This week, the US had two more mass shootings. While it is possible that the shooting in San Bernardino may be linked to terrorism, it’s still part of a depressing cycle of violence, which, as President Obama pointed out, has no parallel in the developed world. The very fact that the killing of 14 people might not be part of a terrorist act or genocide is a bigger problem than that it might be. And at home in Chicago, we’re still staggering after the release of a video that showed the police shooting of LaQuan McDonald.
These incidents continue to happen with grim regularity. More young Americans die from gunshots than car crashes. But inevitably when one of these events happens, after everyone has had their moments of silence and sworn it will never happen again (which should be a form of perjury at this point), a futile political debate about gun control begins and eventually ends with the same status quo.
I have my own opinions about gun control, which are largely in line with those voiced by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in his excellent Six Amendments. While gun rights activists have a point that we haven’t found a control policy that works completely (nor is it likely that gun control alone would eliminate the problem – consider the Rwandan genocide which was done almost entirely with machetes), gun reformers have a stronger point that the second amendment has only relatively recently been construed to block virtually all experimentation with such policies and that the new construction is arguably against the framers’ intent (guns in the hands of a “well regulated militia”).
But putting that to the side, there are other things we can and should do which have a provable effect on violence reduction. One such idea comes from Dr Gary Slutkin, the visionary founder of Cure Violence. His organization uses approaches from the field of infectious diseases to treat violence as a public health problem rather than a matter of criminal or even economic justice. While it sounds a bit far out, his results are dramatic, bringing down violence in neighborhoods by 40-70%. And his approach can be applied to police violence as well. It is also endorsed by mayors, police chiefs, and communities leaders around the country and around the globe. His TED MED talk is here:
Other approaches, including investments in mental health, after school programs, and early childhood education also pay tremendous dividends in reducing violence and none of these should be as controversial as gun control (some of my Chicago favorites include UCAN, Erikson Institute, and Off The Street Club). Virtually no one would argue against these kinds of programs. The only real question is are we willing to pay for them.
As President Obama said, it’s unlikely that we’d see a nation with no violence (especially when some of that violence is potential a result of extremism imported from abroad), but by supporting organizations like Cure Violence and other strong neighborhood programs we could make a mighty dent in it. I’m making a pledge today and I hope you will join me.