Gun violence continues to plague us.
No, I’m not thinking of the recent shooting of congressional representatives in Virginia. I’m not thinking about terrorist attacks. I’m not thinking of police brutality.
Rather, I’m thinking of the shootings on our streets, which typically do not make national news but nevertheless shatter lives and break hearts.
Most everyone wants the violence to stop. Bullets fly, people die, mothers cry, we demand change — and yet the violence continues year after year.
Current methods aren’t effective. Clearly, we need to try something different.
Here are some concrete changes we could make in order to reduce violent crime in our society.
1. Abolish poverty
The association between poverty and violent crime is well established. Poverty creates desperation, and desperate people are more likely to do desperate things.
Fortunately, we can get rid of poverty. That’s right, we can abolish it directly by providing everyone with a basic, guaranteed income.
This may sound absurd, but there’s growing support for the idea. Conservatives like it because it would allow us to get rid of many other welfare programs and shrink the government. And if you crunch the numbers we could easily pay for the basic income without new taxes.
The basic income would be provided to all American citizens, regardless of means. It would be just enough to live on, modestly.
Establishing the basic income would immediately get rid of poverty. We would no longer have a substantial percentage of our population living in desperate circumstances. That would go along way to reducing violent crime.
But it’s not enough.
2. Legalize drugs
Our prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders. This is a travesty that must be remedied immediately. However, it also has to be recognized that the drug trade entails vast amounts of violence.
Like the abolition of poverty, this has a legislative fix that is relatively quick and easy. After all, the main reason the illicit drug trade is so lucrative is because it is illicit. Prices on the black market are always inflated. If we legalize drugs, and regulate their sale, we reduce the profit margins immensely and take a huge source of income away from organized crime.
Philosophically, it’s the correct thing. Consensual crimes are not crimes at all. If I want to shoot myself full of heroin or whatever, that should be my right.
Obviously, as a society, we want to reduce the number of people who abuse substance or are addicted to them. That’s a legitimate public health issue. But as we’ve seen, making drugs illegal doesn’t solve that problem. What happened during our great experiment known as Prohibition? Alcohol abuse increased. Making drugs legal will make it more likely that we can develop healthy attitudes toward drugs.
Meanwhile, violent crime will be reduced because illicit drug trade will dry up.
But that’s still not enough.
3. Fully fund education
At this point, you might have a vision of a nation of complacent dopers, collecting their basic income and getting high constantly. Yes, some people would probably do that. Some people are doing that right now. But the vast majority of people want something more out of life.
Most grown folks agree that education is the way to better oneself and one’s circumstances. Education opens doors. Education creates opportunities.
Let’s fully invest in education. By that, I mean let’s allocate resources to give everyone in society access to high-quality educational opportunities. No matter your age, race, class, gender or social status, there should be an educational opportunity that’s right for you, and it should be reasonably affordable.
I admit this is a tough sell. Unlike my previous two points, this is something that would cost money, and the payoff would mostly come in the longer term. Eventually, I’m confident that the payoff would be much bigger than the investment, but it would take a while to truly see the results.
It will be noted that our per-pupil spending is higher than many countries with better educational outcomes. Clearly, it’s not enough to just “throw money” at the educational system. That money has to be invested intelligently. For example, we spend a lot of educational dollars on things that are not really educational, such as security.
My daughter’s been in a public school for five years now. Over those five years, I’ve been deeply impressed by the efforts of parents to conduct all kinds of fundraisers to shore up the curriculum. It’s good work, and it’s necessary — but it shouldn’t be. Like Robert Fulghum said, “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber.”
Study after study shows that educational attainment is negatively correlated with violent crime. In other words, the more educated you are, the less likely you are to assault and to murder.
Therefore, if we truly value human life, we should invest in education.
What do you think?
There you have it. These three specific actions would lead to a reduction of violent crime.
I realize that this is a lot of ground to cover in a short column like this. Over the summer, I’ll take each of these three points in turn and expand upon them. If you have any questions for me, leave a comment and I will try to address them in a future installment.
What are we waiting for?
Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband, a father and a resident of Mid-City. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle. More at BartEverson.com.