Last week we experienced a senseless slaughter by an apparently mentally deranged gunman who went into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn and used a high-powered rifle to kill 20 children and 6 adults, including his mother. The incident followed the horrendous mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at a manufacturer in Minneapolis. More than 60 mass murders have been carried out with firearms across America in the last several decades.
Closer to home, we also have a different, but no less gruesome massacre taking place. Detroit’s reputation as a mean and dangerous place has been reinforced day-in, day-out since the mid-1980s when gun-related violence became the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among the city’s young. The city has recorded more than 365 homicides this year, which is more per capita than in New York, a city with more than 10 times Detroit’s population.
The most frightening aspect of the violence is its randomness. It is led by an inner city underclass unlike any in the city’s past. Our neighborhoods are breeding grounds for generations of demoralized, idle, rootless young men who feel empowered only by possession of deadly weapons. The aggressive, brutal style of their violence is carried out without conscience.
Each time a mass murder occurs, there is an outcry from the anti-gun lobby, which raise questions over the need for tougher gun control. Some lawmakers want military-style assault weapons banned. Arguably, it would be nice to think that symbolic gestures would persuade predators to change their behavior. But tougher gun laws hold a false promise. Nothing prevents Detroit from drowning in illegal firearms.
In many instances, officers on the street find themselves outgunned. Increasingly caches of AK-47s are seized from criminals. But research shows that if 90 percent of guns disappeared, there would still be plenty left for every criminal since thievery and the black market provide them with all the guns they need.
Collectively, the violence, the tragedy and the suffering are telling indicators of the bleakness and perversity that have become an everyday fact of suburban and city life. The disintegration of the traditional family, increasing poverty, deteriorating schools and the enormity of the drug problem are contributing factors. Guns are the weapons of choice within this culture. Until these pathologies are reversed, these homegrown predators will find a way to kill and maim no matter how many controls society tries to place on guns.
Detroit is paralyzed. Few suggestions on how to lead young people away from corrupting influences and impose strict order on their lives are submitted by community organizations, civic groups, churches or policy-makers. Realistic plans to make streets safe aren’t articulated by law enforcement entities. Violence is generally viewed as uncontrollable or inevitable even under the most favorable circumstances. Therefore, thousands of residents live behind bars and elaborate security systems, prisoners in their own home. Left to accept the carnage as a way of life, residents drift into frightened silence and prolonged mourning.
Rather than signal hopelessness, however, these incidents should arouse frustrated communities to lay siege to the deadly culture of violence. One counterattack on armed criminal warfare could involve identifying, targeting and incarcerating the most chronic offenders for a long time. As long as there are bad guys on the streets, they will find guns to use. And as long as fear of violence is so high, law-abiding citizens will want to buy guns to protect themselves.
In the final analysis, government has a responsibility to protect the public from predators. But as we have become painfully aware, government can only do so much to prevent people from being massacred at the hands of their own children.