Is Paying Criminals Not to Commit Crimes a Solution to Gun Violence?

Is Paying Criminals Not to Commit Crimes a Solution to Gun Violence?

Passing more Gun Control laws, seizing guns from the public, restricting gun access, buying back guns, making it more difficult to purchase firearms, and not enforcing gun laws already on the books have not worked to prevent gun violence in many locations. Several cities with meager legal gun ownership rates and stringent gun-control laws, such as Chicago and Baltimore, have incredibly high violence and gun-related murder correlation rates. Of six states where 50 percent of households own firearms (Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, West Virginia, and Wyoming), four of these states rank in the top half of all states for having the lowest homicide rate. Two of these states rank in the top six, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. But, remember from statistics that correlation does not equal causation.

More Gun Control Legislation Has Not Worked

There is no simple answer. It is difficult and complicated to compare apples with oranges, and many factors are involved. But, we must deal with the terrible violence and somehow reduce it. It appears that high gun-ownership density does not imply high rates of violent crime and that stringent gun controls do not reduce murder rates across the board, per separate research studies by Kates and Mauser, Kleck, John Lott, Liptak, Luo, and others. In November 2017, Retired Alabama Circuit Judge Rusty Johnston and Professor Gary Mauser reported results of their research study of criminologists who published peer-reviewed empirical research on firearms. They found that 62% of verifiable firsthand reports said that guns are used in self-defense to stop crime MORE OFTEN than in the commission of crimes.

Some cities are turning their attention away from more legislation as a way to curb violence, from making it harder to get a firearm, and from efforts to ban assault weapons and firearms. Some reports have accepted that show that assault weapons, for example, account for a minuscule percentage of most gun-related crimes. Later below, I give some examples of unique approaches by Richmond and Sacramento, California to reducing violence.

Is there a direct connection to the higher gun ownership rates and higher amounts of crime?

On November 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, there was a terrible murder of 26 innocent Texas First Baptist Church attendees, and 20 were injured. This crime was NOT a result of lax gun laws or a gun itself. Based on preliminary reports, it was a result of a deranged shooter with a history of many mental health problems over an extended period. He may have had a domestic issue with his mother-in-law and sent her threatening text messages to her. She was a parishioner at the First Baptist Church. President Trump added that the death toll for this tragic event could have been higher had it not been for two other armed individuals (i.e., legally-armed concealed carriers) who fired on the assailant.

But, keep in mind that “good guy or gal” concealed carriers themselves cannot usually prevent deadly, murderous events from occurring, only limit the death toll and injuries after they begin. Initial reports indicate in this mass murder, the bad guy was formerly denied a concealed carry handgun permit, received a Bad Conduct Discharge from the Armed Services as punishment issued by a court-martial. He was convicted of domestic violence assault charges against his spouse and child. He spent 12 months in military prison. The Bad Conduct Discharge with all veterans benefits forfeited did not, however, prohibit him from owning a gun, but a dishonorable discharge would have. So, he should not have been legally able to own a firearm or obtain a concealed carry permit based upon his conviction. He probably lied on his ATF Form 4473, Firearms Transaction Record, which happens. It asks about dishonorable discharges, being subject to court order restraints for harassing, stalking, threatening partner or child, and indictments for a felony.

The question remains: Was his conviction listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and flagged? And why could he even buy firearms? Nics determines if prospective firearms buyers’ name and birth year match those of a person not eligible to buy a gun.

Will more gun laws and gun forms to complete and universal, more in-depth background checks reduce violent crimes?

Studies by Professor Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, indicate that there is some evidence that denying guns to law-abiding people who might use them in self-defense tends to increase crime rates. He says there is also evidence that the possibility of “confronting a victim with a gun deters some criminals.” It seems that the above previously–mentioned strategies and gun control are the least effective means of reducing firearm-related violence, especially as we have recently seen in metropolitan areas like New York City, Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and New Orleans. And in non-metropolitan cities as well, like Sutherland Springs, Texas. I believe that attempting to restrict access to guns fails to address the causes of the majority of gun violence incidents, especially inner-city violence. After all, violence is caused by people and not from firearms, knives, baseball bats, screwdrivers, broken beer bottles, or other physical tools.

I agree with the many criminologists that conclude that cultural, economic, education, family, and demographic factors play a more significant role in violence and murder rates and that the number of guns, murders, and violent crimes may well be uncorrelated or correlated at a shallow level. (Again, correlation does not imply causation.)

