Chicago: Guns and roses at the OK Corral

Chicago's history is rich with guns, violence and bloodshed. From post-Civil War cowboys bringing their cattle to our stockyards to the Haymarket Riot of 1886 to gangland shootouts of the Prohibition Era, business disputes in Chicago seem to have always gotten settled with the six-gun, the Tommy Gun and now the Glock.

In a 1920 article in the Toronto Star Weekly, Ernest Hemmingway opined that "the Wild West hasn’t disappeared. It has only moved. Just at present it is located at the southwestern end of Lake Michigan, and the range that the bad men ride is that enormous smoky jungle of buildings they call Chicago."

That was 9 years before the St. Valentines Day Massacre.

In his article, Hemmingway blamed much of the violence on Chicago's notorious gambling houses and the plentiful supply of cheap Kentucky whiskey, a brew he considered inferior to his beloved Canadian blends.

Gun violence today often seems random and senseless, often with gunmen shooting from cars in what has become known as the "drive-by." The term itself has become so ingrained in pop culture that the group Train released a single last year called "Drive By", which had nothing at all to do with guns.

Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were killed in drive-by shootings, neither of which took place in our fair city. The shootings may seem senseless, but they certainly aren't random.

Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws of any major city and a new round of laws is making its way through the City Council as you read this. One provision has to do with gun locks and another raises the legal age for gun purchases. Regretably, none of this has anything to do with the carnage on our city streets.

Following the Cornell Square Park shooting of 13, including a 3-year old, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that "illegal guns are fueling the violence". As David Letterman might say, I wouldn't wish Superintendent McCarthy's job on a "monkey on a rock."

Nonetheless, guns don't fuel violence anymore than tires fuel NASCAR. Both are just tools in the hands of men. Men with a purpose, who will often resort to the most extreme measures to accomplish their goals.

In the case of NASCAR, the pupose is to get sponsors and win races. In the case of men with guns, the purpose is to secure territory and intimidate both rivals and witnesses. If there was no money in racing, there would be no NASCAR. If there was no money in selling drugs, there would be no need to intimidate or kill off the competition.

Humanity's inability to process and digest history will ultimately be our undoing. Prohibition (1919-1933) was the quintessential lesson in the unintended consequences of outlawing a substance, liquor in that case. Just as outlawing or restricting guns isn't going to meaningfully diminish their availability, neither does outlawing anything at all, especially drugs.

The term, "black market" isn't a cliche, it's a man-made response to commodity unavailability or shortage. Where there is demand, there will be a market place. And if the demand is for illegal substances, that marketplace will be controlled by criminals and rife with violence. That is the free market system and it thrives even in places where there is no other free market in place. Such is that exquisite force we call human nature.

So, what have we learned? Inductively, we must conclude that the only way to stop the violent clash of business rivals is to remove the profitability of their trade. While legalizing drugs may not be the perfect solution, it may be the only one feasible. Junkies will always find a source for their poison and that source will always protect his territory with whatever means are available. And guns will always be available.

We can take a lesson from our own, not-so-distant history or we can cultivate more roses. After all, nothing says playground tragedy-youth and life stolen-like roses strewn across blood-soaked earth.

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