Want To End The Argument Over Guns? Go Green.

Now that Mike Bloomberg has announced that he’s going to pour $50 million bucks into anti-gun campaigns, you can be sure that the argument over guns will heat up pretty fast.  One thing I’ll say for the former Mayor Mike is that he’s no shrinking violet, and if he decides he really wants to go after something, he makes his presence known.  So at the very least, whether he’s successful or not in expanding background checks or whatever other strategies he thinks will curb gun violence, we will hear some pretty angry comments coming from both sides.

I have written over 130 posts on guns, both on my blog and on Huffington Post, and I try to align myself with the words of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” I wish there were more acknowledgement of these wise words in the current debate but there’s not.  No matter which side grabs the microphone, opinions always seem to trump facts.

So I’m wondering if there isn’t a different way to approach the whole issue and look at the question of guns not from emotions, but from the perspective of their real value; i.e., what it is that a gun can really do.  Because the biggest problem in the gun debate, it seems to me, is that both sides justify their attitudes towards guns based on rationalizations that fly in the face of reality and simply aren’t true.  The idea that the 2nd Amendment is a sacrosanct, inalienable, God-given gift that cannot be limited in any way is Csimply not true.  It is enumerated as one of many Constitutional rights, and like every other Constitutional right, can be defined and limited by laws.  Conversely, the idea that America is some kind of weird outlier among Western nations because of its embrace and love of guns is also not true.  In fact, the United States is the only Western country in which hunting (and therefore ownership of guns) was extended to all citizens regardless of social class.  In the rest of the Western world, particularly our mother country, England, hunting (and therefore gun ownership) was limited to the Monarchy and the aristocracy; the common folk could actually be executed if they were found hunting or poaching on private land.

lewisGun ownership in the United States is embedded in the traditions and history through which the country was explored, hunted, settled and farmed.  The government encouraged this process through the 1862 Homestead Act,  but while vast swatches of the western half of the country was being settled by gun-toting folk, we were also creating the greatest industrial economy in the world, fueled by European immigrants who settled in enormous, urban-industrial enclaves like Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York.  Guns weren’t part of the urban landscape back then, and they aren’t part of it now.  And these two very different histories and traditions aren’t acknowledged or even understood by the advocates for either side in the current gun debate.

But I have an idea for how his might change.  Turns out there are now more than 40 million American households that grow at least some of their own food.   This is an increase of 17% in just the last five years.  Now the gun industry has done pretty well over the same period, but that’s because gun owners are buying more guns, not because the percentage of people who own guns is really going up.  So I’m thinking that if so many new people are getting into farming, even if it’s only a tiny farm in their back yards, maybe the ones who aren’t gun owners will begin to appreciate the reason why Americans always had guns.  And this could lead to a recognition that we all have certain things in common, historically and traditionally, that speak to the value of guns. You certainly can’t say that either side understands or is saying this now. So here’s their chance.

 

 

 

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Drugs And Guns: The Latest From Camden

New York Shipbuilding Yard

New York Shipbuilding Yard

The last time anyone got a good job in Camden, NJ was during World War II, when the city, located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, was the location of  the largest shipyard in the world, the New York Shipbuilding Yard, which turned out more than 500 naval vessels before it closed after the war.  Camden is still the headquarters of the Campbell Soup Co., but the corporate executives stay in a gated building out of habit since nobody even remembers when the plant turned out its last can of soup. The irony is that Camden’s waterfront sits directly across from Philadelphia, where waterfront property values  have skyrocketed because of an influx of luxury hotels, high-end restaurants and trendy boutiques.

In Camden, on the other hand, the word ‘blight,’ which is usually how poor neighborhoods are described, would probably apply to the entire town.  And while Camden isn’t quite as dangerous as East St. Louis, the city recorded 57 homicides in 2013, which puts its murder rate up there with places like Cali and Medellin, the location of the world’s most active and vicious narcotics cartels.  That should hardly come as a surprise, however, because the one industry which seems to be thriving in Camden is the drug business, whose chief gang, headed up by three brothers, – Omar, Edwin and Edgar Urbina – have been running an open-air drug market for years in Camden’s North End. The November raid that resulted in the arrests of the gang leaders and nearly 50 suppliers, deliverers, baggers and other gang associates, also brought about the seizure and requisite display of a stash of cash, six guns and five ounces of cocaine.

Even if a lot of drugs sold by the Urbinas and other Camden gangs go into the hands and veins of local residents, what has always made Camden a center for the drug trade is its location adjacent to many wealthy communities whose residents and police departments find it convenient to encourage drug purchases in another town.  The drive-by nature of Camden’s drug business encouraged local law enforcement to begin stopping, searching and occasionally arresting non-residents who drove a little too slowly through the town.  But when the Camden PD laid off half its officers following a budget standoff with Chris Christie, what had been a badly-managed effort to control the local drug market only got much worse.

What I find interesting in this situation is the fact that nobody seems to find it unusual or unsettling that the products sold by the drug gangs in Camden come from thousands of miles away.  In fact, whenever a major dope dealer is arrested, there’s always some mention of a connection to a drug cartel in Mexico, Colombia or somewhere else.  But the same law enforcement experts who tell you that it’s impossible to interdict the movement of drugs into and through the United States, will also tell you that if we extend NICS background checks to private transactions, we’ll be able to put a real dent in the movement of illegal guns.

When I was a teenager living in Staten Island, NY, we knew about Camden, and it was rumored that some of the drugs that came into my neighborhood had been purchased in drive-buys by some of my friends. That was fifty years ago and it’s clear that the situation hasn’t really changed.  If anything, the growth of affluent suburbs around Philly has made Camden even a bigger and better hot-spot for illegal drugs.  If the drug gangs have no trouble going to Mexico for cocaine, how difficult could it be to get their hands on a few guns?