CAMDEN, N.J. — Anderson Baker lives in a state with a litany of gun regulations. But no law stopped him from becoming a teenage drug dealer who could easily acquire, and use, his weapon of choice.
The national debate in the wake of the Newtown elementary school massacre has centered on the legislative approach to reducing gun violence: rein in assault rifles, downsize magazine clips, expand background checks and review mental health protocols. Baker says these types of measures would do little to stem violence that for decades has plagued this small city in the shadow of Philadelphia’s skyline.
Dozens of frustrated city leaders, residents, law enforcement officials and other experts interviewed by USA TODAY echo the conclusion that the blood running in Camden’s streets isn’t just about gun laws.
“I wanted to shoot people because that’s what I saw growing up,” said Baker, 20, a Camden native who spent four years in jail after being involved in several shootings. “When I was younger, I would see my boys and cousins going into jail and when they got out, all the girls wanted them. So, I wanted to go to jail. I wanted to be like America’s Most Wanted. I wanted my name to be known on the streets.”
Baker, a convicted felon and former gang member, said this mentality is alive and well in the streets of Camden, which statistics confirm is one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the USA.
Census records show that 42.5% of the city’s 77,000 residents were living in poverty in 2011. Camden’s murder rate — 61 per 100,000 people — was about 12 times the U.S. and New Jersey rates. Sixty-seven homicides were recorded in the city last year, breaking a grim record of 58 set in 1995.
Post Continues: New Jersey gun laws don’t curb violence in Camden.