The Democratic candidates and NRA are finally addressing the overrepresentation of African Americans in gun violence. However, they are doing so in a highly inappropriate and harmful way. In both cases race is being used to define a prejudice that one candidate or another has, or even a hidden agenda by the president. Neither group is offering a solution to the problem.
During the Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders brought up the fact that gun violence is largely an urban issue. He mentioned this to explain his relatively lax position on gun control. Bernie Sanders is from a rural state with a strong gun culture, so taking a strong position on the issue would be tough to do while keeping the support of his constituents. After the debate, Hillary Clinton equated what Sanders said to effectively mean that gun violence is a “Black issue” in an attempt to make Sanders seem racially insensitive. Though she is right in bringing up that many of the victims of urban gun violence are African American, she did so in an attempt to discredit another candidate and did not offer any form of solution to the issue. She reframed what Sanders said from Rural vs. Urban to White vs. Black. Though African Americans are over-represented in firearm homicides it is hardly a black and white issue. I would have hoped that the issue would be framed as law abiding citizens vs. criminals, but in the cut-throat politics of today this is probably all we can expect.
The NRA also took its shot at making this a race issue. In a video released by Wayne LaPierre–the executive vice president of the NRA—he hints “that Obama is somehow conspiring with Chicago gangbangers to make the good, honest Americans living out in farm towns in Nebraska or Oklahoma live in fear”. He makes this argument because “Under the existing federal gun laws, he could take every felon with a gun, drug dealer with a gun and criminal gangbanger with a gun off the streets tomorrow and lock them up for five years or more” but “he won’t do it, his Justice Department won’t do it, and the media never asks why”. Though there are strict Federal Firearm laws in place for the illegal possession of a firearm and many of those caught are not prosecuted, or given light sentences. Claiming that our president is purposefully attempting to create heightened levels of gun violence in order to push through more legislation is absurd. Especially when it is his home city of Chicago that is suffering the most, and the people he is supposed to represent that are dying in unquestionably high numbers. It doesn’t add up.
Gun violence is not a race issue. It is a public health issue that needs to be addressed. The best way to fix a public health issue is to find the roots of its existence. In the case of gun violence poverty, drugs, and a culture of violence are to blame for the high crime rate in urban centers, while affluence, education, and a culture of gun ownership can explain the lower gun crime in rural and suburban areas. Hopefully, the candidates and the NRA will wise up to the fact that pulling the race card won’t solve anything.