For kids today, guns are the new fists

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Kids with guns, kids with guns ... taking over.

-- Gorillaz

There's a scene in the classic Ice Cube/Chris Tucker -- and, yes, my standards for "classic" are probably a little less stringent than some -- movie "Friday" in which John Witherspoon, who plays the patriarch of the Jones family, tells his son Craig, "There was a time when we didn't need guns to settle our differences; we used these (indicating his fists)."

If only today's kids -- in the words of Maynard James Keenan, the "gun-toting hip gangster wannabes" -- would listen to the wisdom of Willie Jones.

In a gun-crazy country that's ready and willing to hand out weapons to anyone who wants one, a country in which assault weapons are deemed "necessities," a generation of kids is being raised to believe the way to settle differences now is to come out shooting.

According to FBI statistics for 2009, the latest stats available, there were 13,636 murders in the United States that year. An overwhelming majority of those murders -- 9,146 -- were caused by firearms. The Peach State ranked in the top 10 in both the number of gun murders (378) and the number of gun murders per 100,000 people (4.78).

California and Texas were easily Nos. 1 and 2 in murders with 1,360 and 862, respectively, while Washington, D.C., and Louisiana took top honors in murders per 100,000 people: 18.84 and 10.46, respectively.

Perhaps an equally alarming statistic is the number of persons who in 2005 were victims of crimes committed with firearms: 477,040.

As regular readers of this newspaper will attest, the city of Albany has added significantly to that particular stat in recent years. Lately, in fact, news reports of crimes in which guns were used are being reported on an almost daily basis. There are a couple of things that make those reports particularly scary.

One is the age of the gunslingers. Kids and young adults, a good number of them members of one of the city's many street gangs, are more likely to have used guns to rob business establishments, to settle domestic disputes or just as the result of a common argument that, as Witherspoon's "Friday" character pointed out, would have been settled in a less deadly manner in days gone by.

Another scary factor impacting area gun violence is the gradual shift across socio-economic barriers to include middle- and even upper-class young people. Much of this latter phenomenon can be attributed to the misguided desire of kids with money to create a sense of false urban hipness by incorporating some of the more publicized bad habits of the real thing: the thugs and gangsters who have essentially decided their only way out of poverty is through violence and the intimidation that comes with the threat of violence.

Perhaps scariest of all, however, is the public reaction to the almost daily reports of gun-related violence. Many -- usually those who haven't been touched by such crime -- joke about the "Wild West" quality of life in the city, while others simply take it in stride. Witnesses to horribly violent crimes tell police and reporters that the accused "went and got his gun" as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to have done.

Never mind that the shooting started over a boyfriend/girlfriend squabble, a discussion of rival sports teams or just a disagreement in which derogatory names are bandied about. You know, the kinds of things that used to get someone, at worst, a black eye.

It's naive to think this country's government could ever legislate any form of workable gun control; we are, after all, a nation that loves its weapons. But if we don't somehow get guns out of the hands of kids who aren't mature or responsible enough to safely use them, the gun violence statistics will continue to mount.

As will the names of innocent victims.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.