During the 90s, Washington, D.C. was Murder Capital of America. And I had about a half dozen friends murdered. The killings were not odd actually, for the times; however, these young men were middle-class black boys, who did not grow up in housing projects or rough, violent neighborhoods.
Guns became so real back then, carrying them was almost like wearing a tie. From 1990 to 1993, I wrote a series of 17 poems (all called "black on black homicide"). Some were published, and one was made into an award-winning film.
I was in pain, and thought the poems would soothe it, but it just got more absurd. So, I stopped writing about it.
I remember these departed friends when I heard about the Supreme Court's decision that effectively ends Washington D.C.'s ban on handguns. The ruling, in effect, seems to place the right of those who want to be armed over those who have been killed or will be killed in the future.
Yet, I don't disagree with the Court's decision.
There will be people shot and killed tonight in America, and they will be shot in cities with strict gun laws that ban the possession, for the most part, of all handguns. This is mainly because Americans like their guns, and gun laws across the country are inconsistent.
For all the talk about D.C.'s strongest-in-the-nation gun laws, one needs only cross the Maryland and Virginia borders to find wildly different kinds of regulations. The lack of consistent regulation dooms even the most well-meaning efforts to curb gun violence.
The lawyer in me sees an important opportunity in this moment. The opportunity has arrived for jurisdictions to stop the complete prohibition of guns and actually control them for once. Contain them. Tax them. Regulate them. Do not let them do too much harm in society as they have been doing for decades. In other words, treat guns like the other vices we love so much: cigarettes and alcohol.
Cigarettes were once holy in America. We loved them, and people were oblivious to the poison that cigarettes did to the smoker and as we know now—those sitting with the smoker. So we said you can smoke but with some rules. You have a right to smoke but just not anywhere. Cigarettes also cost more now, to pay for the troubles they bring.
It took decades, but we got there.
Alcohol is still holy, but it too is regulated in various ways as well. Of course, millions of us like to consume the elixir. But, get caught driving drunk, and you've got serious problems on your hands. You also can't drink just anywhere and with anybody.
There is the black market of guns, but that is just the point. If you have a legal right to carry a gun and can carry it legally with some monitoring, there is no reason for you to enter the black market, unless you are a committed criminal.
I know, the National Rifle Association will fight all of the regulations for gun ownership. However, the current system, where scores of people are killed daily in America with handguns (80 percent of the shootings in America historically are with handguns), is a loser, and even those who want to bear arms know it.
Do not get me wrong; I oppose guns. I find no purpose for them other than to kill and maim. The D.C. gun ban did not save the lives of my friends back in the "Murder Capital" 90s. They all were killed, and many of them owned guns illegally. Even before the court ruling, D.C. had a great gun law for 32 years, yet, guns were everywhere. Most of my friends own guns now—grown men, and they live in D.C.
If we have the right to bear arms, by all means, bear your arms. It just means that effective and consistent means of control of those arms is necessary. The Supreme Court's decision today only clarifies what needs to happen.
Brian Gilmore is a Washington, D.C. lawyer and poet.