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This Week in the Killing Streets

Two pieces side by side in today's San Francisco Chronicle:1. A pit bull who mauled a police horse in an unprovoked attack was spared euthanasia. More than 113,000 people signed an on-line petition to spare the dog, and raised an "undisclosed sum" of cash for his defense. The dog, unleashed and uncollared at the time of the attack, also caused the officer riding the horse to be thrown and injured. 2. A shorter piece, about 6 shooting deaths in Oakland this week, 4 of them within six hours on Friday. Friday's victims were 17, 22, 30, and 20 years old, and were all members of "identified groups." Last year, Oakland saw 131 homicides--clearly 2013 is starting out with a bang.So--before the pit bull community speaks up, let me say this. I love pit bulls, always have. And I know dogs. The fault with this case lies with the dog's owner, sure, but tell that to the mauled horse and the injured rider. But what struck me was the juxtaposition of these two stories. Where are the 113,000 people with cash in hand to begin to work--or even donate--against the rampant gun violence in the city? The Oakland Tribune reports " Police on Saturday vowed to intensify efforts to curb violence in the city," but it's also worth noting that the police force has shrunk 20% since 2009. The police here are stretched so far that in 2010 the chief released a list of crimes the police would not respond to in person if planned layoffs went through. The layoffs went through. Among the "freebie" crimes in Oakland are burglary, theft, grand theft, extortion and vandalism. Another headline read: "Oakland police investigating four homicides within hours." It says a lot that police acting promptly after a murder is newsworthy.Because of the horror of the Newtown School shootings, effective gun control is finally a matter of public attention. School shootings and the rampant gun violence in the cities are different phenomena in many ways, and a multifaceted approach will be needed to address the two issues. One thing they have in common, though, is easy access to guns. So the next time someone says "we've got to curb access to assault weapons and large-capacity magazines," say, "sure, great idea," and ask back "what about the weapon of choice in the inner city--semi-automatic and automatic (legal or not) hand guns?" Not only the cheap ones, either--a successful gang banger very often has the cash in hand to buy a nice gun via straw purchase at a gun show or elsewhere. Right now the assault-style weapons are getting a lot of attention, but it's the small guns that kill most often in the streets. So let's care as much about the deaths of the young in the streets as we do about the potential euthanasia of a pit bull.

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It's an interesting juxtaposition. I suppose dogs are more lovable than gang bangers. It's good that people love pets. What if we could convince them to love the criminal poor?

I propose that the possession of a gun by a minor, other than with adult supervision at a shooting range or on a hunt, be considered a felony both for the minor and the parent or guardian. All persons not yet 21 at the time of the passage of the law should be required to have gun safety training, a completely clean juvenile record, and no serious mental health problems before applying for a federal license. I like the comparison to automobile driving and ownership for guns.

You mean that Oakland -- liberal, progressive Oakland -- does not already have strict gun laws??If that were the answer, shouldn't their existing laws have prevented such rampant gun violence in the city?Of course, it is not only gun violence which is rampant, other major crimes are as well -- non-gun rape, non-gun malicious woundings and felonious assault, non-gun burglary, non-gun theft, non-gun grand theft, non-gun extortion, non-gun vandalism and so on.So perhaps the answer lies not in various instrumentalities, but in the culture, in the mind-set of people? That is what needs to change.

A competent society should be able to work on two problems at the same time, Bender, especially if they are related. So let us by all means try to reduce the number of violent people in our midst and to change a culture that tolerates, if it does not appove, violent behavior and general criminality. But since we will not succeed immediately, and never perfectly, might we not also see what can be done to reduce the lethality of the violent outbursts that will still occur?

@Bender (1/13, 12:01 am) This may be off-topic, but there's been a dramatic drop in violent and major crimes nationwide over the past 20 years. It's continued despite numerous predictions and theories (e.g., the rising generation of "super-predators", the impact of the Great Recession) that it would be reversed.Kevin Drum, in Mother Jones magazine earlier this month, wrote a compelling article, "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead", that convincingly argued that the primary reason for the decline in violent crime---and for the mid-20th century rise in violent crime, particularly in big cities, that preceded it---is absence (or presence) of lead poisoning.http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline(See also this post from my blog that links at the end to several additional posts from Drum on the subject. http://masscommons.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/get-the-lead-out-and-slash-v...)

Does it seem to anyone else that Americans are especially good at offering easy sentimental twaddle after a tragedy but are, practically speaking, unable solving the problems that cause samel?Signing a petition to save a dog that should have been under an owner's control may make a petition signer feel virtuous. But it does nothing to improve the lot of pitbulls or to improve owner responsibility. Certainly it does nothing to help the injured cop and his horse.In the same vein, the network news reported that semi-trailers full of home-made snowflakes have been sent to the children of Newtown on request of the local PTA. The vast majority of these things will not be seen by the suffering children because volunteers can't open them fast enough, and there are too many to decorate all the schools in the district. The cockles of the PTA organizers' hearts have been warmed by the outpouring. But these paper snowflakes are a nuisance to store and will ultimately end up in a landfill. The money wasted on postage, cartage, paper, and volunteer time spent opening and crooning over these things is an utter waste.http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50138863n You have to slide the bar to about 21:36 to see the snowflake segment.Am I just wearing my ugly cynic's hat here? Or is there any good derived from these gestures?

EDIT: "but are, practically speaking, unable TO SOLVE the problems that cause SAME?

I have a great deal of difficulty caring that gang-bangers are killing each other with handguns; killing innocent bystanders is another matter. I propose that we immediately confiscate all handguns from known gang members, using whatever means necessary to do so, devil take the hindmost.

An earlier discussion of Elie's article is available here.

I read that some state, and maybe it is even California, has a criminal law whereby if an offense is committed with a firearm, any firearm, five year additional jail time is tacked on to the sentence. The problem is that this provision is plea-bargained away.If you had a criminal justice system that automatically gave five years jail time for any criminal offense, even if nobody is injured, that would significantly deter crimes committed with a firearm.Consider the penalties that many jurisdictions have levied against drunk driving. Heavier penalties, consistent enforcement (e.g. ride programs) = reduction in behaviour.

Bob:"I propose that we immediately confiscate all handguns from known gang members"Most gang members have a criminal record. My understanding is that they are already prohibited by law from the purchase and possession of a handgun. The issue is enforcement.Again, mandatory sentencing of anybody with a criminal record caught possessing a firearm would deter this behaviour. I know there is a lot of debate around mandatory sentencing laws and I am not sure where I stand on them but this is an area where you could certainly enforce existing laws and tack on heavy penalties for breaking them.

In San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, homicide is up 52% in the last 2 years. Major crimes in San Jose and Oakland up 23% last year. See http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Bay-Area-homicide-rate-rises-in-20.... San Jose is still "relatively safe," but Oakland started out bad. There's some good news--little Richmond and big LA both showed reduced crime last year. But the money quote from this report is:

Kevin Grant, an ex-convict living in Oakland who consults with cities on how to defuse violent situations, said that "the biggest dynamic in these homicides is spontaneity. Any drama, any issue with these young ones often leads to violence."Grant added, "If there was one thing I could point to, I would start with getting the guns. That's the only place we're going to beat this."

"I propose that we immediately confiscate all handguns from known gang members,"Does that include skin-head types and NRA extremists? Or are we only talking about, you know, "those people?"

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About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).