Maybe we do need to focus on the individual, cultural, education, and social aspects and identifying and dealing with the clues of mental health issues?

Focusing on Individual Behaviors and Mental Health will Help

The question for all of us remains: What can we do to stem the violence and prevent it? To me, the focus must be on the individual, their mental health, their family unit and influences, and affecting their behaviors, values, education, problem-solving abilities, and actions, rather than the gun as a tool. A gun cannot fire itself. It would be ideal to deal with the behaviors and values of individuals before the violence happens which is a tremendous and challenging task and involves individuals and families and complex changes.

Some say violence is insolvable because of the many uncontrollable and unpredictable variables and individual behaviors. Some say that violence cannot be prevented and that there will always be “bad guys and bad gals.” While this may be true, I want to be action-oriented and try to solve this complicated and tough dilemma.  Parents’ values, family and home influences, and the dedicated availability of parents are vital contributors to me.

What about the involvement and help of medical professionals? Should and to what extent should doctors and psychiatrists get involved? How do specially-trained mental health practitioners and psychologists contribute to emotional-state and behavior identification, diagnoses and treatments? Maybe efforts that concentrate on mental health evaluation and treatment, identifying individuals with specific violent and malevolent behaviors, drug abuse and abstainment, health care, housing, and job training programs might prove to reduce violence more than increasing gun control and passing more gun laws. If so, where do we start, after first enforcing the gun laws we have on the books now?

There are some unique approaches to curbing violence related to guns now, and they are very controversial.

Some cities are placing individual behaviors and group influences ahead of gun control to more directly assess and deal with the enormous amount of violence. One city north of Berkeley, CA and once considered as one of the most violent cities in America is Richmond. Richmond, California, has recently created a unique and controversial program that attempts to break the cycle of violence with mentorship, social services, and a $1,000-a-month stipend for each criminal in the program, according to CNN in 2016. The Operation Peacemaker program invites some of the most hardened criminals, mostly youth, suspected of violent crimes but whom authorities don’t have enough evidence to prosecute. These criminal “fellows” must pledge to put their guns away for a peaceful life. Some media call it “Cash for Criminals.” The program is controversial because in addition to helping criminals with education, career development, anger management, parenting, medical health, spirituality, etc., there’s also a financial focus and public funds are involved. Each criminal in the program who attends sessions and makes it past the first six months gets paid $1,000-a-month for the next nine months. Yes, that’s correct…. $1,000 each month for each criminal in the program. So, each program participant gets paid not to shoot someone or each other. Is there any chance of deception, collusion, secret agreements, illegal activities, or fraud among the participants or the administrators? Who pays for this? It seems this is negative reinforcement, rather than positive reinforcement.

Old B.F. Skinner may be turning over in his grave? He believed that the best way to understand and affect behavior is to look at the causes of a specific action and its consequences, not extraneous external factors, and what makes negative behaviors more or less likely to occur. Negative reinforcement occurs when stopping, removing, or avoiding a negative outcome strengthens a response or behavior. When good behavior is exhibited a bad outcome or consequence is removed, e.g., the bad result of not getting anymore is reversed, if you show up at some, but not all program sessions.

Can you pay for a meaningful and lasting change in major values and behaviors?

DeVone Boggan, Richmond’s Director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, started focusing on the core group of criminals, all of whom were African American and aged 16-28 years old. He invited 25 individuals (three had died while Boggan was preparing his plan) and 21 showed up to be “fellows.” They attended sessions and meetings and the stipend carrot of $1,000 a month was dangled in front of them as a motivator if they would complete the program.

I understand that Richmond’s 18-24 month fellowship offered to criminals and potential high-risk criminals consist of seven parts. First, the individuals are visited several times a day by outreach social workers. Second, the fellows set out a multi-factor “life map” including career and health goals. Third, they are connected with social services and helped through application processes for benefits. Fourth, the stipend is given to them. Fifth, they can take educational trips around California and other locations (New York, South Africa, and Dubai have been destinations.) Sixth, a “college of elders,” retired or semi-retired role models in the community are connected with them. And seventh, they are provided internships based on their interests and talents.

Hmm? I wonder if money is a motivator for long-term behavior change and a significant turnaround? Is nine months in the program a sufficient time for lasting behavioral change? Or would some just endure for the short-term to get the reward and so are not motivated for long-term change? So, would they eventually return to their violent behavior over time? Many complex factors here to investigate further before conclusions.

