The city of Baltimore, Maryland is going to end 2021 with its streak of 300+ homicides per year intact. In fact, this is the seventh straight year that the city has had more than 300 murders, despite the fact that eight years ago the state imposed sweeping new gun controls to go along with the many restrictions already on the books. From universal background checks to bans on “assault weapons” to subjective “may issue” carry restrictions that prevent the average citizen from carrying a gun in self-defense, Maryland Democrats have embraced almost every gun control law that groups like Everytown and Brady have brought to the table in recent years, but none of those gun laws have had an impact on violent criminals (law abiding gun owners, on the other hand…).
Yet Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks is beating the drum for more gun control laws, along with a “transformational awakening” that will lead Americans to reject gun ownership and interpersonal violence.
I know: If that didn’t happen after the deaths of first graders at Sandy Hook, when will it ever come? And from where?
That question goes right to the heart of this complex problem — the lack of moral leadership and unifying voices in a country that has splintered into factions. It seems hopeless.
But if we walk away, the killing will continue and get even worse. So, it needs to be said: The spiritual transformation begins when Americans break from our own history and vow to be nonviolent and turn away from guns even when surrounded by guns.
We’re not seeing stubbornly high homicide rates in Baltimore (and record numbers of homicides in cities from Philadelphia to Portland) because “Americans” are surrounded by guns and are lashing out violently. There are somewhere between 80 to 100-million gun owners across the United States, and less than 1% of them will ever be accused of a violent crime in their lives. And we know that more guns doesn’t equate to more crimes; if it did then violent crime would increase every year along with the number of firearms in private hands. Instead, between 1991 and 2019, violent crime and homicide rates declined dramatically across the country. Even in Baltimore, murders decreased for several years before climbing back above 300 in 2015. Coincidentally, that was the same year that the city saw violent riots, looting, and even a few peaceful protests after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Here’s a reminder from CNN’s reporting at the time:
Streets in Baltimore looked like a war zone early Tuesday after a night of riots, fires and heartbreak.
“Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who – in a very senseless way – are trying to tear down what so many have fought for,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.
Buildings and cars across the city were engulfed in flames. About a dozen businesses looted or damaged. At least 15 officers were wounded, six of them seriously, the police commissioner said.
Late Monday night, CNN crews saw looters breaking in through the roof of a Baltimore liquor store. They were tossing bottles and cans of alcohol onto the street below.
Gee, that sounds a lot like what we saw in many U.S. cities last summer, doesn’t it? And just like in Baltimore, the violent riots may have burned themselves out but the increased rates of violent crime have remained.
I actually agree with Rodricks that a spiritual awakening in these communities would be incredibly beneficial; not to cast guns aside but to place some value in human life. And I can’t help but notice that while Rodrick uses the language of spirituality, he’s actually calling for a much more secular solution.
Change of this scale in a country this large needs to be seeded with big money. In the name of national security — that is, making the nation safer — we take a few billion dollars from the defense budget, combined with billions more in philanthropy, for a long messaging campaign to get families to eliminate violence from their lives — in the movies they watch, in the video games they play, in how parents speak to each other and to their children.
If that sounds trite, just keep in mind: There is no anti-violence messaging to match and counter all the violent messaging that infests our culture. It would be like having a national anti-litter campaign again, a taxpayer-supported effort toward a better country.
We need therapy on-demand for the masses. We need to move more billions from national defense to recruit an army of social workers to counsel people at all levels of risk of harming or killing others. Maybe then more Americans would embrace peace and reject violence as an answer to their problems. Maybe then more Americans would melt their guns.
I hate to break it to Dan, but a spiritual transformation isn’t going to be accomplished by an army of social workers, a battalion of bureaucrats, or a platoon of politicians. And if he’s holding out hope for the day that Americans decide as one to “melt down their guns,” he’s going to be bitterly disappointed.
After seven straight years of 300+ homicides, you’d think the local pundits in Baltimore would have become more pragmatic and realistic in their approaches to reducing violence. Instead Rodricks is busy crafting a fairy tale world where government-funded public service announcements can stop gang violence, tens of thousands of social workers can instill moral character in the most hardened of criminals, and tens of millions of Americans voluntarily disarm themselves because they don’t want to have anything to do with guns anymore.
The reality is that Baltimore is short hundreds of officers, plagued by corruption, and has allowed its illegal drug trade (and associated crime) to grow largely unchecked in recent years. At the same time Maryland has made it much more difficult and legally dangerous to try to lawfully exercise your Second Amendment rights, emboldening criminals and disenfranchising the average citizen. Gun control won’t turn the city around. In fact things have only gotten worse since the Firearms Safety Act became law in 2013.
For instance, right now less than half of all homicides in the city result in an arrest. Baltimore could definitely use a spiritual transformation, but until there’s accountability and consequences for criminal acts of violence the only transformation the city is going to be a part of is its continued downward spiral.