Series: Guns for Drugs
Where do I begin this conversation that has been crawling its way up the doorsteps of every home in America? This past week I appeared on NPR’s “Where We Live” to participate in a national discussion on gun violence in America. What I quickly realized is that there are two different conversations taking place in this country about the effects of gun violence. One debate is taking place in suburban communities and the other in urban cities.
In 1985, after returning home from my first college break, I soon became acquainted with the harsh reality that many of my childhood friends from the inner -city were dying from gun violence–often by other childhood friends from that same community. Back then, it certainly was no secret as to why it was happening. It was mainly tied to the trafficking and sale of “crack rock cocaine” in many predominantly Black communities across America’s inner cities. It was all about the drugs, and the guns were to protect the street corners they were being sold on. As time passed, the drug trade became stronger despite President Richard Nixon’s Declaration of the War on Drugs in 1971. This was supposed to reduce drug related crimes and deter criminal behaviors that were associated with the illegal drug trade.
Unlike the inner-cities, whose residents are often poor and disenfranchised, the suburban communities represent the ideals of the American Dream. As I look back on my days at Notre Dame High School, there were only 11 African American seniors out of 262 total graduating seniors. Surprisingly enough, I was the only one from the inner-city. I was not poor, but my family was not nearly are financially secure as those of my peers. Approximately 99% of all the 262 seniors lived in the suburbs. I did not carry a gun and neither did they. Some of them would discuss that their fathers owned guns and hunted, and if they wanted, they could get a gun as well. However, there was no need for one. The only illegal thing that was going on in those days were sneaking cans of beer and cigarettes.
Fast forward to 2012, and guns are everywhere. Whether you are a poor kid from the inner-city or a rich computer geek, one thing is for sure– you either have a gun, or can buy a gun. It’s no secret. Just ask any street corner drug dealer. The one that sells the $20 bag of Heroin or cocaine. Ask him where he gets most of his guns? As a youth developer that has been running inner-city gun violence prevention programs since 2000, I’ve come to learn that most of the street drug dealers get their guns from suburban customers in exchange for illegal drugs. And though the drug dealer most often is too young or does not have the credentials to legally own the weapon, the suburban illegal drug buyer often does, which at the time of barter, is properly owned. This is not the only way guns make it onto inner-city streets, but it is one of the most consistent means of continued delivery into these streets.
This is not an issue of gun control. This is an issue of supply and demand.