December 15, 2012

How I learned that gun control didn’t work


Sam Smith, 2008 -  In 1960, just eight years before the riots in DC (and three years after I had covered my first DC crime story) , the capital had fewer than 100 murders – less than it had last year despite its much  smaller population and far fewer men of the age responsible for many killings.  The city’s population has dropped 21% since 1960.

As the 1968 riots approached, annual murders soared to nearly 300, without any new access to fire arms.  In the mid 1970s,  after the murder rate had already dropped back under 200, a strict gun law was imposed and for the next few years nothing much happened one way or the other.

Then Reagan escalated the drug war and in about five years – despite the new gun restrictions – murders climbed to nearly 500. As the drug market became less anarchistic (many killings had involved a conflict over turf), as the population of young men declined and with better policing, over the next twenty years the murder rate declined until it was close to the 1960s level.

Over this half century the imposition of strict gun laws had hardly any impact, but some other things did, primarily the war on drugs – a policy far more deadly than the availability of guns and which, to this days, most liberals refuse to confront.

This was especially true in a town without a strong mob organization where local dealers easily fought over turf. Once the market had matured, murders started to decline aided by a massive drop in the number of crime-age youths.

In the late 1980s I did an analysis of who was getting killed in DC as a result. Here’s a chart that tells the story:

In short, it was virtually impossible to be killed in Washington if you were a young white girl living in upscale Georgetown on an early Thursday morning in July. If, on the other hand, you were a young black 20-year-old male living in low-income Anacostia, dealing drugs on a Saturday night in June, your chances of being killed were far greater than the overall city average. Yet all these people lived in the same city with the same number of guns.

Other differences showed up most strikingly in motive. The murder rate resulting from altercations or robberies actually dropped substantially and those that stemmed from domestic violence stayed about the same. But those involving drugs leaped over 300%. Were it not for the drug trade, DC would have had a murder rate roughly that of Copenhagen. Death in DC in those days was clearly about drugs, not guns.

In the late 1990s I wrote:
-- Since 1995, 88% of DC homicides have been gun-related.

-- In 1985, only 65% of the homicides involved guns.

-- There was been no significant change in the number of guns reported in the city between 1985 and 1995.
 -- During this time, however, the number of homicides went from 148 in 1985 to a high of 454 in 1993, then down to 260 in 1998. Clearly the number of guns in the city was not the controlling factor
 Liberals obsess over guns, but this tends to obscure more important factors. Here are just a few of the things that would make more sense than more gun control:

- End the war on drugs, the major cause of violence in America today. A new form of futile prohibition – i.e. more gun control – won’t work any better.

- Institute alternative justice programs such drug courts, neighborhood justice commissions, mandated treatment, community services such as roving leaders, and other diversion programs. Texas, using some of these diversion programs, has reduced the size of its prisons by 20%. Meanwhile, crime has declined by 13% to its lowest level since 1973.

- Reduce poverty and slum housing while making public schools a source of social and civic education ters - and not just test factories.

- Provide jobs for young people. At the time DC had some of its highest crime rates, about 50% of the young were unemployed one year after graduating from high school.

- Get cops out of their cars and into the ‘hood. Largely unnoted has been that crime in DC increased after police took refuge in their vehicles instead of working the streets.

All of these  are changes that progressives could be supporting that would be far more useful than a futile war on guns, which will not reduce crime but will certainly increase the opposition of many Americans to many good progressive ideas.

1 comment:

Samson said...

I always laugh when I hear people talk about 'easy access to guns' as a cause of murders. I grew up in east Tennessee in the 60's. Wanna talk about 'easy access to guns'. Wow. In every home I ever visited, there was a gun cabinet full of guns. Shotguns, hunting rifles, pistols, you name it.

Yet, no one every walked into a school and shot people. There was never even a fight in my high school that I can remember that escalated to gun play. Pissed off boys fighting over a girl, yes, but no one ever ran home to break the pitiful lock off Daddy's gun cabinet, or for that matter to get the shotgun that was a traditional 12th birthday gift, and brought it back to school to settle a score.

I can't say what causes such horrible crimes, but it isn't 'easy access to guns'. I've lived in that place, and it didn't happen there.