During lobbying day in Richmond, I met Delegate Lionell Spruill, Sr., delegate for Chesapeake and Suffolk cities. I felt he was willing to listen, yet would not be considered a strong supporter of the second amendment. He explained that he had a personal aversion to firearms. He grew up in an area that was rife with gangs and shootings almost every night. He stated he did not oppose all the items we supported, but he would like to us help with finding a way to reduce the prevalence of illegal guns on the street. I am hoping this open letter moves toward that end.

Delagate Spruill:

First, I agree it would be a good thing to reduce illegal guns on the street, but only in a way that does not restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.  I agree with you on that. In order to do that, it might be necessary to figure out what is happening. There are probably several reasons that kids join gangs. Power, money, drugs, peer pressure are just some. But why is it that gangs are much more likely in areas where there are poor? One part might be that it is survival … from a need to eat to a need for mutual protection. Camaraderie and a sense of belonging could also be part of the equation. And certainly a lack of good role models would affect this.

How then can these things be mitigated, and not just for some, but for all youths? One easy means of accomplishing some of these things is military service. A three year stint in the service generally provides income, food, clothing, shelter, camaraderie, and even more important, skills and training for a productive career later in life. Those that go through the military they learn what it is to have good food, medical attention, and structure to their life; they are able to defend themselves, and have role models that could even lead them to a life of military service.

My idea is radical. Make a three year service contract mandatory for nearly all high school graduates. Even if it isn’t military (the Peace Corp comes to mind or even something akin to the CCC from the depression) it would still provide much of the same benefits.

Would it eliminate gangs and gang violence? Maybe not, but it could at least get these kids used to a regular income, good food, good shelter, a disciplined life, and how to stand up for themselves. It could even give them esteem in the eyes of society (self-esteem is overrated – I’d rather they didn’t think about themselves, but more think about others).

I’m not sure how this could be accomplished. It would not be cheap. But I believe it would be very effective. While we certainly could not do so for the entire country (which would be even better yet) it might be something that could be mandated in Virginia. We mandate attendance at school; we certainly could mandate attendance in a service organization. This is not a “band-aid” fix. It is a systematic change in the way we think about training our youth. Schools do a fine job academically for nearly all students. Let’s not stop at academics; let’s make sure students have skills that cannot be taught in a school.


Brian Withnell