Juan Williams: Race and the Gun Debate
This week much of the talk about gun control concerns New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $12 million ad campaign to put pressure on senators in key states to support legislation that he backs. Or the talk is about the National Rifle Association’s pushback against the Bloomberg campaign. Then there was last week’s mini-tempest over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision not to include Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s assault-weapon ban in a comprehensive gun-control bill the Senate will take up next month.
One thing you don’t hear much about in the discussions of guns: race.
That is an astonishing omission, because race ought to be an inescapable part of the debate. Gun-related violence and murders are concentrated among blacks and Latinos in big cities. Murders with guns are the No. 1 cause of death for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34. But talking about race in the context of guns would also mean taking on a subject that can’t be addressed by passing a law: the family-breakdown issues that lead too many minority children to find social status and power in guns.
New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly on whether stricter gun control laws really help prevent crime. Photo credit: Getty Images.
The statistics are staggering. In 2009, for example, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 54% of all murders committed, overwhelmingly with guns, are murders of black people. Black people are about 13% of the population.
The Justice Department reports that between 1980 and 2008, “blacks were six times more likely than whites to be homicide victims and seven times more likely than whites to commit homicide.”
The dire implications of these numbers is evident in a Children’s Defense Fund report that included a chilling historical perspective: The 44,038 black children killed by guns since 1979 (when national data on the age of gun violence victims was first collected) is “nearly 13 times more” than all the black people killed by lynching in the 86-year period of 1882 to 1968.
This awful reality explains why support for gun control in the black and Hispanic community is overwhelming (71% among blacks and 78% of Hispanics, according to a recent Pew poll). That is a marked contrast with national polls on new gun laws. Those polls show 46% of Americans of all races backing the right to own guns versus 50% who agree to the need for more limits on gun owners. Apparently, the heart of opposition to new gun regulations is in the white community. Yet white people face far less daily violence with guns.