Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Solution is Not More Guns

We’ve all heard the stories on television or read about them in the newspaper. In the middle of a heated argument, someone’s shot. What is incredibly difficult to comprehend, is that an argument over money, a rumor, even fast-food ends up costing someone their life. The recent suggestion that if every citizen was armed we’d all be safer might very well have just the opposite result. Would those situations, all real, have ended in homicide if the involved parties didn’t have a gun readily available? While each homicide in St. Louis has its own set of circumstances, most homicides in St. Louis have two things in common---the weapon of choice is a gun, and the suspect and the victim know one another.

While we’ve seen decreases in overall crime for many months now, we’ve got a big challenge with homicides. I’ve talked extensively about my plans to decentralize the Department and push more resources to the district level. That’s already begun. And while it’s too soon for us to know the results of decentralization, we saw a 50% decrease in homicides in November of this year, as compared to November of last year. That followed 6 months of increases. It’s a good sign but it’s just the first step of a very long journey.

The Second Amendment ensures the right to own a gun and I fully support those law abiding St. Louisans who choose to exercise that right. However, the things you can do to decrease your chances of becoming a crime victim have little to do with owning a gun. If you don’t participate in illicit activities like drug use, and you don’t associate with those who do, you dramatically decrease your chances of becoming a homicide victim. By not leaving valuables in plain sight in your car, parking in well lit areas, using an anti-theft device like a club or an alarm, you dramatically decrease your chances of becoming a victim of auto theft or break-in. By starting a neighborhood watch group and being vigilant about what’s happening on your street, you dramatically decrease your chances of your neighborhood becoming a haven for drug activity.

While police officers have the dangerous job of arresting criminals, we must all be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work that addresses the underlying reasons why criminals commit crimes---poverty, lack of education, lack of family structure, lack of employment skills, drug addiction. We must work together. We must look out for our neighbors and our neighborhoods. We must care enough to get involved, even if it’s not happening in our own backyard. I think all of these things will help but I can’t guarantee these are the solutions. However I can say with certainty that the solution is not more guns.