In the middle of the national debate on guns, Democrats have staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. They are staging a protest, refusing to move until the Speaker of the House calls for a vote on a gun control measure that would restrict those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun. Their rallying cry has been "No Bill, No Break" and have repeated their claims this morning as they refuse to move until the vote is scheduled. However, Paul Ryan has called this move a "publicity stunt" that would do nothing to curb gun violence in the United States while removing due process from those on the terrorist watch list. I am glad to see that Paul Ryan is now suddenly concerned about a police state, but his winning argument seems to be that this bill will do little to curb actual gun violence. And he is right, this bill if implemented wouldn't stop even a percentage of the gun deaths we experience in a given year.
Gun purchases from those on the terrorist watch-list are low, extremely low. Of the 23 million guns sold in 2015, only 244 of them were purchased by those on the terrorist watch list. Democrats have countered this claim by showing the power of "lone wolves" like Omar Mateen who was flagged by the FBI for potential terrorist related activity , but still able to purchase a gun. However, studies of gun violence have shown us that majority of shootings do not look San Bernadino, Charleston or Orlando. In fact mass shooting account for less than 2% of annual gun deaths. Furthermore, shooters like Charleston's shooter Dylann Roof were never on the terrorist watch list and if the bill Democrats are proposing passes, it would have only potentially stopped the Orlando shooting this year.
The question then becomes? How do we stop gun violence?
That answer requires looking at who are the victims and perpetrators of gun deaths.
Gun violence in America is largely a story of race and geography. Almost two-thirds of America’s more than 30,000 annual gun deaths are suicides, most of them committed by white men. In 2009, the gun homicide rate for white Americans was 2 per 100,000 — about seven times as high as the rate for residents of Denmark, but a fraction of the rate for black Americans. In 2009, black Americans faced a gun homicide rate of nearly 15 per 100,000. That’s higher than the gun homicide rate in Mexico.
Declines in violent crime over the last two decades have made it harder to galvanize support for gun violence prevention. The number of Americans murdered by guns peaked in 1993, then dropped sharply until 2000 for reasons that are still not fully understood. Freakonomics attributed it to the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade in 1973, which legalized abortion and prevented impoverished women being forced to carry their child to term and those children of impoverished women would have a statistically higher chance of committing a violent crime. Republicans attributed the drop to the success of Reagan's "tough on crime" measures in 1980s which attributed high-crime to drug usage and trafficking. Whatever the cause since then, the number of Americans killed in gun homicides has remained remarkably consistent, about 11,000 to 12,000 a year.
Another constant: About half of those killed this way are black men, though they make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population. In 2001, when George W. Bush took office, 5,279 black men were murdered with firearms, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2012, it was 5,947.
These deaths are concentrated in poor, segregated neighborhoods that have little political clout.
“I think that people in those communities are perceived as not sufficiently important because they don’t vote, they don’t have economic power,” said Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney who has spent much of his career focused on urban violence. “I think there’s some racism involved. I don’t think we care about African-American lives as much as we care about white lives.”
Former Obama administration officials said they thought it was tragic that the everyday killings of black children did not get more political attention. “I totally agree with their frustrations,” a former official said. “At the same time, when the nation listens, you’ve got to speak, and you don’t get to pick when the nation listens.”
This quote illustrates the major problem we have with focusing on mass shootings when we talk about gun control. These shootings only make up 2% of total gun deaths, yet conversation is normally driven by these black swan events where those involved are usually unrepresentative of what the actual problem is.
This is why the biggest way to combat gun violence is not drafting our gun control measures around these isolated incidents, but rather looking at the deaths and pushing for some common sense solutions.
With 2/3 of yearly gun deaths relating to suicide, one obvious and powerful way to reduce the amount of gun deaths in America is by increasing access to mental care heath care in this country. According to S.A.V.E. (Suicide Awaerness Voices of Education), mental illness is the largest contributing factor to why Americans choose to end their life. By increasing healthcare and access to mental health treatments, as well as having more social awareness and acceptance and of mental illness, we can start offering those who suffer a debilitating mental condition help instead of criminalizing them and ignoring their larger problem. If we stop the mentally ill from purchasing a gun, we might lower the rates of suicide, but the real issue is the lack of access to mental health care.
However, when we talk about gun violence we often look at homicides. Those homicides often have nothing to do with mental illness and have much more to do with economic and sociological factors. The Atlantic preformed a national survey to see what psychological, economic, and social characteristics correlate with gun violence. They found that mental illness or stress levels have no statistical correlation nor does guns and drug abuse. Although we often have an image of either a mentally ill or drug-crazed gunman in our mind when we talk about gun violence, there is no association between gun violence and these characteristics.
The leading indicators above all else is poverty and race. Poverty, race, and community stability are the leading indicators of whether or not an individual will end up in the criminal justice system. If you are poor and white, you have a much better statistical chance than someone in the same economic group who is black. Furthermore, if you were born in a relatively affluent and stable city with a lower crime, but were still in a impoverished, you have yet an even better chance of avoiding the back of a cop car. The same goes for gun violence where your income, race, and location are huge for determining if you will be involved with gun violence.
That is why the biggest thing we can do to curb gun violence is combating institutional racism and putting an end to poverty. The gun control debate is fucked with most of the gun violence prevention measures centered around the concept of a lone wolf and mass shootings. However, ending poverty by providing education, housing for all, health care, access to information, and community stability, we can not only put an end to gun violence, but severely reduce crime which has been linked repeatedly to being charged with a crime .
Furthermore, the institutional racism found in our criminal justice system, our economy, and all parts of our society has provided that racial inequality we see in the victims of gun deaths. There is a reason why the homicide victims of gun violence are more likely to be black men then any other group. With 1 in 3 black men expected to be in jail during their lifetime, it is understandable why the black community is afraid of the police. "These are men who do not trust the police to keep them safe, so they take matters into their own hands,” said. Vaughn Crandall, a senior strategist at the California Partnership for Safe Communities, which did the homicide analysis for Oakland.
What should resonate with readers is the line Crandall delivered. This line has been repeated by gun advocates and the NRA for years, where they often call for a "good guy" with a gun to stop these shootings. That the police are ineffective and if you want real protection, you should get a gun. However, when we can no longer trust the police to be a fair enforcer of our laws when instead they are seen as a vehicle for racist intentions, then we see a rise in vigilantism in that community. If the criminal justice system continues to reward police officers who murder black men with legal impunity, it would be unwise for a black men who feel the threat of gun violence to get the police involved.
That is why fighting racism must also be a major part of curbing gun violence in this country. Making the criminal justice system less racist and more able to effectively police dangerous areas without further igniting tension is critical to reducing crime. That includes gun violence and until that happens, we will see the number of black men killed by gun violence sky high while every other group is hovering around the 3% range.
Gun control can be effective, but it is only a band-aid for the problem. Gun control has been shown to be difficult to pass, as shown by today's protest. It is why we should be focusing on the root of the problem rather than the catalyst for the problem. Gun control only acts as a band-aid to the larger problem. Guns increase the rate of deadly violence for sure while making suicides more successful. However, by aiming to reduce crime, provide access mental health treatment for everyone, and end the racial inequality in this country we can start tackling the main problems that impact all parts of our society, not just gun violence.