The overwhelming majority of fatal shootings in America happen in our inner cities. They aren’t committed by mentally ill loners, but by gang members involved in petty disputes. About half of the dead are black men (who represent just six percent of the total U.S. population). The most common type of firearm used is a handgun.
And yet, gun controllers only spring into action in the wake of high profile mass shootings committed by psychopaths with scary-looking rifles (like the Planned Parenthood shooter from this past weekend), and they rarely propose measures that would meaningfully affect the urban violence that is the real source of America’s gun problem. Lois Beckett of ProPublica has an in-depth report arguing that liberal gun controllers “ignore black lives” by focusing on measures like assault weapons bans rather than on tried-and-tested community engagement and policing programs. Becket’s report focuses on one such program, “Ceasefire,” in which “police team up with community leaders to identify the young men most at risk of shooting someone or being shot, talk to them directly about the risks they faced, offer them support, and promise a tough crackdown on the groups that continued shooting.” An excerpt from the piece, which is worth reading in full:
[Pastor Michael] McBride wanted President Obama to make Ceasefire and similar programs part of his post-Newtown push to reduce gun violence. He had brought a short memo to give to White House staffers, outlining a plan to devote $500 million over five years to scaling such programs nationwide. His pitch to Biden that day was even simpler: Don’t ignore that black children are dying too.
In response, the vice president agreed urban violence was very important, McBride said. But it was clear that “there was not a lot of appetite for that conversation by folks in the meeting,” McBride recalled.
Later, other ministers who worked with McBride would get an even blunter assessment from a White House staffer: There was no political will in the country to address inner-city violence.
The report suggests that gun controllers’ reluctance to address urban violence is partly motivated by systemic racism. But another (overlapping) angle worth thinking about is the particular political agenda that defines liberal gun control advocates. Liberals (and some libertarian-leaning conservatives) have been arguing for years that law enforcement has too large a presence in inner city communities, that it engages in racial profiling, and that the tough-on-crime policies that started getting put in place in the 1970s have done more harm than good. There is a good deal of truth to some of these charges—but they complicate efforts to turn around and crack down on gun violence in inner cities with new police programs. As we’ve said before, genuine gun control and tough-on-crime policy are two sides of the same coin. Both require a stronger police presence, and both tend to have racially disparate outcomes.
Moreover, Democrats increasingly see gun control as a wedge issue, and are therefore may be more willing to identify gun violence as a problem associated with their political enemies—white men in red states. Talking about gun violence in communities that vote overwhelmingly Democratic would not rally the base as effectively.
Gun control politics is a mess. We don’t know what the right solution is, but it’s time for policymakers to start speaking honestly about the issue and identifying solutions that work (balanced against civil liberties concerns, of course). The type of political triangulation gun controllers are currently engaged in does no one any favors.