This op/ed originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 27, 2008, section B-13
There is a problem over where there is no “there.” Homicides in Oakland are up 27 percent so far this year. In preparation for a mayoral run, a state senator and FBI suspect is resurrecting his worn arguments favoring gun control. California and the Bay Area have tinkered with gun control for decades, and yet Oakland falls further into chaos. Despite politicians’ efforts to eliminate private firearm ownership, homicide is nearly a daily event in Oaktown.
In crafting public policies, working from facts is both wise – and inconvenient. The relationship between guns and violence is known to be weak at best. Criminologists have spent endless hours, and the government has spent a ton of cash, studying the role of firearms in society and in crime. The consensus is that guns don’t cause crime and that gun control doesn’t reduce it. Now the U.S. Supreme Court – and not for the first time – has certified banning self-defense guns is simply unconstitutional.
Before Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s 1994 ban was enacted, firearms that fit the broadest definition of “assault weapon” were found to be involved in less than 0.25 percent of violent crimes. This reality does not deter career politicians, who use ugly looking guns to win votes.
Gun shows are not the problem. For more than three decades, felons have been polled as to where they obtained their firearms. The U.S. Department of Justice found that criminals don’t shop at gun shows, and no criminologist has fully quantified what leakage may derive from gun shows into the black market.
We also know that guns in the home are not a determining factor in criminal violence, except that the absence of firearms in the home tends to increase criminal invasions.
When a person is involved in criminal activities however, they quickly obtain a gun from the black market. Criminals know that other criminals are dangerous, and therefore arm themselves. The U.S. Bureau of Justice estimated that nearly 80 percent of all homicides in the United States (and that should hold true for Oakland) result from criminal activities in gangs and drug running. In other words, thugs are killing fellow thugs.
I have lived in several places in the United States where everybody owns guns and nobody shoots anyone. The mere availability of firearms is not a variable that causes violence.
We must then ask “what makes Oakland different.” It boils down to one painful truth that no politician wanting to be elected will publicly admit. Like other gang-infested cities, Oakland has subcultures that not only tolerate but actually glorify violence.
Oakland officials insure that there are enough police officers to patrol the well-heeled neighborhoods from whence campaign contributions flow, but don’t hire enough cops to deter crime on the mean streets. Oakland police only arrive in poor neighborhoods after violence has been committed to clean up the mess and restore order.
Gun control simply doesn’t work. Deterrence does. In the absence of a significantly larger police presence in troubled Oakland neighborhoods, the last remaining resource is the residents themselves.
It is both moral and possible for people to take direct action to intervene in criminal activity, and core to the process is to changing the culture that encourages violence. It requires intolerance for thugs, the willingness to work closely with the police and dumping the false belief that politicians actually care about you.
It also took a Supreme Court ruling saying that you can take care of yourself and that no politician can take that away.
Guy Smith is the author of “Gun Facts – Debunking Gun Control Myths,” ( www.GunFacts.info).