Stricter gun laws alone won't stop America's urban violence
Getting guns off the streets or out of the hands of criminals won’t by itself address the problem of gun violence in poor urban communities. America needs to address the underlying circumstances that lead people like my inmate students to gun violence in the first place.
When my students told me that they hated guns, I was surprised. That’s because my students are criminals incarcerated at Suffolk County House of Correction, a medium security prison in Boston where I teach creative writing. I found out about this relationship with guns the day Mario (I use only his first name to protect his identity) read his poem “The Hammer.” It described how a gun at first empowers a man, but then, like an addiction, the man is overpowered by the gun, and the gun leads him to his death. Apparently, the poem spoke for the whole class. They all said that they wished they’d never laid their hands on one.Skip to next paragraph
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But many of them will pick one up the minute they’re back on the street. Not because of the gun. Because of the street.
In the wake of Newtown, there’s been a huge push for gun control – not just to protect children in suburban schools from mass shootings but to minimize the more frequent gun violence that dominates our urban streets. As I’ve learned from my students, getting guns off the streets or out of the hands of criminals won’t by itself address the problem of gun violence in poor urban communities. America needs to address the underlying circumstances that lead people such as my students to gun violence in the first place.
Especially if their lives resemble the life of my student Robert. He grew up in the 1980s at the height of the crack epidemic, turned up the volume on the TV to drown out his parents’ fights over his father’s habit, and lived in an apartment where a bullet just missed him one day when it flew through his window.
When Robert was 10 years old and walking to school in a snowstorm, a guy shoved a gun in his face and, as Robert wrote, stole his coat, hat, and shoes. Whoever had guns had all the power, Robert said, “and the GI Joe I played with, had a [big] gun, too.” Robert’s first offense was for illegal possession of a firearm, and so was his second.
My students carried guns, but they also know that guns bring nothing to their life that is good. The day Harvey tried writing a poem about how it felt to be shot, the class spoke over each other to help him get it right, and I found out that just about every other man in the room had been shot, too.
In my student Tali’s short story, a bodega owner didn’t send off his customers with a “Have a good day,” but said, instead, “Be careful out there.”