Regardless of your political opinions on gun control, there are other more effective ways to prevent violent crime without it.
More and more Americans fear that violent crime is on the rise — despite overall crime rates and gun deaths declining within the past few decades. Unfortunately, when it comes to addressing violent crime, they tend to focus solely on guns.
Democrats want to stop violent crime by getting rid of guns through stricter gun control. Republicans, on the other hand, want to give away more guns because “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.”
Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, the problem with this debate is that it focuses on the tools used to commit crime rather than on crime itself. As such, the debate focuses on the symptom of a much larger systemic problem rather than on the actual problem.
When it comes to violent crime, guns aren’t the problem. As cliché as the old saying goes, guns don’t kill people: people kill people. And people are more likely to kill other people when faced with harsh socio-economic conditions, usually through lack of educational and economic opportunities.
As such, the real solution towards deterring gun violence ought to be addressing the conditions that lead to violent crime, thus making it less likely for people to commit these crimes in the first place. Here are five such solutions to stopping violent crime without gun control.
The best part? They’re all non-partisan. They can be proposed and supported by anyone, be they Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Regardless of your political affiliation, you’ll have to agree that these solutions prove far more effective in stopping crime than gun control.
#1: Needle Exchange Programs
Already I can see you scratching your head, asking, “how the heck is giving needles to junkies going to stop them from shooting each other with guns?” The answer to that question is in four words: The War on Drugs.
Of the total estimated homicides in America, more than half are drug-related. This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the forty-year-long War on Drugs. The criminalization of drugs such as marijuana and heroin has only created a black market for them, which has increased criminal activity, and in turn, has increased homicide rates.
The obvious solution, then, would be to end the War on Drugs. We’re already seeing this happen with marijuana, as 29 states have legalized its medical and recreational use. And despite naysayers such as General Attorney Jeff Sessionsinsisting that marijuana legalization will only increase violent crime, the exact opposite has actually happened.
One year after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime and an 8.9 percent drop in overall property crime. In Washington, during the time marijuana was legalized, violent crime rates dropped by 10 percent. In fact, most states that legalized marijuana saw no real increase in violent crime following legalization.
Of course, legalizing (if not at least decriminalizing) marijuana (if not all drugs) would be a major policy to push forward on any level of government, and thus would take many years to implement. So the key would be to make baby steps with small reforms. One such policy would be needle exchange programs.
As the name implies, a needle exchange program allows drug users to exchange their used, dirty syringes for new, cleaner ones, thus helping decrease their risk of disease. Of course, this brings us back to the question of how giving these people clean needles will help prevent violent crime. After all, wouldn’t such programs only increase the demand for drugs, and thus increase drug-related crime?
The answer, surprisingly enough, is no.
When Baltimore enacted their own needle exchange program in 2000, a six month study was conducted to determine whether or not the program led to an increase in drug-related crime. Their results, published in the American Journal of Public Health, and summarized by Gay Men’s Health Crisis, showed that it did not: “On the contrary, certain categories of crime, such as break-ins, burglaries and violent crimes, saw slight decreases over the course of the study period in areas located near [these programs].”
Moreover, rather than increase drug use, such programs actually helped to decrease drug usage by providing participants with services such as substance abuse treatment and counseling to help them kick their drug habit.
In other words, if you want to end drug abuse and the crime created by it, you need to end the War on Drugs, and one step in doing that would be through needle exchange programs.
#2: Removing Lead Paint and Pipes
Perhaps the biggest perpetrator of violent crime in America has been lead, and not merely from the bullets fired from guns.
Multiple studies have revealed a correlation between lead exposure and crime rates. Lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage that can lower intelligence and degrade cognitive ability, thus making individuals more susceptible to criminal behavior.
Thus it’s no real surprise that violent crime has been especially high in inner cities. Not only were many older city buildings constructed with lead pipes and paint, but the higher population density meant more cars in smaller spaces, thus increasing overall exposure to lead gasoline emissions.
The good news is that, since the banning of lead in paint and gasoline, there has been a dramatic decrease in violent crime within the past few decades, especially in inner cities.
The bad news is that, as the Flint Water crisis has revealed, there are still far too many cities with infrastructure tainted with lead. A USA TODAY investigation identified excessive lead levels in almost 2,000 water systems across the country, all of which supply water to six million people. Even worse, 350 of these systems provide drinking water to schools and day care centers, thus harming the most vulnerable among us.
As such, the obvious solution would be to remove lead paint and pipes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that inspecting and removing lead paint from housing of low income families would cost approximately $16.6 billion, whereas providing periodic screenings and cleaning of these buildings would merely cost $230 million.
Either way, addressing the problem of lead exposure in inner cities would require increased government spending, and thus increased taxes. However, such an investment would pay off in the long run. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), “Each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17–$221 or a net savings of $181–269 billion.”
