An Open Letter To Professor Alex Gourevitch: Guns Are One Thing, Racism Is Another.

You recently published a long and detailed commentary on gun control and racism which I have read with interest and care.  Your basic point seems to be that the usual response to mass killings, as reflected in President Obama’s first remarks about Charleston, is to call for stricter gun control laws which you believe will have the ultimate effect of increasing the racism of our criminal justice system while having no real impact on controlling gun violence, particularly mass gun violence.  You assert that there are already too many arrests of minorities, too many racially-motivated defendant pleadings and too many incarcerations, all of which would simply increase if we institute more criminal laws to control gun violence in response to events like the slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church.

roof               You also bring to the discussion some comments about research by scholars like Levin, Fagan and others concerning stop-and-frisk policing methods employed by the NYPD whose value in allegedly bringing down gun crimes has been evaluated in both positive and negative terms. Some of this research argues that stop-and-frisk was entirely based on racist assumptions about who might have been walking around with illegal guns, and that this strategy, useful or not, was yet another example of an extra-legal effort to combat gun violence that served only to engender racism between the police and the community whom they are sworn to protect.

I’d like to respond to the second issue first.  It’s true that New York City experienced an unprecedented drop in gun violence first under Rudy and then continuing with Mayor Mike.  And much of this decline is tied to stop-and-frisk policing tactics which is obviously tied to racial profiling which is tied to racism, etc.  But you have to be careful about perhaps pushing this argument too far.  The decline in violent crime and gun crime in particular since the mid-1990s (although the decline largely flattened out after 2000) occurred in virtually every metropolitan center whether a change in policing and police tactics took place or not.  In fact, an entire cottage industry has grown up around figuring out why America and other OECD countries appear to be less violent over the last twenty years. I am not sure that any of the multiple crime-decline theories explain the issue pari passu, but inconvenient or not,  scholars have yet to settle on a single, determining factor when it comes to explaining criminal behavior with guns.

Now let’s move to your central argument, namely, that from the perspective of the inner-city community, more gun control means more criminal laws and, hence, more racism in the legal and penal systems that minority populations disproportionately endure.  Nobody would or should argue that the penal process delivers equal justice to minorities and the poor.  And with all due respect, we really didn’t need Dylann Roof to walk into Emanuel AME Church with a Glock 21 to remind us that racism is still alive and well.  But where I think your argument falters is the assumption that because the President calls for more gun control, there will be more criminal laws that will result in more minorities getting arrested, going up before a judge on some trumped-up charge and then going off to jail.

What is really happening is that laws making it easier for anyone to gain access to a gun, or carrying a gun on their person, or bringing that gun into what was formerly a gun-free zone have increased exponentially, while laws that restrict gun access or restrict ‘gun rights’ are the exception, not the rule.  One year after Sandy Hook, 70 new laws had been passed easing gun restrictions, while only 39 more restrictive measures had been signed into law, half of which concerned updating mental health records, a strategy with minimal impact on controlling the violent use of guns.

We need to defeat racism and we also need to defeat violence caused by guns. But each issue deserves to be challenged on its own terms.

 

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Hot Off The Ticker: The AME Church Is To Blame For The Shooting Because It’s A Gun-FreeZone

I really don’t want to write this piece, not just because it’s about the unspeakable tragedy that took place yesterday at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, but because I knew that by today, the usual pro-gun sycophants would be lecturing us all on the dangers of gun-free zones.  Actually, they couldn’t even wait until today, although by this morning, the gun ‘experts’ on Fox & Friends were already advising their audience that if someone in the church had been carrying a gun, “they would have had the opportunity to pull out their weapon and take him out.”

But one of the real experts on gun-free zones didn’t even wait until the shooter was captured to tell us not only why the shooter, Dylann Roof, chose the historic Black church to practice target-shooting with live targets, but also why the now-dead parishioners were really to blame for their self-massacre because they weren’t all sitting there armed.  I am referring, of course, to Maestro John Lott, who regularly orchestrates a chorus about the dangers of gun-free zones whenever a particularly nasty shooting takes place.

pat                Lott announced the shooting on his website with a headline which read: “Another Shooting in a Gun-free Zone.”  He then went on to insist that virtually every mass public shooting since 1950 has taken place in a gun-free zone, and then finished up by letting it be known that the Charleston church was a strong supporter of gun control and regularly opposed concealed-carry and stand your ground laws.

Remember the loony statement by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who blamed the World Trade Center attack on America’s moral decay?  Now I’m not saying that Lott has become that crazy, but that he couldn’t even wait 24 hours after the unspeakable event to begin peddling a shabby version of ‘they got what they probably deserved,’ speaks volumes about the motives and agenda of this self-proclaimed academic researcher on guns. And for that matter, it also says something about the way in which pro-gun mouthpieces like Lott and others respond every time that a shooting takes place which provokes horror and dread.

Because the simple fact of the matter is that mass shootings aren’t supposed to happen in churches or schools.  These places are sanctuaries in every sense of the word, and when we send our children off to school or we ourselves go off to a house of prayer, there’s simply no good reason on God’s Earth why we should stop and consider, even for a second, about whether there’s any chance at all that we or our children will face the horrific trauma of a gun barrel being pushed into our face.

John Lott

John Lott

But of course John Lott knows that we wouldn’t have to give it a moment’s thought because he also knows something that nobody else knows, namely, that shooters who go into gun-free schools or churches or movie theaters do so because they know that nobody is carrying a gun. After the 2012 shooting at the Aurora, CO theater which left 12 dead and 70 wounded , Lott stated that the reason James Holmes chose the Cinemark theater, even though it was neither the closest theater to his apartment, nor did it have the largest audience, was because it was the “only one where guns were banned.”  The trial of Holmes is actually going on right now, but from the time of the shooting until today, Holmes has never once said to anyone that he chose the Cinemark theater because nobody in the audience would be carrying a gun.

If the parishioners at Emanuel AME had just talked to John Lott, they would have realized the error of their ways and would have been carrying guns.  And of course Dylaan Roof would have attacked another church. And of course he’s already told John Lott that he walked into Emanuel AME because he knew it was a gun-free zone.