A recent study by University of Missouri professor Scott Decker has added yet more evidence to the well-established relationship between prohibition and violence. Decker, a professor of criminal justice, found that the dramatic rise in violent crime committed with guns is primarily from drug dealers and gang members, not drug users, as is popularly believed. (Source: New York Times, 10/8/95.)
Anti-prohibitionists argue that the violence of the drug trade is a consequence of the drugs' illegal status, noting that the homicide rate in the US fell by more than 50 percent during the years following repeal of alcohol prohibition -- the only such drop in violence this century.
Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, said "This is an important study because it suggests we should rethink the presumption that they pharmacological effect of drugs makes people violent and do crazy things. Instead, it is the drug industry, the sellers, not the users, that are contributing to the epidemic of guns." Blumstein has advocated prescription maintenance programs for addicts.
Decker said "We had preconceived notions that people charged with violent crimes would be more likely to own a weapon. But there was no correlation." He explained that dealers are more likely than users to use guns, because they are usually carrying valuable quantities of drugs and large amounts of money. And, he added, drug users who have guns often sell them to dealers to buy more drugs.
While homicide rates have generally increased over the 25 years since President Nixon declared "War on Drugs," in the last year they have dropped several percent. While enforcement/incarceration advocates claim this is due to policing and tough sentences, the leading theory among criminologists is that the drop is related to changing youth demographics - most crime is committed by young people, and there are fewer young people today than a few years ago. If this relationship holds, then the demographics foretell a massive increase in violence just around the corner, as today's populous young teens reach young adulthood. The other favored theory is that rival gangs have developed stable turf agreements ("Gang Peace"), resulting in fewer shoot-outs.
In some cities, though, drug-trade violence is just now reaching its heights. Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the homicide rate in Minneapolis has surpassed that of New York City, and that authorities blame the violence on gang activity and drug-related violence. The city's previous record of 63 murders in a given year was eclipsed by 1995's homicide toll of 97. Police Chief Robert Olson has speculated that "Maybe we're at the beginning of a curve that those other cities are at the end of."
The AP article reports that homicides across the nation soared during the 80s as drug traffickers battled over turf, particularly the new and unstable crack cocaine trade. But in Minneapolis, the relatively high price of crack -- around $20 a rock, four times higher than in many nearby cities -- is attracting dealers from places such as Detroit, Chicago or Gary, Indiana. This influx of competition in the drug trade leads to instabilities in the turf structure, which leads to increased violence.
An analysis by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis found that more than half of the city's homicides last year stemmed directly from drug sales or gang activity.