While mass shootings take up a lot of time on the American airwaves and internet, the majority of murders in this country are far more personal. They’re the result of someone having an issue with another, and it ends up being settled at the point of a gun. It’s senseless and stupid, but not new.
This is especially true when you look at gangs, a source of a lot of murders in this country.
You see, gangs are what some might call an “honor culture.” What I mean by that is that they care about their “status” and demand respect. It’s their “honor.” When someone disrespects them, they have to either respond or lose status. What happens much of the time is that gangs attempt to take the other person’s life. Even if unsuccessful, they maintain their status as someone who won’t take being disrespected. Killing innocent bystanders, however, doesn’t negatively impact them in any way, thus creating no incentive to keep their violence restrained.
What if, however, there were another way for such “honor” to be satisfied without risking the lives of the innocent who may be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Well, it sounds like there may be.
Many smart, much-debated ideas exist on how we should address the nation’s gun violence problem. They can be found in academic studies, and in state and federal legislation that has passed and failed. They can be found on the signs of March for Our Lives protesters, and on the lips of people who have lost children, parents and parts of their own bodies to gunshot blasts.
They can also be found on a grassy lot located more than an hour and a half from Washington. If you arrive at the right time on the right weekend each month, you’ll find a group of people who say they have found a way to fight gun violence that has nothing to do with studies, laws or protests.
Their solution, they will tell you, is much simpler: Let two people with a grudge pummel each other.
“I know that it probably sounds ridiculous from the outside,” Chris Wilmore says. “It’s hard to explain. But I can tell you that I have solved beefs with guys I hated before I fought them, and now we talk regularly.”
Wilmore, who is called “Scarface” and sometimes just “Face,” created the fight club “Streetbeefs” in his Harrisonburg backyard in 2008. His goal at that time was to provide a safe place for people in his community to settle disputes. Like him, many of the club’s first members had criminal records and were aware of what could happen if they took their fights to the streets. The club’s motto is “Guns down, Gloves up.”
I had my doubts. I shared them with Wilmore a few days before the fight. He told me that 90 percent of the beef fights he has seen haven’t gone beyond the ring. The club’s success rate is also skewed by the few women who have fought. “Those are the ones that for some reason never get solved,” Wilmore says.
The club, he points out, has also settled beefs that never turned into fights.
I have no problem believing the numbers, at least to some degree. I’m sure he’s guesstimating, but I suspect he’s not that far off. After all, once something has been settled, a lot of guys are satisfied that the situation is over. They move on. If not, well, that’s OK too. There’s always a chance for a rematch.
Guys are always going to have disputes, and the desire to use violence goes way back in our evolutionary history. Duels are a common historical example of this, though often with deadlier results.
Now, I’m not saying what these guys are doing is safe. It’s probably not. People die in fights all the time, and if that happens during one of these fights, Wilmore is probably going to be all kinds of screwed.
However, I think it also suggests a way to change what kind of violence we see. I’d much rather guys settle their scores with MMA gloves or boxing gloves than with guns. At least one of the people talked about in the above-linked post has a concealed carry permit and a number of firearms, but this is how he chose to settle his score.
Afterward, he and his former adversary sat down over a beer.
Now, is this the answer? Maybe, maybe not. Some beefs aren’t going to be settled by anything short of bloodshed or an arrest, but some can be. The only thing I’d want to see for efforts like this is for them to be made not just legal, but safer. Maybe a physician can be ringside to make sure things don’t get too carried away, much like in sanctioned fights.
Let them settle things inside a ring and call it a day rather than with bloodshed on the streets.