Why Ending the Drug War is Good Gun Control Policy

Remember that iconic photo of Malcolm X peeking out the window while holding gun with what’s known on the streets as a banana clip? as I think of this week’s ongoing gun control debate, I’ve come to rest on that very picture probably being the biggest reason why I’m opposed o an assault weapon ban. I can provide numbers to support the argument that an assault weapon ban will do very little as a solution to America’s gun violence problem. But being a black man, that very photo says it all. Not that I’m paranoid or afraid of “the man” coming after me like they did Malcolm — nope, never that. You see, I’m reminded of the fact that at one point in this country’s history, it was against the law for anyone black to own a gun. And in so many ways, the existence of that law further enabled “certain people” when it came to terrorizing the lives of black folks in America.

Here’s a stupid conversation on gun control:

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about gun control in America, shall we? Where there are drugs, there are guns; and thus, gun violence. Don’t believe me? Just look at Mexico where guns are illegal. That said, isn’t ending the drug war smart gun control policy? I mean why not? I’ve heard it all from the absurd suggestion of placing armed guards and policemen in schools. Then there’s the downright ridiculous idea of training teachers to shoot to protect kids in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. And of course there’s the unconstitutional yet ignorant suggestion to create a data base for mental health patients or anyone who has spent as much as an hour in counsel with a mental health professional, or shrink as they’re commonly known. Of course I can take some time to sell you on why those are all bad ideas that are destined to fail when it comes to solving the problem that is gun violence in America. But for the sake of time, energy, in the interest of finding an actual solution allow me to advance the following: Why don’t we just end the drug war?

Any gun control we enact will have a limited effect. But this should not be cause for despair. Much of the recent hysteria over gun deaths is misplaced.

A lot of people have been citing a recent report, “American Gun Deaths to Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 2015.” The article shows that gun deaths in America are slowly rising, and now stand at 32,000 per year — a staggering toll. Now, 32,000 deaths per year is a lot of death, and I’d never minimize that. But what the article’s authors fail to mention is that gun murders comprise less than a third of that total — about 9,000 per year in recent years. With accidental gun deaths steady at around 500-600 per year, the bulk of those 32,000 “gun deaths” are suicides.

In fact, murder by gun has been falling steadily since the early 1990s. Some of that is due to improvements in emergency medicine, but most is a result of the overall decline in violent crime that America has enjoyed over the last two decades. The fact that overall gun deaths has risen since 2000, despite the fall in murders, suggests that increased gun suicide has accounted for more than 100% of the increase in gun deaths. Obviously, suicide is a tragedy, and I don’t want to minimize it. But people aren’t panicking over suicide, they’re panicking over murder, and gun-related murder is on the way down.

Of course, 9,000 gun deaths a year is still a lot. Still more than other rich countries, still a disgrace, still far too many! But people who have been watching the round-the-clock coverage of the Newtown massacre need to understand that “mass killings” of the Newtown type account for a very small percent of that 9,000. Most of those 9,000 gun murders are of the more mundane, but no less deadly variety — drive-by shootings, gang wars, personal quarrels, and other easily comprehensible crimes.

And if we really care about those 9,000 souls who are shot to death each year, there is an extremely effective policy that we could enact right now that would probably save many of them.

I’m talking about ending the drug war.

Now I can think of many reasons to end Americas 40-year-long failed War on Drugs; and, I’m sure we can have a debate on just that. However, since we’re all up in arms about guns since last month’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Given the many ill-formed opinions and positions posited by more than the NRA’s Wayne La Pierre. Again, in the interest of public safety, isn’t it time we treat drug use, abuse, as well as gun violence like a public health crisis much like we did with HIV/AIDS in America and abroad? No seriously, think about that for a second. Yes, think about how a necessary paradigm shift — that is, decriminalizing illicit drugs — as far as policy can produce the desired results for the greater good.

