Savage Thoughts -- The Crime Wave

By Leo Savage

A major concern these days is the high crime rate. How much of that is due to the actual crime rate and how much is due to media sources that thrive on being alarmist and stressing the bad is a possible subject for debate, but it's certainly true that crime is a "bad thing" that we should try to reduce as much as possible.

The traditional answers all center on police, the legal system, and/or the prison system. I think those three lumped together are often what is meant by "the justice system" (though that term is also used to mean just the courts), so that's how I'll use it here until someone suggests a better term.

Speaking as one who has had more opportunities than most (and certainly more than I ever wanted) to observe our justice system in action, I can say that I've often wondered what it's for. It is patently obvious to me that whatever we have all these cops and lawyers for, it certainly is not for the benefit of the average honest citizen. In fact, I have deduced that the primary function of our justice system is to keep honest citizens in line. Go sit in any courtroom for a day and see what cases are typically tried. The most common will be traffic cases. Notice how our manpower is allocated. What do police spend their time on? Are overdue library books and illegal left turns more important than murder and robbery? They are in our justice system, but is that how you would allocate priorities?

This is especially obvious around here. I live in a rural area where local police functions are handled by the county sheriff's department. A good big chunk of the deputies never leave the office, but handle internal matters like running the county jail and lining up juries. Of the ones that actually do get out and ride around, I am told that 90% or better of what they do is serve papers on people. After that, they spend time on local speed traps and checking cars for radar detectors (which are illegal around here for some strange reason). This leaves them with no extra manpower for dealing with the crack dealers and other assorted crimes. One resident in this town has had a building of hers demolished by trespassers and vandals and many others fear for their lives if they go out at night -- or even if they stay home!

Again, how would you allocate priorities?

Okay, I've ranted enough about the problem. How about answers? First of all, there aren't a whole lot of resources to spend on it. We all know the Federal government is downsizing (which many, including me, regard as a good thing). At the local level things are even worse. Here in this town our annual town budget is so small we almost qualify for food stamps. Given the whole historic trend of the justice system, more cops, lawyers, and jails isn't going to be the answer. We need to look more closely at the fundamentals.

Consider crime as a career alternative.

It is, you know. Granted it's not a viable alternative for me or you. The consequences of being caught would be far too great -- we have too much to lose. But consider, of all the things we're not willing to risk sacrificing, there are lots and lots of people who don't have those things. For someone in that position, consider the advantages:

  1. No education requirements.
  2. No previous experience needed.
  3. No startup capital required in most cases, and minimal capital required in any case.
  4. Flexible work hours.
  5. Be your own boss.
  6. Medical and retirement plans provided free by the government.
  7. Low risk.
Low risk? Well, yes. The odds of being apprehended at all are very low, and even if you are arrested you'll get free legal assistance, and the odds of actually going to jail are pretty low too. On top of that, how bad is going to jail? The Supreme Court has ruled that it can't be too unpleasant, and most especially it can't be bad for you.

Given this state of affairs, it's no wonder that lots of people with nothing else going for them are opting for crime as a career path. How can we change it? About the only advantages cited above that can be altered by an act of political will (meaning your vote) are the benefits package and the low risk. There are sufficient problems with getting rid of Medicare and Social Security that it isn't practical as an anti-crime measure, and it wouldn't work anyway. Muggers would simply be on par with any other self-employed person in having to provide their own benefits.

That leaves the low-risk factor as the only thing practical to change. The usual answer is to increase the risk by hiring more cops and lawyers, making jails more unpleasant, and so forth, but I've already discussed why that won't help. Suffice to say that for someone with nothing jail is not a punishment but a reward, since for some term of years food, clothing, and housing will be supplied free.

So here's the answer: Greatly liberalize the concealed-carry laws. Make it possible (easy, even) for any honest citizen who wants one to tote a gun in his/her back pocket or purse. Very few will, and very few need to. If only one percent of the people were packing at any given time, then a mugger would have a one out of a hundred chance of getting shot at during any given crime, or an 18% chance of being shot at before mugging twenty people. This changes crime from a career alternative to a gigantic form of Russian Roulette.

Oooh, scary!

So why concealed carry? Why not open carry? (Visions of Gary Cooper walking down the dusty main street.) A few reasons:

  1. The idea is to increase risk in the mugging lifestyle. Carrying a visible gun is like putting The Club on your steering wheel. It might keep your car from being stolen, but it doesn't do much about car theft in general.

  2. A gun can be a provocation, but only if it's visible.

  3. It causes comment, and can make for awkward social situations. This is undoubtedly the main reason why open carry is unusual in places where it is legal.

  4. It can make the owner a target. If a madman is scoping out a restaurant for his little shooting spree, and sees one person carrying openly, guess where the first shot goes?

Well anyway, there's my $1.57 (or $0.02 in seasonally adjusted 1965 dollars).

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