This year roughly 110,000 Americans will be killed or seriously injured with guns. And this is often referred to as an ‘epidemic’ of gun violence for which a solution has yet to be found. But epidemics, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, have a beginning and an end. In the case of gun violence, to quote the brilliant insight of Dr. Katherine Christoffel, gun violence is “endemic” because it just goes on year after year after year.
How does an otherwise basically law-abiding, civil society let this kind of human carnage go on without being able to develop or even talk about developing a basic consensus on bringing this problem to an end? The usual response is that a small but determined coterie of special-interest groups led by the NRA and the NSSF have managed to stymie any serious efforts at political reforms and without changes in public policy, the overwhelming and continuous human toll from guns will continue without change.
To me, this is a rather facile argument which takes an obvious answer and turns it into an unquestioned formula to be trotted out by every GVP organization and advocate whenever they are asked to explain why their efforts to promote sensible gun regulations come up short. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the NRA and its acolytes in and out of politics don’t deserve their share of the blame. What I am saying, however, is that the failure of this country to respond properly to gun violence goes far deeper than simply assigning blame to the folks who own the guns.
When Black Lives Matter sprung up after the murder of Trayvon Martin, the focus was, and continues to be on “broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.” As regards gun violence, this conversation focuses on gun violence perpetrated by police against residents of the African-American community, of which there have been far too many instances over the last several years. Left unsaid is the degree to which gun violence committed by civilians against other civilians is also a feature of African-American life, with numbers and rates of gun homicides being seven or eight times higher among blacks then among whites.
Of course the GCP community, including African-American community leadership has an immediate answer to deal with this problem, namely, keep the guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands. Which takes us right back to where we started, namely, the ability of the NRA camp to prevent sensible public policy reforms aimed at keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ No wonder we get nowhere fast.
Take a look at the racial breakdown for all causes of death for the age brackets 15 – 34. From a gun-violence perspective, this is the killing zone par excellence, with black gun homicides accounting for two-thirds of all gun deaths whereas blacks are, at best, 15% of the overall population in this age bracket. The number cause of death in this age group is unintentional injuries and the numbers are: whites – 24,211; blacks – 3,488. Second highest cause of death is suicide: whites 9,811; blacks – 1,111. Next highest is medical neoplasms (cancer): whites – 3,980; blacks – 901. Gun death victims aren’t just overwhelmingly African-American; it is the only cause of death in which the racial breakdown doesn’t more or less match the racial composition of society as a whole.
Want to know the real reason why we continue to put up with this obscene event known as gun violence? Because more whites don’t get killed. The Viet-Nam War ended because CBS News started flashing the body count on its national news every night, and those were American bodies and, loose talk to the contrary, most (85%) of those bodies were white. I’m not advocating killing or injuring anyone with guns; I’m saying that most of us don’t experience gun violence at all.