy strategies for dealing with the new Jim Crow that what she says could equally apply to the strategies adopted by advocates who are fighting to reduce the violence caused by guns.

On pages 225 et. seq., Professor Alexander raises a difficult and challenging question, namely, why is the issue of mass incarceration largely absent from the discussions and priorities of the organizations that continue to push for civil rights? And while part of the answer, she believes, is that many civil rights organizations are more comfortable engaging in strategies based on challenging laws that deny equal status or opportunity based on race, she also claims that there is a generalized reluctance of the established civil rights coalition to demand legal protections for individuals who, because they have been convicted of a drug offense, are considered by the average person to be a criminal, regardless of their race.

The gun violence prevention (GVP) community faces the same problem, when all is said and done. Because of the 120,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun injuries suffered each year, at least 75,000 of these events also happen to be crimes. And like it or not, every time GVP advocates propose any kind of gun regulations, the other side immediately jumps up and yells, ‘We’re law-abiding gun owners. Want to end gun violence? Lock up all the thugs!’

Alexander’s book makes a convincing case that there’s really no connection between the size of the incarcerated population and the incidence of drug crime. Shouldn’t we say the same thing about Trump and Sessions’ plan to ‘get tough’ on gun  crimes?




Is There A Link Between Guns And Crime? It’s Not What The NRA Thinks It Is

When I was a kid growing up in New York City we kept our eyes on a neighborhood gang whose older members, when it came to violence and lawlessness, put the feared Westies from Hell’s Kitchen to shame.  In fact, the Westies contracted out their hits to this bunch on my block, whose SOP was to haul the victim up to the roof of one of the neighborhood housing projects and that was that.  Five guys go up to the roof, four guys walk back down.

As tough and brutal as they were, the members of this crew never carried guns.  Why not?  Because whenever anything went down in the neighborhood, the cops would come around, line them up against the wall, administer the Miranda warning by kicking them in the ass or punching them in the face, and then pat them all down for guns.  If the cops found a gun, that guy was slammed into the back of the patrol car and wasn’t seen for a long time.  Don’t think for one second that aggressive, in-your-face street patrols used by Giuliani and Bloomberg to drive down gun crime in New York City is such a new idea.

gang boys chap 1                The NRA and the gun industry wants us to take a giant leap of faith by going along with their idea that the most effective way to curb gun violence is to cut down on crime. But the data on gun violence published by the FBI doesn’t support this, not at all.  Of course there are criminals out there who use guns to commit crimes.  Of course we need to do everything possible to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  But the connection of guns to gun violence is more complicated than just the simple idea that more guns in the “wrong hands” equals more crime.

According to the FBI, from 2000 to 2012 there were slightly more than 200,000 homicide victims of which slightly more than two-thirds were killed with guns. This is an average of 10,400 gun homicides each year, a remarkably-stable number over the past thirteen years. Of these gun killings, slightly more than 15% involved women as victims, or roughly 21,000 over the same span of years.  When women are homicide victims, most if not virtually all of these shootings grow out of some sort of IPV.  Let’s not forget, incidentally, that men are also shot to death by women an average of 700 times per year.  Taken together, domestic violence probably claimed more than 2,200 victims annually between 2000 and 2012, or one-fifth of all gun fatalities during those years.

The degree to which homicide grows out of personal disputes is shown by the fact that of the total murders committed in 2012, only slightly more than 20% took place during the commission of other crimes.  The rest happened because people who knew each other, and in most cases knew each other on a long-term, continuous basis, got into an argument about money, or who dissed who, or who was sleeping with someone else, or some other dumb thing.  And many times they were drunk or high on drugs, but no matter what, like Walter Mosley says, “sooner or later” the gun goes off.

Here’s the bottom line on gun violence and crime. Every year 20,000+ shoot themselves intentionally, which is suicide.  Another thousand, give or take a hundred, kill themselves accidentally with a gun. Then another 10,000 use a gun to kill someone else, but 8,000 of those shootings have nothing to do with other violent crimes.  If we define gun violence as using a gun to end a human life, the FBI is telling us that less than 10% of those fatalities would be eliminated if we got rid of all violent crime. The NRA can try to convince its membership that the reason for gun violence is that there’s too much crime, but the data from the FBI clearly indicates that the reason for gun violence is that there are too many guns.

Get it at Amazon.