The guns of Boston

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 6, 2006

So one way to curtail demand is to intensify the downsides of illegal gun-ownership, in any number of ways. But attempts to increase liability — more arrests for gun possession, for instance — have failed to change behavior. That’s because they fail to address the actual choices and motivations of two distinct groups of people carrying guns in Boston’s crime-riddled neighborhoods.

One group carries them to hurt and intimidate people. To their way of thinking, they are making a rational choice: not only is it much easier to hurt or kill with a handgun than with a knife or other weapon, but it also makes it much less likely that you’ll get caught.

Those in the second group carry guns to protect themselves against the first; again, from their perspective it’s not an unreasonable decision. As a Phoenix analysis of shootings in the past two months shows, if you live in Boston’s troubled areas, you are never far from where someone has been recently shot — and thus, from someone who shoots people. And you’re at risk of incurring their wrath, especially if you are involved in drugs, gangs, theft, or general mischief.

Both groups, then, have determined that the value of carrying a gun outweighs the risk of spending six months in jail for weapons possession.

There is yet another way to reduce demand, however. As the Phoenix has repeatedly argued, police should be more aggressive in arresting and punishing those who shoot people. In the past two-and-a-half years, 122 people have been shot to death in Boston. Only 28 arrests have been made for those murders, or 23 percent. Of those, only two alleged killers have gone to trial: one was convicted, and one acquitted. Of more than 800 non-fatal shootings during that time, the arrest-rate percentage remains in the low single digits.

One way to break the cycle and convince people to give up their guns, is to unilaterally disarm the truly violent criminals — by locking them away, not merely for possession but for shooting. Yet there has been no sign of improvement in this regard. Not surprisingly, then, the level of gun violence continues to rise.

It’s going to be one hell of a summer. 

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