Behavioral scientists say that money is not a long-term motivator and not responsible for a lasting behavioral change.

Money is nice, people expect it, but it is not a lasting motivator, according to behavioral research. Folks always want more money, no matter how much they receive. What matters to most people and what will lead them to regularly complete a task, change behavior, or work with a smile is beyond monetary rewards, several researchers believe. They say it is about the individual intrinsic factors for each action.

In one of my books Management: Processes and Paradigms for the Twenty-First Century, I present six motivation models, several influencing factors, and practical conclusions about motivation. One particular model by imminent psychologist and management researcher Frederick Herzberg presents internal motivators and external hygiene factors and their separate contributions to motivation. Briefly, his idea was that hygiene factors, for example, money, will NOT motivate because it is expected, but if it is not there, it can lower motivation. Motivators and maintenance factors are on two different scales, so the opposite of one does not mean the other exists and they are independent of each other. Dr. Herzberg’s in-depth research concludes that specific factors are hygiene and external in nature, e.g., money, and folks expect to have these provided at an adequate level. So he believes that money is NOT a motivator, especially over the long term. Since people expect to have money at a sufficient level, it is not responsible for long-term behavioral change and motivation, per Herzberg. Of course, I understand that individuals are very different and motivated differently… by various complex factors and in different situations.

None of Dr. Herzberg’s motivational factors included consideration of an external tool or gun as a contributor to individual behavior and motivation.

Something to think about is Herzberg’s research. He explains that his motivational factors for individuals include such things as responsibility, personal growth, the opportunity for achievement, and advancement. Again, Herzberg says that money is not a motivator, but a maintenance or expected hygiene factor. Can you see a parallel here with gun violence motivators? Does it apply to Richmond’s program and paying criminals not to shoot someone and get involved in violence?

Public Funds Spent for Subsidizing Criminality

If you want more of something, you subsidize it. So you financially spend, support, aid, promote, and invest in something. Last month, the Sacramento City Council in California unanimously approved $1.5 million to be paid from public funds on telling criminals not to break the law and to curb violence. Sacremento started their program called “Advance Peace” because of a spike in city violence. So, $1.5 million in cash stipends, similar to the above Richmond, California program, will go to gang members and criminals and a message will be sent. The Advance Peace program seems to legitimize gangs as political partners to be negotiated with about public policy. It will be interesting to see details about how this will work and the general public reaction and criminal response. Stay tuned!

Your suggestions for reducing gun violence and related mental-health issues?

What are your ideas about paying criminals money NOT to be involved in violent crimes? What can we do to prevent all the recent and future gun-related violence and related mental-health issues that are involved?

Photo by Author.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only, and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

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  • David Smith

    The most bang for the buck is an obvious one. Doing so will save lives here in the US, and in Mexico, and other parts of Latin America.

    Recognize what was learned between 1920 and 1933. That prohibition can not work, has never worked, and that the harder you fight to enforce it, the more violent the trade in prohibited goods becomes.

    • Col Ben

      Hey David,
      Thanks for your comments. For me, the mass shootings discussions are largely ignoring the root issues, causes, and optimal solutions. We have crazed individuals who want to kill someone, no matter if they are strangers or who they are. The method and tool of destruction is not the problem. It’s the crazed person wielding the gun, knife, bat, screwdriver, truck, bomb, etc. The gun/tool is not controlling their mind or motivation. So, let’s focus on mental health and identifying, segregating, and helping these deranged folks… and enforcing the laws already on the books. What a challenge!

      • David Smith

        I’m not referring to mass shootings at all.
        That was my suggestion to the broader question of ‘suggestions for reducing gun violence’
        Considering that such violence is many times more common than mass shootings, efforts in this area are likely to yield greater results.

        Hindsight being 20/20 we can always point to ‘the signs’ and say we should have seen it coming, but the problem is, hundreds of thousands, probably even millions of people exhibit those same ‘signs’ every year without committing mass shooting atrocities. Expending considerable efforts at pre-crime to prevent them seems likely to be a cure worse than the disease.

