Walter Williams: A Society’s First Line of Defense Isn’t the Law — Here’s What’s More Important

Here’s a suggestion. How about setting up some high school rifle clubs? Students would bring their own rifles to school, store them with the team coach and, after classes, collect them for practice. You say: “Williams, you must be crazy! To prevent gun violence, we must do all we can to keep guns out of the hands of kids.”

There’s a problem with this reasoning. Prior to the 1960s, many public high schools had shooting clubs. In New York City, shooting clubs were started at Boys, Curtis, Commercial, Manual Training and Stuyvesant high schools. Students carried their rifles to school on the subway and turned them over to their homeroom or gym teacher. Rifles were retrieved after school for target practice. In some rural areas across the nation, there was a long tradition of high school students hunting before classes and storing their rifles in the trunks of their cars, parked on school grounds, during the school day.

Today, any school principal permitting rifles clubs or allowing rifles on school grounds would be fired, possibly imprisoned. Here’s my question: Have .30-30 caliber Winchesters and .22 caliber rifles changed to become more violent? If indeed rifles have become more violent, what can be done to pacify them? Will rifle psychiatric counseling help to stop these weapons from committing gun violence? You say: “Williams, that’s lunacy! Guns are inanimate objects and as such cannot act.” You’re right. Only people can act. That means that we ought to abandon the phrase “gun violence” because guns cannot act and hence cannot be violent.

If guns haven’t changed, it must be that people, and what’s considered acceptable behavior, have changed. Violence with guns is just a tiny example. What explains a lot of what we see today is growing cultural deviancy. Twenty-nine percent of white children, 53% of Hispanic children and 73% of black children are born to unmarried women. The absence of a husband and father in the home is a strong contributing factor to poverty, school failure, crime, drug abuse, emotional disturbance and a host of other social problems. By the way, the low marriage rate among blacks is relatively new. Census data shows that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults from 1890 to 1940. According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year only 11% of black children and 3% of white children were born to unwed mothers.

In 1954, I graduated from Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin High School, the city’s poorest school. During those days, there were no school policemen. Today, close to 400 police patrol Philadelphia schools. According to federal education data, in the 2015-16 school year, 5.8% of the nation’s 3.8 million teachers were physically attacked by a student. Almost 10% were threatened with injury.

Other forms of cultural deviancy are found in the music accepted today that advocates murder, rape and other vile acts. In previous generations, people were held responsible for their behavior. Today, society at large pays for irresponsible behavior. Years ago, there was little tolerance for the crude behavior and language that are accepted today. To see men sitting while a woman was standing on a public conveyance was once unthinkable. Children addressing adults by their first name, and their use of foul language in the presence of, and often to, teachers and other adults was unacceptable.

A society’s first line of defense is not the law or the criminal justice system but customs, traditions and moral values. These behavioral norms, mostly imparted by example, word-of-mouth and religious teachings, represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. Police and laws can never replace these restraints on personal conduct. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Today’s true tragedy is that most people think what we see today has always been so. As such, today’s Americans accept behavior that our parents and grandparents never would have accepted.


Photo credit: By JoshuashearnOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

WalterWilliamsWalter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

The views expressed in opinion articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Black Community News.

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  1. I first discovered Dr Williams when he would substitute for Rush Limbaugh. I loved the way he was able to explain things clearly and logically. I still do. He has become one of my personal heroes. He is a truly brilliant man. And very funny, too.

    • Sadly, any expectation that what passes for our media, today, is not capable of explaining anything “clearly and logically.” Only the absolute brain dead believe even a smidgeon of what they put out! I too have been reading after Dr. Williams at any and every opportunity, not many of his like are they making today!

      • Too quick on the post trigger. Also too soon oldt, undt too late schmarte, that first sentence is an abomination;) Just remove ‘any expectation that’ and it might make more sense….as in: Sadly, what passes for our media, today, is not capable of explaining anything…..

  2. Totally agree Dr Williams.
    I remember when I was about 13/14 going to the local Navy base and shooting rifles at the Marine Corps indoor shooting range.
    At the same age I went to summer Boy Scout camp where we were taught skeet shooting and how to shoot a bow and arrow.
    I also remember my grandfather calling me over and opening up an old cigar box, the box had five or six old jack knives and grandpa told me to pick one because I was 10/11 years old and I needed to carry a knife. I look back at those good old days and just stop and think – they would have arrested grandpa today for giving me a knife.

  3. We used to say, “Use it or lose it.” Our right to bear arms should NEVER be taken for granted or ignored. Dr. Williams, thank you for your wisdom.

  4. Ahh, me man Dr. Walter, another perspicacious analogy that far too many either ignore, or worse, are ignorant of. As you note, the problems have nothing to do with the gun. I’m at or above your age, so we both have witnessed the degrading of American society over at least these past fifty odd years. It is sad to realize that American society was once a more religious society, however, today it is a completely secular one!

    Some time back I saw some stats that stated, in 1960 only 2% of all American children, from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, lived with a never married parent. Look again at that 2% and reflect on Dr. Williams’ abominable, 29% of white children, 53% of Hispanic children and 73% of black children are born to unmarried women. America is in deep kimchi, no society can survive without the strong underpinning of a vibrant, working, TWO parent family structure – as seen, we are experiencing genocide by children killing other children!

    This was part of a reply I made to another “gun violence” concerned individual: START by asking a “complicated” question: What has changed over the past fifty-odd years that has brought the “reaping” experienced over the past twenty? America has been an ARMED society since long before the Declaration of Independence, there were no kids killing other kids, no kids or others shooting up schools. We rode school buses with our .22 caliber rifles for that day of practice at school, no bus drivers shot, no kids shot, no teachers shot, NO accidents! Truth be known, our American society has changed, in that we have LOST the culture war. America is now a “secularist” society, declined from one where people in communities believed in a “law abiding” community, respected each other, had more churches than beer joints, believed in a “higher power” than themselves, professed that the Ten Commandments were not the ten suggestions and attempted to follow the same! America has lost the underpinnings of a successful society, one in which the FAMILY STRUCTURE is secured by a two parent unit teaching respect for themselves and others. We are breeding generations of children respecting NOT themselves or their parents, let alone teachers or anyone else in authority. When a society has “devolved” into that condition, it is a society on the fast track to the ash heap of history! I would say, God Help America, but since He has been all but kicked to the curb in this country, I’m not sure how well He would be listening.

    Forgive the ‘book,’ just needed to vent a bit;)

  5. Yes, I remember and was a member of a gun club in High school, in 1955-1956. Chadsey High, on Detroit’s Westside. … and I DO love your articles, sir!

    • I’m a bit confused I’ve heard prageru use Walter Williams quote about a higher marriage rate to prove black children were more likely to grow up with both parents, but how is that true if the black out of wed lock birth rate has been higher than the white out of wed lock birth rate from 1890 to 1940. Wouldn’t it follow that it’s less likely a black child would be born to both parents than a white child from 1890 to 1940?