Ignore the Cause and Suffer the Effects

The Washington Post recently published  a retrospective account of the deaths of 91 children in 2012 to highlight the one year anniversary of the senseless shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in December 2012. Clearly this article was intended to strike an emotional chord that would resonate with any sane person. The media revels in painting emotionally charged landscapes in the hopes that it will rouse the public to call on their saviors in government to save us from ourselves. And while the stories are indeed heart wrenching they actually undermine the narrative that these deaths are entirely a consequence of the prevalence of guns in society. Although the deaths were indeed the direct result of gun fire per se, the stories broadly fall into two categories of causation that have nothing to do with guns themselves being the causative agent of death. The first category is the most heart wrenching: that of the child’s parent or paramour of the parent being the killer. These were not accidental shootings; these were clear and deliberate murders of these children at close range. Had there been no guns available in these situations clearly a knife or any large blunt object would have done the job. In other words, absent guns, the outcomes for all of these stories would have been tragically identical.

The second category is that of accidental crossfire in drive by shootings or other gang activity. Obviously distance based killing is more easily facilitated by guns, however consider the fact that gangs are simply groups composed of criminals (people who already ignore all laws) so how could one reasonably expect even a total ban on all guns to have affected such activity? Criminals are no more going to obey laws banning guns than they obey laws against murder or theft. However, it is important to step back for a moment and ask why do these terrible drive by shootings occur? What is the source of so much gang violence? Drugs, or rather the prohibition of drugs. The prohibition of an economic good drives up its price and thus the incentive for people to engage in providing that economic good to those wiling to pay the high price. However, being outlawed, the trade of such goods lacks any formal legal protection, therefore those parties involved in its trade have no choice but to resort to violence in order to settle their disputes. The result? Far more innocent people being killed by drug prohibition related violence (as well as wrong-address-no-knock police raids) then have ever or could have ever been harmed by the drugs themselves.

If we are truly desirous of decreasing not only gun violence but all violence we must address the causes and not simply attempt to put band aids on the effects. Absent drug or other economic goods prohibitions all gang violence would cease insofar as most if not all gangs would dissolve as their central raison d’être (exorbitant profits from the sale of prohibited goods) would cease to exist. In terms of violence committed by parents against their children it is immaterial to question the means by which such violence is perpetrated: gun, knife, rope, hands – you can’t ban them all. All we can do is resolve to be more engaged with our neighbors in order to see the signs of potential violence.

If we wish to change the society we live in, we must individually act to be part of that change. It is our responsibility, not government’s. Delegating our wishes to government is the act of the indolent and cowardly; too lazy to try and persuade and too afraid to carry out the violence needed to force your neighbors to follow your worldview.