When a hail of bullets extinguished dozens of lives at an elementary school last month, the ugly consequences of the nation’s gun culture shot into the media spotlight. The debate around gun control in the aftermath of Newtown has yielded confused policy proposals like further militarizing schools, or preemptively tracking mentally ill people.
But a key aspect of the gun-control debate remains hiding in plain sight. There’s a major driver of gun violence in the U.S. that is neither the bloodlust of the “criminally insane” nor the weakness of public security forces. Failed gun policy is a manifestation of another, arguably more expansive, irrational policy regime: the War on Drugs. While the most spectacular incidents of mass murder spark public panic, a more relevant, yet typically ignored, source of gun violence lies in the brutality born of the gun industry’s marriage to drug prohibition policies.
For decades, the federal government has sought to eradicate drugs despite the utter futility of the effort and the devastating social, health and economic consequences of its tactics. While Sandy Hook triggered a national convulsion of disgust, the everyday casualties of the drug war have been met with relative silence. With annual gun homicides nationwide hovering around 10,000, a significant portion can be directly or indirectly linked to drug violence, though estimates for the death toll vary widely. (A recent CDC study of gang homicides, for example, notes that over 90 percent involve guns and the portion in different cities that were drug-related ranged from under five to about 25 percent.) Other analyses of national and international data likewise suggest a range of proportions depending on how drug-related killing is defined. Whatever the exact figure, the bottom line is that the drug war’s institutionalized violence and oppression, fueled by “tough on crime” law enforcement, inflicts deep, needless social trauma on vulnerable communities. Underpinning that climate of violence are broader societal factors that also tend to be ignored in gun debates, including class and racial polarization. Read the rest of this entry →