Laws banning assault weapons, prohibiting clips capable of carrying dozens of rounds of ammunition, and requiring background checks of all gun purchasers will be about as effective in stopping gun violence as selling chastity belts in red-light districts. Most murders are crimes of passion and impulsive opportunity. Now that the United States is awash in guns – with approximately 80 firearms for every 100 people – lethal violence is everywhere.
Ask young men growing up in the nation’s inner cities. They’re dropping like flies in places like Chicago. We’ve our share of the craziness here in Connecticut, as well.
I’ve handled too many cases involving young men arguing about a woman, a liquor bottle, or nothing at all. The cases go something like this: A night out on the town, with a stop at a night club. Or maybe just some street-corner chatter. Someone says something stupid – the sort of thing we’d give someone a shove for years ago. A threat is made. An angry young man leaves, and then returns with a handgun. Bam, Bam, bam, and a few choice words, and there’s a dead body on the ground. All present run for cover. In the days and weeks that follow, the police cajole a few eyewitnesses into testifying. Plea offers in this case are typically 30 to 35 years in prison. Lose at trial, and your client is lucky to be sentenced to 45 years behind bars.
These cases are heart-rending punches to the gut, costing, as they do, two lives, that of the murdered victim, and, that of the shooter.
Too often both the victim and the shooter in these cases are young black men. They were dying by the dozen each week across the United States long before Newtown. It wasn’t national news when the victims were inner-city kids of color, and these victims aren’t getting slaughtered by gun-toting Rambos carrying assault weapons. Handguns are the death-dealer’s weapon of choice among urban youth.
"What’s your problem with Operation Longetivity?" a voice said as I stood on line in Dunkin Donuts in New Haven the other morning. I didn’t recognize the man who asked the question. He told me he was a probation officer. He was a brute block of a man, about 50, black, and with a world-weariness that told me I could trust him. He was asking me about the new federal initiative to jump on young men with guns.
"The feds don’t have any business enforcing gun laws in the cities," I said. "It’s like the war on drugs – it’s going to devastate communities of color." He knows I am right. He is a plantation master for those released from prison, but living on the state’s leash.
"Did you know that the latest thing is kids renting guns for drugs?" he said.
"How’s that work?"
"You can rent a gun for a day or two in exchange for drugs."
Far too many guns are finding their way onto city streets by suburban kids who steal a gun for the parents and then trade it for guns.
We both shook our heads. It is, indeed, a crazy world. Amid all the talk of gun legislation in the wake of Newtown, no one is talking about what it will take turn the killing fields on our city streets into places of peace.
We need handgun legislation with teeth. I say lawmakers should create a statutory fine scheme. Whenever a handgun in used in a murder, the manufacturer of the gun should be fined $200,000. Every dealer who put the weapon in the stream of commerce should be fine $10,000 in such cases. Every registered owner should be fined $5,000. I’ve a hunch that once these fines started adding up, fewer guns would find their way onto the streets and into the hands of young who use them to settle trifling grudges.
We’re playing at gun reform just now, and ignoring the inner cities. I suspect that’s because a lot of folks just don’t care if one black man kills another. In too many circles, I suspect such crimes are twofers, getting two African-Americans off the street, one by death, the other by prison. Deny it if you like, but only after soul-searching, ye white suburbanites.
We get the law enforcement we deserve. I say hit the gun lobby in the pocketbook, and hard. You want to own a gun. Fine. Pay for the consequences of their misuse.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.