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Guns, gangs, culture

In a recent guest opinion piece, Dr. Charles R. Peterson stated that gun-related deaths in this country are a public health problem. However, I would submit that they are really a large city cultural/gang problem.

As Dr. Peterson points out the U.S. has the highest per capita gun ownership in the world. In fact, the U.S. has almost 89 guns per every 100 people, whereas, Switzerland has about 50 guns per every 100 people, and Canada has about 33 guns per every 100 people. Yet there is no correlation between the number of guns and the murder rates in these countries. The U.S. has 4.8 murders per 100,000 population; the Canadians’ 1.6 murders per 100,000 pop; and the Swiss’ 0.7 per 100,000 pop. In other words the U.S. with almost twice the number of guns per capita as the Swiss has almost seven times the murder rate. This is true even though many of the guns in Swiss homes are actual fully automatic military assault rifles.

The Swiss government has placed over 420,000 SG 550 rifles along with ammunition in the homes of Swiss men and women after they have completed their training in the Swiss national militia. Switzerland maintains only 4,200 full time soldiers and relies on their government-armed militia to protect their country.

With a population of 8 million, Switzerland has about 50 murders per year, whereas Chicago with a population of 2.7 million had over 500 murders in 2012, this in a city with some of the most stringent gun laws in the country.

Why such a drastic difference in the homicide rate? The answer lies in large city gangs and their culture. If you discount the gang-related murders in our large urban areas the U.S. has a murder rate that is close to that of Belgium.

A number of years ago in a rural south central Minnesota county I prosecuted an Asian gang member from St. Paul for the drive-by shooting of a residence. He and other members of his gang drove by a home and fired six or seven rounds from a high powered pistol into a house. The reason for the shooting was that his sister had been disrespectful earlier in the evening when she was asked to leave a party after getting into an argument with another girl.

Every day in this country urban gang members, most of them teenagers or young adults, are shot and killed because they are wearing the wrong colors, they have given someone the wrong hand sign or they are involved in an illegal drug transaction that has gone bad. Taking away the rest of the citizenry firearms or drastically restricting our access to them is not going to solve this problem.

For years I went duck hunting in Mexico. The shotguns used by my friends and me were provided by our outfitter and guide. He told us that it took him over a year of government red tape to acquire a new gun for use in the field. Anyone caught owning a gun without the proper paperwork in Mexico is sentenced to an automatic 10 years in prison.

Six or seven years ago our Mexican hunting trips came to an end. The Mexican authorities would no longer allow our outfitter to take hunting parties into the rural areas contiguous to the resort city where we stayed. They feared we may encounter armed drug gangs, who in spite of the harsh penalties for owning guns still have acquired all the guns they want. Some of which have been provided by our own government.

According to National Institute of Justice figures, one-third of all homicides in the U.S. are the result of something other than gun shot. Infringement of our rights as provided under the Second Amendment is not going to significantly impact the murder rate in the country. Until such time as we can somehow change the gang culture of our large inner urban areas we are never going to effectively deal with the homicide rate in the U.S.

Don Spartz, J.D.


Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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