Police Abuse

If You Like the War on Drugs, You'll Love the War on Guns!

The police got militarized to fight drugs. If you thought the drug war was racist, how do you think the gun war will look?


West Midlands PD (UK)

A new argument has taken hold among gun control advocates, that gun control could reduce police violence. It's a shameless attachment of a sectarian agenda to an issue that's been in the mainstream for about two years now. The argument goes all the way up to President Obama. "Part of what's creating tensions between the communities and the police is the fact that police have a difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere," the president said over the weekend.

Obama's argument, and that of other gun control advocates, callously dismisses the racialized aspect of police violence that the Black Lives Matter movement has pushed the forefront. People have been killed by cops for all kinds of things mistaken for guns, from boxer shorts to wallets and other objects.. Sometimes objects aren't even necessary; "furtive movements" suffice. Many of the communities to which Obama makes reference, like Chicago and New York City, already have strict gun control laws.

No law will rid such communities of guns in one step. Disarming such communities, as with disarming any population, would require a significant amount of police force—the very issue that animated police reform advocates in the first place. Gun buybacks are popular but ineffective. (Australia's buyback program and gun crackdown created a violent black market in guns—but anti-gun advocates who point to the "Australian model," as Obama and Hillary Clinton have, won't mention that.) Lowering the number of firearms in circulation would require confiscation. It would mean no-knock raids, flashbang grenades, and other techniques popularized by the drug war, and more. You can't use drugs to shoot back.

There is an argument that gun prohibition would work better than drug prohibition because guns are more difficult to manufacture and harder to conceal. 3-D printing is closing the manufacturing gap, and while guns may be harder to conceal than drugs they are also harder to confiscate. Police already use a significant amount of force in the war on drugs, based on the argument that an attempt to confiscate drugs could face violent resistance. A primary function of firearms is to offer resistance. Police in the United States became militarized largely on the strength of the drug war (and not widespread gun ownership as some anti-gun revisionists argue).

Confiscation is the logical conclusion from the premise offered by Obama and other gun control advocates in the wake of the re-emergence of police violence as a national issue that fewer guns in circulation would reduce police brutality. More than half the people shot by cops this year so far were reported to be armed with a gun. By and large, these are already illegal weapons. Further gun control measures will have even more diminished returns. In general, only the most law-abiding of citizens are likely to abide by gun control laws. There is a substantive difference between legal access to weapons and availability of weapons, as places like Chicago and Newark show. Reducing the number of weapons in circulation in the United States—estimated at 350 million—would require substantive police action, placing yet more police officers and civilians, disproportionately the poor and minorities, in danger.

In addition confiscation, a reduction in the availability of weapons would also have to deal with the illegal import of weapons. Some of the weapons found on inner city streets, as Ras Baraka, now the mayor of Newark, mentioned a few years ago, come illegally from out of the country. As with the war on drugs, any effective measure to constrict the availability of supply will only incentivize black market operators to refill the gap. Plenty of drugs cross the U.S.-Mexico border, fueling rhetoric like Trump's about building a giant wall. An attempt at effective gun control that reduced the number of weapons in circulation in the U.S. would inevitably involve securing the border. Gun control advocates are offering one more reason for restrictionists to demand closed borders. While gun control advocates point to gun homicide rates in Europe as to what is achievable, they ought to consider gun homicide rates in the Americas, which tend to be higher than in the U.S., as what they are working against. While the U.S. government is the largest arms dealer in the world, the guns the Americas are awash with are hardly all U.S.-made.

Gun control advocates argue in favor of "doing something," but rarely offer solutions beyond those, like background checks, that have already been largely ineffective. Yet even repeal of the Second Amendment and a total ban on firearms is hardly a guarantee of success. It does, however, guarantee a lot more police violence and violence against police in order to satiate the "democratic" desires of the electorate. Ignorance of the effects of a preferred policy is not an excuse for pushing policies that are dangerous to people, especially those already in marginalized communities.

Twenty years ago, the 1994 crime bill passed with bipartisan support. The bill contributed to the problem of hyper-incarceration and aggressive policing, as noted by activists over the last year. As his wife sought to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, former president Bill Clinton even apologized for supporting the bill. Many black politicians excused their support for the bill by insisting they had to "do something" about drug use and high crime rates in the inner city. These politicians claim they understand the role of racism in American society yet then support laws that would be hard to enforce equitably even in the absence of racism. The same thing is happening with gun control. Advocates argue they need to "do something," and rarely engage substantive criticism of specific gun control proposals, insofar as such proposals exist. They wish to unleash even more police violence onto the American people, and disproportionately onto marginalized communities. Ignorance is not an excuse for violent or racist outcomes.

(h/t to Thaddeus Russell for the headline)