Thornton For Governor
PO Box 1971, Manchester, CT 06045

May 31, 2006

Is Getting The Guns Off The Streets Really The Answer?

Certainly keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is a great idea… as far as it goes. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as some make it seem. First of all there are some 200 million guns in America; couple that with a strong demand among criminals for guns and one begins to see the problem.

So who has all these guns? Places with the highest rate of gun ownership tend to be rural and small-town. But gun crime in these areas is low. The gun crime is taking place in our cities. Why? In rural and small-town America, family structures are largely strong, and these communities are often more stable and unified. So, the problem of violence in American inner cities seems to have less to do with the fact that guns are available there (as are everywhere) than with the fact that so many families are dysfunctional, and that so little sense of community can be found.

What particular group in these inner cities is largely responsible for the shootings that have become so common there? After declining for several years, the black teenage homicide rate began soaring upward in 1987. Guns were not more available after 1987. What did happen in the late 1980’s was that the drug war suddenly intensified. In the late 1980’s the popularization of crack cocaine produced an unprecedented media and political determination to fight a "drug war" in the United States.

The "War on Drugs" has lived up to its name by producing a genuine war in inner-city America. The black market created caused an epidemic of violence in cities across America. Lured by the large potential for profit in the black market created by prohibition, large numbers of poor, jobless black youth got into the drug business. Since drug dealers are likely to be carrying large sums of money, they are at serious risk of robbery. Since they cannot rely on the police for protection, they must, to survive, protect themselves. When drug dealers engage in commercial transactions with each other, there is no Uniform Commercial Code and state district court for resolving disputes about the quality of goods sold. Disgruntled buyers, unable to complain to the Better Business Bureau or sue, often resort to violence. Similarly, the addicts who sell drugs often end up consuming the drugs which should have been sold; or stealing the cash received in payment. Higher-level dealers, having no legal means of debt collection, frequently resort to violence.

For those unfortunate enough to live in one of the “war-zones” created by drug prohibition life deteriorated considerably. Neighborhoods were ravaged by drug dealers shooting it out on the streets. Many families fled. Police raided houses making arrests and damaged properties in the process. Houses were abandoned only to be occupied by squatters using and selling drugs. Families fell victim to the drug war as fathers were locked up for drug use. As neighborhoods deteriorated so did schools. Disputes settled with horrendous violence, often involving guns, became commonplace. Of course young, aggressive youth who sold drugs to survive in these war-zones bereft of jobs became its first victims. Inner city black teenagers killed each other at higher and higher rates.

Reducing inner-city black male teenage homicide requires a direct attack on the social ills which cause so many young people to grow up believing that their own lives and the lives of others are worthless. Since severe drug prohibition has not reduced the supply of drugs in the inner cities, why would one expect that gun controls will reduce guns in the inner-city? Legislators must consider not only immediate steps to get juvenile criminals off the streets, but to begin addressing the social ills that breed juvenile crime.

The problem before us is reducing the motivations for juveniles to arm themselves. Convincing inner-city juveniles, or adults, not to own, carry, and use guns requires convincing them that they can survive in their neighborhoods without being armed. We must convince them that society’s usual agents of social control, the police, can be relied upon to provide for personal security. So long as this is not believed to be the case, gun ownership and carrying in the city will remain widespread. The police are perceived as the enemy by many black teenagers. Because police have been charged with the impossible task of making the city drug free they are viewed as a sort of occupying army.

Several studies have shown a direct link between increases in police anti-drug activity and increases in property and violent crime. Most recently a study was released by Le Moyne economists Shepard and Blackley of over 1300 counties in the United States over seven years. They say that their findings suggest that “the recent focus on marijuana law enforcement has been counterproductive for addressing non-drug crime. By removing the legal restrictions against possessing marijuana and ending its sale in the underground economy, the results indicate that fewer burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts are likely to be committed. A similar result also holds for marijuana sales with respect to the incidence of arrests for homicide and hard drug possession.”

We need to do four things: get the repeat violent offenders of the streets, work to curb the supply of illegal guns, end drug prohibition, and encourage economic opportunities for those inner-city youth most at risk. The relationship between these things is at once strong and vague. For instance, if we were somehow to be successful in seriously reducing the illegal guns brought into the state that would only serve to raise their prices causing increases in burglaries to steal guns locally, increased smuggling, more crime to get the money for the now higher-priced guns…overall increasing the crime we’re trying to reduce. Only by simultaneously attacking all the sources of the problem at once can society expect to see any benefit. To do only some of these things will, more than likely, only make the problem worse.

Clifford Wallace Thornton, Jr
Green Party Candidate for Governor of Connecticut
860 657 8438-Home or 860 268 1294 (cell)
860 778 1304 (cell)--Campaign Manager