I have taken many personal histories over the years, supplemented by information from parents or siblings, and sometimes entirely based on their information. I have heard many times what you have all likely heard a few times yourselves. “He got in with a bad crowd when he was a teenager, and started doing drugs and getting into trouble.” There is often some truth in this, as temptations are different in different places. Yet I soon became suspicious of the picture. Someone actually has to be the bad influence dragging the others down. They can’t all be innocents who would have done well otherwise.
Teenagers in groups may drag each other down, I suppose, bringing out the worst in each other. That
may play a role, and I don’t discount it entirely. But people have agency, it’s not all a matter of
temptation. People in cities, especially African-Americans, are in favor of gun control. I think this picture
is part of it. Boys grow older and start hanging around with their peers, influenced by older boys. They
know boys who behaved well enough and didn’t get into trouble when younger, but when they started
being out on the streets, bad things gradually started to happen.
If only there weren’t so many guns out
there on the streets they’d have less temptation. Or when they were going wrong, they wouldn’t go
quite so wrong or be at so much risk.
They want to believe that these are good boys who didn’t have to
go bad. And when they get caught, they prefer it be the police singling them out. Don’t we all? There may be something to that for some of the kids on the margin, but there is a
weakness in the argument. Somebody has actually got to be the bad influence, yet their parents and
aunts and uncles and siblings aren’t going to admit that. They are going to see it the same as the other
parents. He was a good boy until...
You aren't actually a good boy if you go out and do bad things, but people want to believe it's the guns.
There is a second piece, perhaps larger. Lots of the boys in that neighborhood are good boys, get into only minor horsing around trouble, but they are prey for the others, and in danger the moment they step out the door, because bullies and criminals need targets. So the parents and other relatives of those boys think: If only there weren't so many guns out there, my boy wouldn't be so vulnerable. If they were just harder to get, it would reduce the risk.
Finally there are the older males in the neighborhood who want to make a statement that they aren't part of that culture, or have outgrown that. They don't own guns (even though some were trained on them in the armed services) because they want others to see that it is possible to get by without them, that you don't have to live that way. I get the idea, and it is admirable, but I think its main problem is that it doesn't work. I'm hazarding a guess that more responsible armed people in bad neighborhoods might be a good thing, not an additional problem.
Now what, especially in densely populated areas, is everyone else supposed to do once those bad actors
get their hands on guns? It is more dangerous than other areas. If 1% of your population is dangerous in
a widely-dispersed town of 1,000 you take a different response than 1% in a city of 1,000,000. The police
can’t be everywhere.