Certainly you’ve heard it mentioned. The Chicago Way. They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.

There’s been a lot of talk post-Ferguson about the militarization of police forces in America. A number of reasons have been bandied around: surplus weapons post-Iraq and Afghanistan being one of the most cited. But I think there’s a much simpler reason.

It’s you.

Maybe not you, specifically– or maybe it IS you. Do you own a gun?

How about your neighbor? Does he own one? Are you sure? Maybe he owns more than one?

The odds are that there’s one guy in your town that owns a ridiculous number of guns.

Here’s the important part: It doesn’t matter if that he’s “a good guy” or “a bad guy”. The police have to be ready for that arsenal to be pointed at them. And so they get paranoid. And they get more weaponry, just to keep up. This is simple tactics from Von Clausewitz: you must be prepared for what your enemy can do, not what you think he will do.

The problem is… the guy down the street is thinking the same thing about the police. He’s worried about the day the po-po are going to come down on him like a ton of bricks. And he’s preparing. He and his friends have end-of-times plans to kill government agents. And really, can you blame them? The police are getting more and more out of control.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

If you lived through the 80s, you remember this feeling. This is the feeling you got from being in the middle of an arms race. Your side had weapons, but so did the other side, so you had to get more. There was a lot of fear of nuclear weapons, but around the mid 80s the nature of that fear changed. We didn’t fear that the weapons would be launched at us in anger, but that they’d be launched by accident. There were pop songs about it.

We have created, yet again, our own balance of terror*.

And it gets demented on both sides. And the problem with dealing with demented people is that it’s very tough to take things that are central to their identity away from them, especially when they feel threatened, and yet they’re the least likely to be able to handle them. (Did you know elderly people are the most likely to own a firearm in America? And are also the most likely to suffer from dementia?)

And yet, it’s all perfectly logical. The police are militarizing, so some of us feel we have to stock up to protect ourselves. And because we stock up, the police have to stock up to protect them and us. And the crazy part is that we’re both sides of the equation. Or at least, we should be.

And we know for certain that some lucky day, someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.

So, who’s going to back down? And is there a way we can get both sides to back down together? Who would you trust to broker the arms talks?

* Yes, we all have to make Star Trek references on this site. It was either this or “A Taste Of Armageddon”, which is also disturbingly on point.

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