In other words, if investing in the removal of lead paint and pipes will allow for greater savings in the future, wouldn’t such a project be the most “fiscally conservative” option?
#3: After School Programs
Ever heard the old saying, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? It basically means that people are more likely to do bad things when they have nothing better to do. That’s certainly been true of many inner city youth, especially during after school hours.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention(OJJDP), most acts of juvenile delinquency peak during after school hours. More than half of these crimes are committed on school days, and nearly one-fifth of them are carried out between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Gee, if only there was something that would allow young people to not only pre-occupy themselves during that time, but provide them the opportunity to improve themselves academically so they can stay in school and out of prison. If only there were such “programs” that were offered “after school.” Something like a, well, after school program.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, after school programs have proven effective at deterring violent crimes committed by young people. Study after study in major cities ranging from Los Angeles to Chicago has proven this to be true, as children who attended such programs were less likely to participate in criminal activities. In fact, in Los Angeles alone, one evaluation reportrevealed that, “for every dollar invested in the program, the city saves $2.50 in crime-related costs.”
Aside from keeping young people out of trouble on the city streets, these after school programs have also kept young people out of trouble in the city schools, as these studies have also shown that children who participate within these programs are less likely to be suspended, thus preventing them from getting into further trouble.
There’s no doubt after school programs have proven successful, and thus they ought to be funded. Whether they should be funded through increased education spending or through the charity of programs such as the Boys and Girls Club is a whole other discussion. What should be agreed upon is that the best way to keep kids off the streets is to get them into after school programs.
#4: Summer Job Programs
After school programs may keep inner city youth off the streets and out of jail during the school year, but what about when the school year ends? What are they supposed to do once school’s out for the summer? How about get a job?
That’s the thinking behind Chicago’s One Summer Plus (OSP) program, which has the city government partnering with local businesses to provide part-time minimum-wage summer jobs to high school and college-aged students, especially minority students from low-income and high-crime neighborhoods.
Aside from offering participants valuable employment experience, OSP also provided workshops to teach them decision-making and impulse control strategies to not only succeed in the workplace, but to also keep them out of trouble in the real world.
While the program didn’t necessarily increase the overall school performance or job potential of its participants, it did manage to keep them out of jail. During the 2013 program, violent-crime arrests for participants fell 33 percent over the following year, according to research conducted by the University of Chicago Urban Labs.
Boston had a similar success story with it’s own Youth Violence Prevention Youth Employment Initiative, which also provided low-income students part-time summer jobs, as well as access to mentoring and mental health services.
Not only were program participants twice as likely to obtain future job prospects, but they were also less likely to commit violent crimes, as one studyrevealed that “violent crime dropped by almost half” among them, with an overall “35 percent reduction in violent crime and a 57 percent reduction in property crime” within the city.
Both after school and summer job programs show that the best way to stop young people from committing crime is to provide them with educational and employment opportunities. Only by keeping them in school and in a steady job will they have a better chance of staying out of jail.
#5: Problem-Oriented Policing Initiatives
As we have explored in this essay, there are better alternatives towards deterring violent crime aside from increased gun control. But what if the ultimate answer to solving gun crimes was as simple as talking to at-risk youth and convincing them not to commit crimes? If the city of Boston is any indicator, the answer may very well be that simple.
Such an approach to crime prevention is known as “problem-oriented policing”, and it was popularized through a Boston program called Operation Ceasefire, also known as the “Boston Miracle” for its success in dramatically decreasing gang-related violence.
Started in 1996 through the National Institute of Justice, Operation Ceasefire involved law enforcement identifying “hot spots” within the city where violent crime was most likely to occur, while also identifying groups and individuals who would most likely get involved in such violence, either as perpetrators or as victims.
Law enforcement would then send community leaders such as pastors and community activists into these areas to meet one-on-one with the at-risk youth, discussing how they could work with them to help deter and de-escalate gang violence within those areas.
As Adam Todd Brown wrote in his Cracked article on the subject, “As it turns out, if you know why a person is carrying a gun, you can sometimes intervene in a way that ensures no one gets shot or goes to jail.”
Prior to Operation Ceasefire, at least 45 young people in Boston were killed annually due to gang-related violence. After the program was started, those rates dropped to the point where only five to ten young adults were murdered on average per year.
Pat Blanchfield further elucidated the results of this “Boston Miracle” in his Upworthy article on the program, as Boston experienced, “an overall 32% drop in shots-fired calls, a 25% drop in gun assaults, and, in one district, a 44% drop in youth gun assaults.”
And rather than having these results isolated to Boston alone, other citiesacross the country, from New York to California, have implemented similar problem-oriented policing initiatives and have similarly experienced significant drops in gun violence.
So perhaps rather than shooting first and asking questions later, cops should focus on identifying at-risk youths and finding ways to actually talk to them and convince them not to take up a life of crime. That may sound too simple, yet it’s proven far more effective and less costly than any “tough on crime” measure.