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Cam's Corner | Gang Culture Is Not Gun Culture

Cam's Corner | Gang Culture Is Not Gun Culture

Photo credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

The other day I received an “Ask Cam” from a gun-control supporter, and unlike the foaming-mouthed tweets that are so common to the “debate” these days, Delaney’s email was pretty thoughtful, so I thought it deserved a response. Delaney told me about raising his two nephews after their mother was killed by their father. His wife, Delaney told me, was partially paralyzed after being shot in the back in an accident. 

Delaney, who is white, but like me has raised biracial kids, asked me to “please consider the ramifications of glorifying the gun culture. Minorities are being killed and terrorized in part due to the cavalier attitude many young men of color have in regards to guns. White men show their fear of these black men by responding with more guns. This is not the answer. Instead of arming every man, woman and baby, perhaps supporting de-escalation in the inner city and showing these kids love … will bring about a more civilized and productive society.”

Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with “glorifying the gun culture.” I have to say that I don’t think the biggest problem in our most violent neighborhoods is a glorification of legal, responsible gun ownership. You certainly won’t find a cavalier attitude towards carrying a firearm among the NRA members I know. 

What Delaney is describing isn’t the glorification of gun culture, but gang culture. Take Chicago rapper Chief Keef, for instance. The artist, who earlier this year was reported to have been arrested for narcotics trafficking and possession, has penned odes to the thug life like “All I Want”:

All I care about is money
All I care about is hundreds
All I care about is fifties
All I care about is twenties
R.I.P. my n***** they in heaven now
All I care about now is keeping them weapons around
Say he pulling up we gone wet him down … that’s all I care about

My 4-O is a semi now
I don’t hang with 50 now
Bitch, my watch cost ‘bout 50-thou
And my chain cost a HEMI now
And my house cost 4 now
Now I’m trynna make the Forbes now
Sneak diss, your block’s a morgue now
This s*** getting boring now

This doesn’t appear to be idle boasting by Chief Keef. At age 16 he allegedly pointed a loaded gun at two Chicago cops and ended up facing four felony charges. While on house arrest he was signed to Interscope Records, home to some of the biggest names in rap, and his continued criminal problems haven’t been an issue for the label. In fact, his notoriety might even help sell a few records. If you want to talk about a corrosive culture, let’s start there. 

What does a true “gun culture” look like? I think it looks like the Minnesota State High School Trap Championships, where more than 7,000 competitors safely and responsibly handled firearms earlier this year. It looks like a JROTC program, a 4-H Shooting Sports camp or a Boy Scout marksmanship badge. A culture of responsible gun ownership can be found where there are ranges for NRA-certified firearms instructors to teach things like Basic Pistol Safety courses (right on up to advanced tactical and self-defense classes). That culture of responsible gun ownership is hard to find in cities that have made it dangerous and difficult to be a legal gun owner. I have to say that I don’t think the biggest problem in our most violent neighborhoods is a glorification of legal, responsible gun ownership. 

I do agree that mentoring these kids, showing them love and teaching them how to earn genuine respect is incredibly important. Guys like John Annoni and his Camp Compass are providing real opportunities for kids to gain a different perspective on life than what they might find in a Chief Keef or Young Thug song. There are men and women working every day to provide a way and a will for young people to resist the lure of criminal activity and the sense of community and even stability that gangs provide. Those individuals should be honored and praised for their efforts. They’re making a difference.  

Their efforts, though, won’t be enough to turn the tide. Criminal justice efforts that target the worst offenders and stop the violence through vigorous prosecution and/or community intervention are a key component in both reducing violent crime and rebuilding shattered neighborhoods. These programs work by actually taking on the small number of individuals who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime. It’s a very different strategy than your typical anti-gun proposal, which seeks to throw a blanket law over all law-abiding gun owners, in the hopes that a few criminals might be ensnared. It’s also very different in that it actually works.

We all want to see crime continue to drop, as it has for the last 20 years (at the same time, coincidentally I’m sure, that the number of concealed-carry licenses soared to more than 12 million). The argument is about doing something (passing another round of gun-control laws) versus doing something that works. Protecting the individual right to keep and bear arms (not to mention the human right of self-defense) and prosecuting the worst perpetrators of violent crime aren’t mutually exclusive strategies. It’s not a sound-bite solution or something that looks snazzy on a bumper sticker, but it would go a long way toward addressing the problems in our most dangerous communities.