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Are We a More Violent Country?


Back when Eric Adams was Borough President of Brooklyn, I did some work for him concerning guns. Eric had been a cop in Brooklyn’s 88 Precinct, done his twenty and now is Mayor of New York City.

At some point I asked him how policing had changed since he first went on the job. His immediate response: “Today nobody backs down.”

I think of this comment when I think about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Because even though Dr. King is considered America’s most foremost champion of civil rights, in fact his primary commitment was to non-violence, a commitment he maintained throughout his entire life.

We have made remarkable progress in civil rights since Dr. King was murdered in 1968, progress not just for African-Americans, but also for women, for alternate genders, for alternate family relationships, for diversity of all kinds.

So, we have come a long way in terms of fulfilling the civil rights dream that Martin Luther King preached on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

But what about non-violence? Are we a less violent society and a less violent culture now as opposed to back then?

To the contrary. I believe we are a much more violent society and now I’m going to tell you why I believe this to be the case.

What is violence? What does the word ‘violence’ mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, violence is “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” The World Health Organization defines violence as the “intentional attempt to injure yourself or someone else.”

Violence is usually, but not always considered to be a crime. And according to the FBI, the violent crime rate in the United States is about half as great as it was in 1994, although there has certainly been an uptick in the past two Coviod-19 years.

Except I don’t define violence in terms of reported crimes. I define violence by whether we see violent behavior as a necessary and normal part of our lives. When Eric Adams said that ‘nobody backs down,’ he was talking about the acceptance of violence as a positive standard of behavior and belief.

For me, what demonstrates how normal and natural violence has become is the fact that any American adult with a clean record can purchase, own, and carry products whose sole purpose is to be used to commit violence and to make it easier for people not to back down.

I’m obviously talking about the several million handguns that are added to the civilian arsenal each year, guns which were designed for one purpose and one purpose only, namely, to inflict serious injuries on human beings. I’m sorry, but anyone who believes that a Glock or a Sig pistol is a ‘sporting’ gun is either lying or is what Grandpa would call a ‘vilde chaya,’ (read: damn fool.)

The definitions of violence found in the dictionary or in medicine don’t differentiate between ‘offensive’ versus ‘defensive’ violence. You’re not less violent just because you shoot someone whom you believe is about to attack you.

The idea that violence can be justified if it is used to achieve a positive end has been part and parcel of the American legal tradition since colonial times, and is now codified in the Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws in three-quarters of the 50 states.

Eric Adams wasn’t talking about a SYG law when he told me that ‘they never back down.’ New York State doesn’t have a SYG law. He was talking about the sixteen-year-old kids who walk the streets of the 88 Precinct in Brooklyn, many of them carrying guns.

Unfortunately, my friends in Gun-control Nation are as confused on this issue as the pro-gun advocates on the other side. These well-meaning folks also want to believe that somehow, we can find a way to support the 2nd Amendment because we are so in love with the other amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.

Except the 2nd Amendment doesn’t give Constitutional protection to any kind of handgun; it protects whatever type of handgun the government decides can be kept in the home for self-defense.

Want to spend a little time thinking about how to reduce violence on the birthday of America’s foremost advocate of non-violence? Spend some time thinking about getting rid of the guns which are the means by which so much violence occurs.

It’s as simple as that.

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