Reliable statistics on the number of drug-related murders in the United States are hard to come by. A 1994 Department of Justice report suggested that between a third and a half of U.S. homicides were drug-related, while a recent Center for Disease Control study found that the rate varied between 5% and 25% (a 2002 Bureau of Justice report splits the difference). Part of this variance is that “drug-related” murders are hard to define. There are murders committed by people on drugs, murders committed by addicts to get money for drugs, turf-war murders by drug suppliers, and murders committed by gangs whose principal source of income is drug sales.

But very few would argue that the illegal drug trade is a significant cause of murders. This is a straightforward result of America’s three-decade-long “drug war.” Legal bans on drug sales lead to a vacuum in legal regulation; instead of going to court, drug suppliers settle their disputes by shooting each other. Meanwhile, interdiction efforts raise the price of drugs by curbing supply, making local drug supply monopolies (i.e., gang turf) a rich prize to be fought over. And stuffing our overcrowded prisons full of harmless, hapless drug addicts forces us to give accelerated parole to hardened killers.

Ending the drug war would involve reducing all of these incentives to murder. Treating addicts in hospitals and rehab centers, instead of sticking them in prisons, would reduce demand for drugs, lowering the price and starving gangs of income while reducing their incentive to wage turf wars. Decriminalization would relieve pressure on our prison system, allowing us to focus on keeping violent people off the streets instead of pointlessly punishing drug users for destroying their own health. And full legalization of recreational marijuana — which is already proceeding quickly among the states, but is still foolishly opposed by the Obama administration — is an obvious first step.

In other words, yes, gun control is good. BUT don’t expect it to be a panacea for America’s gun violence problem. If we really want to save some of those 9,000 people, we need to end the self-destructive, failed drug policies that have turned us into a prison state and turned many of our cities into war zones. (source)

Now, does this sound crazy, or what? Of course to some of you it does; however, alcohol is considered a drug, yet I don’t see Mexican drug cartels murdering people by the thousands each year to be able to control the market for alcohol. Nope, you don’t hear about headless bodies being found in deserts along the southern border because of alcohol. Which is really funny because more people die annually because of alcohol than they do because of guns. So if we’re really serious about doing something about gun violence in America, why not start with drug legalization? After all, if that were to happen, what’s the worse that can happen other than a reduction in gun crimes in cities in Chicago? A city that had 506 homicides in 2012, with 80% of them being gun-related; with only 4% of the guns used being assault weapons. This makes sense in my head, but what about you?

After all, like “Nino Brown” said, “Ain’t no Uzis made up in Harlem,” which they might not be. But, it’s undeniable that more money is made by the presence of guns and drugs in our neighborhoods by the folks responsible for the task of keeping them out, than the ones engaged in the trade.

Although the overall U.S. prison population declined slightly in 2011, the federal prison population continued to rise, with rates of drug and immigration offenders that eclipse those held for violent crimes. While only 8 percent of federal prisoners were sentenced for violent crimes in 2011, almost half of federal inmates – 48 percent – were in prison for drug crimes, according to Department of Justice statistics. Another 11 percent were held for immigration offenses – one of the largest-growing segments of the prison population.

These numbers reflect the impact of the aggressive U.S. “War on Drugs,” a major contributor to the United States’ standing as the number one jailer in the world. Overall declines in U.S. prisons of 0.9 percent are attributable to state prisons, as some states have been moved by budget crises to adopt innovative reforms, and some jurisdictions have moved toward decriminalizing minor drug offenses.

But federal drug law remains draconian, with harsh mandatory minimum sentences for sometimes minor nonviolent roles in drug deals. What’s more, one of the major causes of the state prison population decrease was the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that California state prisons are cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment. A drastic decrease in California’s prison population has resulted from what is known as realignment, in which prisoners are moved from state prisons to county jails, where local sheriffs have greater discretion over how to deal with offenders – for better or for worse — and may send them to mental health treatment, home surveillance, or community service rather than hold them behind bars. The California shift accounts for more than half of the decrease in the U.S. prison population, and overall state spending on prisons continues to be the fastest-growing budgetary item after Medicaid. (source)

Now watch the following video and ask yourself: What would change if drugs were made legal in America?