Gun Violence: Shooting Holes in Wrong-headed Reforms

On a recent Saturday morning people streamed into a church building in south Camden, NJ, all carrying similar items–some items bundled in blankets, some wrapped in rugs with others in cases and plastic bags.
Those items were not toys for tots or assistance for the destitute.

These items were guns – handguns, rifles and shotguns – some working, many inoperable, most old – all brought to that church center for bundles of cash ranging from $50 to $250 during a vaunted gun ‘Buy-Back’ program.

This government sponsored Buy-Back program did net a record number of firearms: 1,137.

The record-setting figure easily exceeded the previous New Jersey high mark of 700 guns which was set in 2009 during a similar buy-back program in the Newark area.

The Camden buy-back netted five fully automatic weapons, which is a plus.

But judging from photographs of that record return of guns featured in media coverage those five full auto weapons were not the dreaded AK/AR-style assault rifles rightfully feared by police for their ability to rapidly fire bullets that, unlike pistols, can shred bullet-proof vests.

And irrespective of that record number of guns turned in for cash, this program – like so many other buy-back programs around the nation – missed its real target.

Weapons turned in at last weekend's "guns for cash" event in Camden, NJWeapons turned in at last weekend's "guns for cash" event in Camden, NJ

It missed the mark because those availing themselves of the no-questions-asked-cash-4-guns were not young hoodlums – the group mostly responsible for the gun-related mayhem and murder wrecking cities like Camden, where the murder rate runs ten times the national average. Instead, most of those bringing in their old and otherwise unwanted weapons were middle-aged to elderly. And many were not even residents of Camden, with some coming from twenty or more miles outside that crumbling city located directly across the Delaware River from downtown Philadelphia.

One man at the buy-back, who lives in a comfortable community far from Camden, as he stood in line waiting for authorities to process the guns he had brought in, used his smart phone to look at a new semi-automatic pistol he planned to buy with the help of the cash he’d be receiving.

It turns out he came to the buy-back to make a few extra bucks while making “room in my gun safe” for new acqisitions. It’s not the motivation media reports have been attributing to buy-back participants, which suggested people had been “touched” by the Connecticut school shooting tragedy and had decided to turn in their guns.

One of the weapons this upscale-community gun owner brought in was a WWII vintage British Army rifle, which one of the policemen working at the buy-back told him was collector quality worth at least $100 more than the $150 being offered at the buy-back. That man took the $150, opting for a “clear conscience” over more cash.

The Camden gun buy-back began on the same day that a crazed gunman massacred 20 children in six adults in Connecticut.

Mercifully, that elementary school massacre has prompted an unprecedented national reaction demanding action to tackle the normally politically untouchable topic of gun control.

This reaction included President Barack Obama announcing the formation of a task force to quickly make recommendations on gun control measures, headed by Vice-President Joe Biden.

However, the narrow focus on gun law reform as the answer to averting another mass slaughter at a school, shopping mall, movie theater or college campus will leave America once again dealing with a symptom instead of a cause.

The ‘cause’ that America consistently ignores is this nation’s deeply embedded culture of violence.
This culture of violence is not limited to murders and aggravated assaults.

This culture of violence includes soft but substantial brutalities like ignoring the crushing pain of poverty that has mushroomed in recent years and the turning of blind-eyes to the devastation of mental illness…a component of the deadly fact that America is #1 in health care cost but 37th out of 50 industrial countries in quality of health care.

This culture of violence also embraces manifestly unjust governmental policies like spending billions of dollars on building prisons while starving funding for public housing…a policy choice that contributes directly to homelessness among families.

Vice-President Biden deserves applause for including an assault weapon ban in the 1994 federal crime bill he shepherded through Capitol Hill, a ban that the Bush Administration refused to renew a decade later.
Yet, little is said about the violence in that Biden bill arising from the $9.7-billion for building new prisons that was also in it, and the cutback on education in those prisons jot to mention its expansion of the crimes subject to the death penalty.

The reduction of crime and violence that comes from from increased access to education does not need a presidential panel to validate it. Additionally, studies consistently document wrongful and discriminatory imposition of the death penalty.

Congress can quickly convene hearings on American deaths in Libya but that same body and the White House act cold as ice towards the murders of 62 school-age children in Chicago between January to early December 2012.

Those Chicago murders of children aged 6-to-18 are separate from the 446 children shot in that city, including three 5-year-olds, one 4-year-old, one 3-year-old and two 1-year-old children, according to Crime Chicago blog.

It’s understandable that public ire erupts against the gunmen behind the Connecticut school shootings, the Aurora, Co movie shootings in July and the April college campus shootings in Oakland, CA.

But public anger rarely boils over when federal officials give yet another wrist-slap to kingpin facilitators of the international drug trade…drug dealing whose violence on America streets kills, maims and costs U.S taxpayers precious expenditures better devoted to life sustaining initiatives.

Days before the Connecticut shootings news broke of federal prosecutors slapping a record $1.9-billion fine on one of the world’s largest banks – HSBC – after catching that British bank laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and entities connected to Middle East terrorists.

Typical of such federal settlements, no one at HSBC will face criminal prosecution and a prison cell like the 592 people convicted in federal courts for money laundering between October 2011 and June 2012.

That ‘record’ fine may sound like an astronomical amount but consider that the dollar figure of that fine represents a few weeks’ profit for HSBC and even then, some of the costs associated with that fine are tax deductable business-related expenses.

So how did the criminals in the plush corporate suites of HSBC escape criminal prosecution?

Federal prosecutors and top Obama Administration officials claimed to believe that holding this ‘too-big-to-fail’ bank fully accountable for its crimes would possibly disrupt that bank’s ability to do business and potentially destabilize the global financial system.

Federal prosecutors rarely care about the violence from disruptions/destabilizations caused to families of single-parent mothers they send to prison for decades simply because their boyfriend dealt drugs that they knew about but were never directly involved in trafficking.

And, before anyone tries to argue that white collar crime like that committed by HSBC executives is different from ‘street crime,’ consider the fact that the Drug War in Mexico which HSBC helped to enable has cost over 60,000 lives in the past six years.

Over 1,000 of those Drug War deaths in Mexico were children 18-years-old and younger, according to the Civil Rights Network of Mexico.

If the U.S. is truly serious about curbing gun violence, politicians shouldn’t stop at feel-good bans on selling assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

Yes, there are more registered gun shops across American than McDonald’s fast food joints, according to some calculations.

But, schmucks selling guns to illegal straw purchasers in gun stores are a small part of “the problem,” since the largest weapons merchant in the world is the United States government, which generates $66.3-billion selling weaponry from assault rifles to attack helicopters around the world, making it by far the largest arms merchant on the globe.

And don’t overlook the fact that U.S. drone attacks abroad have killed an estimated 176 children in recent years…children with no direct involvement in the terrorism those extra-judicial drone executions supposedly target.