Another Salt Lake-area gang-related, drive-by shooting - the eighth in the past 11 months - is a reminder that gang violence is a part of the Utah landscape and not confined to ghettos in the nation's biggest cities. The question is whether enough is being done to deal with the problem while it is still relatively small.
In fact, the repeated shootings might cause some people to wonder if the word "small" accurately describes the growing gang problem.The most recent gunfire involved a truck driving by and spraying bullets into a crowd of young men playing basketball in a residential driveway. Fortunately, no one was killed, but two were wounded.
The scenario was almost identical to other recent drive-by shootings. No one has been killed so far, but that is mere chance and good fortune. Certainly, the intent to kill was present in each case, or at least a casual indifference as to whether the bullets would be fatal.
This chilling attitude toward violence and the injury, suffering and even death of others is one of the most disturbing things about gangs. Social workers say youths join gangs for a variety of reasons, including the need to belong and to be regarded as a person of some consequence. Yet once in a gang, the us-against-them mentality, the tendency toward vandalism, use of threats, intimidation and violence, and sometimes even drug dealing, can easily corrupt the youthful members.
While more coordinated police efforts against gangs are justified, the gang members cannot simply be thrown into jail. There need to be more programs to fill the needs of young people, especially those headed for trouble.
Earlier this year, West Valley officials urged the formation of a statewide gang commission to coordinate gathering of information, law enforcement and social programs and to develop a long-term strategy for dealing with gangs.
Gov. Norm Bangerter rejected the idea on the grounds that he was satisfied with the job state and local law enforcement officials were doing with gangs. And he said the Salt Lake Area Gang Project - which received a $200,000 federal grant last year to be matched with state funds - was enough without creating another organization. The project gathers information on gangs and provides community programs.
The governor may be right, but young gang members, many from minority groups with high dropout rates in school, need more than they are getting - more meaningful education, job training, counseling and a sense of feeling that they are part of the neighborhood and community in less destructive ways.
Those remedies can cost money in tight budgets, but ignoring gang problems or failing to treat them adequately will be terribly more expensive in the long run and at a cost of ruined lives.
At bottom, the answer to gang problems must come from stronger homes. That is a challenging task for families but especially for single-parent families or homes with troubled environments caused by bad relationships, alcohol problems, abuse or other difficulties.
In other words, if Utahns are to successfully tackle the gang problem, there is no single answer, such as assigning more police. Efforts are going to have to be made across the whole social spectrum by families, schools, churches, social agencies and police - all helping each other.