“Think of the children.” I’ve heard that a lot lately, or variations thereof. One woman recently chided me on Twitter with the following: “Imagine if you had kids! Think about others instead of your pocketbook suffering. You don’t need automatic guns to shoot deer.
I don’t have to imagine having kids. I actually have five of them, from a 26-year old daughter to 7-year old twins. Just like every gun-owning parent I know, I love them more than I love my firearms. And I know first hand that gun control laws like a ban on commonly owned firearms, tough restrictions for legal gun purchases, and even mandatory background checks on all gun sales won’t do a thing to protect my kids. I know this because my oldest two children spent years living in the crime-ridden hellhole of Camden, New Jersey.
I didn’t grow up in a household with guns. My parents divorced when I was eight, and despite my mom growing up in rural Oklahoma, she never expressed an interest in firearms. As a result, I was like most non-gun owners growing up; I didn’t think much about the issue of gun control at all. That changed when I was 22 years old and fell in love with a woman I met online.
Elaine was nine years older than I was, but that didn’t matter to me. She was a single mom of two, and that didn’t bother me either. We would talk on the computer for hours every night, and then spend hours more on the phone before drifting off to sleep for a few precious minutes of sleep. She regaled me with stories of life in Camden; the night a guy named Turtle came to her neighbor’s door and began firing shots randomly while she and the kids huddled on the floor. Elaine called 911 to report Turtle’s rampage, but the police never responded. Ever. Then there was the drugged out neighbor who lived upstairs and calmly sat on one end of her burning couch one afternoon, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the firefighters while the smoke from her smoldering furniture filled the room. It was hard for a guy who grew up in the suburbs of Oklahoma City to truly understand what life was like for her there in Camden… until the night I thought she’d been murdered.
It was a normal evening for us; we’d spent the first part of the night on the computer and then as the hour grew late I called her and lay on my bed as we talked about our future together. We were growing sleepy when I heard something I’d never heard before; the sound of gunshots. I knew they had to be close for me to hear them over the phone, and with some alarm I asked Elaine if she was okay. She didn’t answer.
I’ll never forget that helpless feeling when only silence greeted my voice. I grew louder, shouting into the phone, “Talk to me! Where are you? What’s going on? Elaine, answer me!!” I didn’t know her address, or I would have called the Camden Police Department to beg them to check on her and the kids. Instead, I sat helplessly. At some point I stupidly hung up the phone, and tried to call her back, but only got a busy signal.
It was the longest night of my life, spent pacing and chain smoking, tears streaming down my face as I begged God not to take her from me before I even had a chance to begin my life with her by my side. I prayed that her kids were safe, and I swore that if I had the chance, I would do my best to protect them from any harm.
As the sun rose over the Oklahoma City skyline, I decided to call her office once it opened. Maybe one of her co-workers could check on her. While I waited impatiently, I tried to search the internet for news of any overnight shootings in Camden, but couldn’t find any. In retrospect, I should have known I wouldn’t have. Shootings in Camden, home to some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, are so common that they’re never a big story.
As soon as I thought someone might be in her office, I dialed the number with trembling fingers. I thought about what I would say to the stranger who answered the phone, and wondered if I could even get through my request without breaking down in tears again. And then I didn’t have to wonder, because Elaine answered the phone.
I won’t get into the details of my reaction, except to say that yes, I cried again. She thought I was overreacting, because she had simply fallen asleep as we were talking. She didn’t even consciously hear the shots fired, because the sound was so common that she had learned to tune it out. And that was the moment I realized that it’s not just 911 that was a joke in her neighborhood. So was the idea that gun control had made Camden any safer.
I didn’t become a gun rights advocate that day, or even a gun owner. But from that moment forward, I’ve never believed that gun control laws make good people in bad neighborhoods any safer. If gun control worked, it would be the criminal waiting months to find a gun on the black market, while the law abiding zipped through the speedy process of legally acquiring a firearm. Instead, in gun control enclaves from Los Angeles to Chicago, D.C. to Camden, it’s the good people who are forced to wait, who are arbitrarily denied the exercise of their fundamental right to keep and bear arms, while the criminals easily get a hold of guns. And make no mistake; even in the worst neighborhoods, the good people far outnumber the criminals.
The thinking among gun control advocates is that by making it difficult to purchase guns legally, it will eventually become harder for criminals to obtain guns. They’ve been waiting for decades in Camden for a day that will never come. We’re told that the reason New Jersey’s gun control laws don’t work is because we need these same restrictions in place all around the country, but even on the small island of Puerto Rico, home to incredibly restrictive gun control laws, the homicide rate is more than 5 times that of the U.S. average.
Would Camden see its crime problem vanish if the state of New Jersey had truly reasonable gun laws in place? No. In fact, I’m not sure the crime rate would go down all that much, at least at first. But law-abiding individuals would at least have a fighting chance against the small number of violent criminals that make Camden such a dangerous place for everyone else. Single mothers shouldn’t have to cower in fear because the criminals rule their neighborhoods.
As for Elaine and the kids, they moved to Oklahoma City a few months later, and she and I were married that summer. We were still poor, but at least the neighborhood we lived in was crummy, rather than dangerous. It’s another fallacy that poor neighborhoods are inevitably going to be violent places. What’s primarily needed, at least from my own personal experience and reflection, are involved parents whose primary goal is to raise productive and worthwhile adults. Too many moms drugged out on their burning couch, too many dads simply out of the picture, and a well established gang culture complete with family memberships going back 3 and 4 generations are just a few of the challenges these high crime neighborhoods face. There’s also mistrust in the police (though anti-gun New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems thrilled with the city’s stop and frisk program that sure seems to target a lot of young black males for the suspicious behavior of being a young black male), a lack of prosecution (or the push for a plea deal) for many violent crimes, and a community that tolerates and accepts the violence, either from a misguided desire to protect the young men committing these crimes, or from the numbing apathy that comes from being told year after year by politicians that the next government program will be the one that fixes things.
Criminal justice professor David Kennedy wrote a fascinating book published in 2011 called, “Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.” He documents first hand what can be done to dramatically improve the lives of the individuals living in communities beset by violent crime, and it doesn’t involve gun control. In fact Kennedy’s proposals begin with the recognition that guns aren’t going anywhere any time soon, regardless of what you think about them. The key is getting community to buy in to tough enforcement of existing laws, as well as providing an escape route for gang members to turn their life around before more innocent lives are lost. Yes, it’s tough to do. But unlike another gun control law, it actually works.
Cam Edwards is the host of “Cam and Company,” a daily show on NRANews.com, Sirius XM Patriot Radio and Sportsman Channel.