Gun Violence Is a Consequence of War

My hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, has recently shown an increased concern about gun violence.  Not only are Tallahasseans shooting each other, so far in 2014 the Tallahassee Police have shot four people, killing two.  A related concern is that people seem to have little trust in the police.

The concern has been manifested in a town meeting chaired by the police chief, who wants to earn the people’s trust, and a series of articles in the local newspaper.

Much of Tallahassee’s gun violence is in the poorer sections of town, where in many cases, people’s drugs of choice are illegal.  If your drug of choice is alcohol or nicotine or caffeine, government will tax it and protect your right to use it.  But if your drug of choice is marijuana or cocaine, not only will government not protect you or your property, it has declared war against you.

We call it a war on drugs, but it is actually a war on drug buyers and sellers.  The government seeks them out, and when it finds them, confiscates their property and sends them to prison.

If the government will not protect someone’s property, then the owners of that property will have to protect it themselves. That’s why they want guns.  If someone steals your drugs, government police and courts will work against you, rather than helping you recover your property.

Of course, not everyone in these violence-prone neighborhoods buys or sells drugs, but many will have friends and neighbors who do, and it stands to reason that people will not have much trust in groups their friends and neighbors view as adversaries.  And of course, they should view the police as adversaries, because the police are the front line in the war on drugs that has been openly declared against them.

This sets up a culture of violence, but why?  It is because our government has openly declared war against a significant subset of the population.  Is it realistic to expect to fight a war without violence?  We saw the same type of violence in the 1920s when there was a war on alcohol.

The same local newspaper that decries violence also reports on a regular basis cases where police have made traffic stops, or answered domestic violence calls, and found drugs, leading to arrests on drug charges.  The local police also set up sting operations to try to entice citizens to sell drugs to undercover police personnel.

The government is fighting a war against the buyers and sellers of drugs, and gun violence is a consequence of that war.  Shouldn’t we expect that when a government declares war against a group, the group would try to arm themselves for their own protection?  As for the police who want to earn citizen trust, is it realistic to hope that those you have declared war against will trust you?

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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