        • Col Ben

          Your last sentence can be interpreted a number of ways and speaks to the complexity of defining and solving these multi-faceted violence and mass shootings problems. And the hesitation by many to become involved for meaningful action. Such a shame this has turned into a political spectacle. What is “considerable efforts?” What is “pre-crime?” You mention “Efforts (at pre-crime) to prevent them … can be worse– than folks dead from violence or mass shootings… or crime?? How much is one life worth? Chicken or egg? Is this mental health dilemma UNSOLVABLE? Do we accept it and turn our backs to it? I hope and pray not. We cannot just standby and do nothing, but must take appropriate and measured actions to at least begin to address and solve this mental health dilemma. I wish I had some worthwhile answers. Thanks for your ideas and recognition of the complexity. Safety First!

          • David Smith

            There are, by some estimates, several tens of millions of Americans who have a mental health issue at some point each year. The vast majority of people affected whether the issue is mild or serious, or short term or chronic, have not, and will not act in an especially violent manner.

            To find the very few people who might actually act in an especially violent manner would require expanding government surveillance of basically everyone (to identify people who might need treatment that choose not to seek it), requiring psychiatrists and and other mental health practitioners to report on their patients to the government, and allowing government to more easily force people into treatment/confinement. More than likely anyone undergoing such treatment voluntary or involuntary would also be deprived of their right to keep arms, likely for a significant period of time beyond the period of treatment.

            So basically a lot of people who are no danger to anyone will end up being caught up in an effort to try (and in all probabability fail) to prevent what is after all, a very rare type of crime. Much liberty lost, to little effect.

          • Col Ben

            So what do you suggest as a strategy and tactics? Live with the violence?

          • David Smith

            I already stated that. Focus on a policy that will generate the most results.

            Recognize that prohibition can not work, has never worked, and that the harder you fight to enforce it, the more violent the trade in prohibited goods becomes.

            Who controls the rights to distribute arbitrarily proscribed substances in a given area is a major driver of violent crime.

          • Col Ben

            What specifically is the “policy that will generate the most results?”

          • David Smith

            Ending our modern version of prohibition.

            No, not decriminalization. That still leaves the motivation for distribution related violence. Full on 100% legalization.

          • Jim L

            I think you’re going at it from the wrong direction, just as people do with the war on drugs and poverty. Yes, prohibition doesn’t work, but neither does giving someone with issues tools that can be destructive. The problem is that politicians can’t sell how to fix individuals. There’s no political reward in it and an awful lot of people on one side of any issue take the hard ass stance of buck up due to facile thinking and attachment issues. it’s a very complicated matter that can’t be solved with a 5 year old’s sense of solutions.

          • Col Ben

            Yes! Yes! Jim I think you are definitely on the right tack.Certainly, a profound conclusion that prohibition doesn’t work. A very complex issue with many variables and proper mental health assessment somehow and appropriate treatment, etc.

          • Silveresque

            The best solution is prevention via education. Keep in place current laws that we know have a positive effect such as the policing tactics that have been proven to work. Increase common sense regulations for distribution of firearms and other weapons so someone clearly in distress or with a background of criminal activity that sets off red flags (large string of criminal activity/abusive behaviors/etc.) This should filter out the obvious cases of unstable persons that would be defined as dangerous by a psychologist. That would still allow most people not to have to worry about their right to own, since most people will pass those background checks. Then the main prevention will come in education reform. Especially starting early, you can prevent a lot of children from becoming disturbed individuals if you catch them early on (like in elementary school). Teaching children and teens skills such as how to collaborate and handle conflict, understand and assess their own emotional health, how to handle finances and other real world problems… skills like these will help decrease a lot of issues later on when they become adults. For example, teach people how to handle finances, they will be less likely to fall into debt and less likely to end up in a desperate situation that will cause them to resort to theft or drugs to cope. I guess the main point is to realize that there is no immediate solution that will work for our situation, but there will always be long term solutions that can in we invest in them.

        • Jim L

          People that resort to gun violence have psychological issues as well. Most of us don’t understand what we believe and why and some don’t even know, but parrot out of indoctrination. Put in this mix people that have had physical and emotional trauma and live in stressful situations that trigger them emotionally, we get bad results. As I said above, we all could benefit from CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. It would be a better investment than putting one’s head in the sand and participating in willful intransigence.

  • I believe that weapons can be given to people but only after many tests including a psychological test.

    • Col Ben

      Thanks for your comment Diana. Psychological tests vary in terms of statistical validity and reliability and, in my layman’s opinion, cannot alone be indicative of healthy mental cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses in specific situations. Nor justification alone for permitting or not permitting possession of firearms or weapons. Many healthy folks exhibit tendencies for very limited times that can be interpreted to be unhealthy. Likewise, many unhealthy folks can exhibit tendencies for limited times that can be healthy. Many feel agitated, are easily irritated, worry out of control, are scared about a lot of things in their lives, lose control at times, experience frequent panic attacks, have trouble focusing, and can’t always feel happy. Patterns and less than desirable behaviors develop even for healthy individuals. While there are psychological and psychiatric tests and assessments that might help, I have learned that the results are sketchy, often misinterpreted, often give false negatives, and are not close to 100% predictive for certain violent behaviors. But, I understand generally, the American Psychiatric Association says they can be useful and help in diagnoses and treatments for major depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, PTS disorders, anxiety and panic disorders, and substance use disorders. There does not seem to be very definitive and substantiated test results to justify not allowing someone to possess a firearm for self-defense and lawful purposes. So complex with many variables and subjective behaviors that can be interpreted very differently. However, as a society we need to get busy with focusing on mental health issues and approaches to help with this violent direction tendency. Blessings and Be Safe!

    • ImOffendedTreatMeSpecial

      If these tests were accurate there are many that would never have made it onto their respective police departments.

      • Jim L

        Amen to that, but police selection is more involved than you think. They don’t go for the top of the barrel. In fact there have been court cases were departments have been sued for discriminating against people that had superior intelligences and the courts ruled they could do that as there’s no legal prohibition. Here’s the kicker though: The NYPD did a study where they higher several hundred cops with superior intelligence and tracked their careers. This was in the late 30’s. These people caused fewer problems, had better records, did better work, rose higher in the ranks and furthered their eduction. They became police commissioners and chiefs, politicians and lawyer. For whatever reason, they abandoned the program. My guess is that they want compliant people that follow orders more readily and don’t discern beyond the immediate. Whatever the case, couple that with the militarization of the police of the last 15 years, along with policies and procedures that make one scratch one’s head and couple with the us vs them culture, well, it’s not the best. Too many instances of not thinking and just reacting. I was afraid has become the de facto excuse for using deadly force.

        • Col Ben

          Hey Jim,
          Thanks for sharing your insights as always. I too ran across some studies where highly educated folks were shown to be more driven, creative, open & innovative, and overall top-performing employees. My personal experiences mirror this also. As a former university dean supervising professors with higher education, I can attest to those attributes, but also learned that they can be very demanding, uncooperative, stubborn, and arrogant at times. What a challenge! That same keen intelligence that makes them talented can also make them extremely challenging. Would Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, and Donald Trump be easy to supervise? Persevere my friend!

  • ImOffendedTreatMeSpecial

    I have not committed any crimes with my guns this month, when do I get my check?

    • col ben

      Yes, I understand. No Crime, but get a guaranteed check? Crazy!

  • James Andrews

    What a terrible idea. We already “pay” the criminals in Washington, D.C.! Look what that’s got us into; massive debt.

  • Jim L

    I don’t like extortion/paying tribute, which IMO is what it amounts to. IMO, it incentivizes the behaviors we don’t want. That said, your section, “Focusing on Individual Behaviors and Mental Health will Help”, is a good start. Sometimes I think that everyone should go through a year of CBT before graduating HS and even starting in the third grade, teaching students that they are responsible for how they feel and no one else is, would be a good start. If there’s any area of law that needs to be improved in both enforcement and policy, it’s keeping guns out of the hands of people that have certain mental and emotional issues. I’m sure that’s controversial with some, but if we don’t get a handle on it and come up with solutions on the inside, sooner or later solutions will be put upon us from the outside that we won’t like. See Australia, for my point. Saying we have rights won’t cut it anymore.

    • Col Ben

      Yes, making high quality mental health assessments and treatments readily available are major steps, but there must be more objectively defined and structured guidelines for when and how to assess, admit, and treat unhealthy people. Very complex, costly, and challenging.

  • SeventySeven

    We pay criminals when they are behind bars.

    • Jim L

      That’s usually consideration for their labor and it’s usually not much.

  • Dr. Frankenstein

    As long as any liberal can justify any handouts of my hard-earned money to people who didn’t earn it, our country will continue to prosper…. C’mon fellow conservatives, don’t you get it?

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