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Gunning while black

August 27, 2010

Otis McDonald, lead plaintiff in McDonald v. Chicago

Race matters.

Some conservatives want to deny that it does. These people say racism doesn’t exist anymore (if it ever did), and therefore we need pay it no mind. That’s in the past. Everyone involved in slavery is long dead. Let’s… move on.

But then, in an instant, these same people will tell you race does matter — when it affects them. How dare African and Asian Americans put “American” second! And speaking of American culture, it’s being taken over by Mexican culture. There is racism, and it’s against whites. Race matters.

I was reminded of how alive bigotry is when I visited a gun show last weekend. I was browsing some WWII-issue M1 carbines when I overheard the exhibitor tell an anti-Obama joke involving the word “coon.” I didn’t hear the whole joke because I moved off in disgust. I know a lot of these guys don’t like Obama’s liberal positions. I know his race may not be the main reason they wouldn’t vote for him (They’d probably elect Alan Keyes in a heartbeat). But if they wanted to perpetuate the notion that those who don’t like him are just racist jerks, they did a bang-up job that day.

Race matters.

Now, every time I start feeling smug that I’m on the “right” side of the racism fence, along comes the gun rights issue. Race and guns mix in ways that make little logical sense and lots of political sense. The idea is that African Americans vote Democrat; therefore, they (that monolithic “they” that is every black man, woman and child in America) agree with the Democratic platform in toto. That means black folks hate guns.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot to hate. Crime, including crimes involving guns, are the plague of poor neighborhoods, many of which are black. The period from 2000–2007 saw a 40 percent increase in gun-related crimes among black men. Guns are not the problem — the choice to commit a crime is — but as pro-gun as I am, I get it. Communities are angry over a hold-up, a drive-by or a domestic shooting, and the gun becomes the punching bag — the symbol of all that is wrong. As a result, you’ll hear black preachers and community leaders decry the tool of these crimes. Programs to make neighborhoods “crime-free” emphasize getting rid of guns and passing stricter firearms laws. The idea is that if the guns disappeared, so would the crime.

That’s why cities have more restrictive gun laws than the suburbs. In a mad dash to stop the speeding train of crime, cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco clamp down hard on gun ownership, hoping that will apply the brakes of decay. Of course, it does no such thing. The crime rates of these cities can be described as a reverse of the title of John Lott’s famous study — “less guns, more crime”*

And, wouldn’t you know, more black people live in cities than in the suburbs — 85% in the USA. Race matters.

Here’s another thing I observed at the gun show — more African Americans. I overheard another conversation — this one between an exhibitor and a middle-aged black couple who were obviously new to guns. They were shopping for a home defense tool. This exhibitor (who was white) was walking them through the differences between revolvers and semiautomatics and the relative merits of different calibers. They wanted something cheap and reliable. They left with a used Smith & Wesson .38 special — another American family taking advantage of their Second Amendment right to protect their home and lives.

In my part of the country, you can’t always assume African Americans are city folk. There seemed to be a lot more hunters of color at the show — no doubt driven by the economy to dust off the old long guns and avoid rising prices at the supermarket. But in my cursory observations, what I saw were more urbanites whose intolerance for crime overcame their discomfort with firearms — people like me, who finally realized all my principles of nonviolence won’t stop a burglar or carjacker.

I live in an urban neighborhood that’s reasonably safe and racially diverse. We’re all drawn by economics, I suspect. The houses on my street are small, especially by modern suburban standards. Gays and single women (also large contingents in my neighborhood) don’t need as much space. The non-affluent (like myself) can’t afford mini-mansions and “good schools.” But we’re united by love of our city and our neighborhood, and also our proximity to downtown and all it offers. We’re also united against crime. The corner convenience store has been robbed many times. Auto theft and burglary plague the main streets around us. And my drive to work takes me down the most crime-ridden artery in the city. Last month, a carjacker on that throughway made off with a baby in the back seat. As a father, that kind of story not only frightens me, it makes me angry and determined not to let it happen to me.

The baby, mother and carjacker were all African American. I’m Asian American. A Pakistani cab driver was recently stabbed by a fare who hates Muslims. Matthew Shepard was killed by murderous homophobes. One out of every six American women have been the victim of sexual assault. Violence spares no group, not even affluent, white suburbanites. I see displays in gun stores urging the customer to protect his five-bedroom cul-de-sac house, but I never see marketing aimed at city dwellers or people of color. That’s a lost business and political opportunity, and it perpetuates the notion that guns are for whites only. Fortunately, black Americans like Otis MacDonald and the Korean War veteran who shot the home invader are not buying it. They prefer Malcolm X’s opinion that violence in the service of self-defense is not violence; it’s intelligence.

Race matters. Gun ownership is the right of every American. I suspect the gun crowd (most of them, anyhow) would be thrilled if the ranks were swelled by African Americans, Latinos and other nonwhites who recognize that more guns in the hands of law-abiding Americans is a blessing, not a scourge. Guns are not a redneck thing or a hillbilly thing or a Leigh Ann Tuohy thing. Racism exists — not in the hearts of Wayne LaPierre and the gun crowd, but in the hearts of well-meaning liberals who promote the idea that guns and minorities are incompatible. I grieve, too, when a young black man is gunned down. But I also recognize that someone pulled that trigger, and if he came to my door, I would not answer him with my copy of The Nation. I would answer with my Smith & Wesson M&P.

I suspect many people of color are coming to the same conclusion. When it comes to the Second Amendment, race doesn’t matter.

*It should be “fewer guns, less crime,” but whatever.

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6 Comments
  1. Chris permalink

    I saw this posted on the Kel-Tec facebook page, and reading it has profoundly intrigued me. Historically, conservative and liberal meant effectively the same thing, in a nut shell civil rights and fiscal responsibility, and even today most people seem to relate to that classic definition well. In the modern world we’ve perverted those two words to both mean tyranny and had to create a third, libertarian, to continue to represent the idea of classical liberalism.

    In today’s political climate much of the ‘right’ has begun gravitating towards the concept of libertarianism, many of them are false libertarians, but many others are truly interested in classical liberalism principles.

    What I ask you, is from a liberal’s point of view, why is the same not happening from the ‘left’? When many on the left appear to support classical liberalism, why do they continue to support modern liberalism?

  2. Chris,
    You are obviously well-read in history. (I wish I could say more Americans were.) Yes, “liberal” in a classical sense refers to a society that affords maximum liberty, necessarily with limited government. The opposite of liberalism is totalitarianism, which, as the name says, aims to control the totality of citizen’s lives. Of course, the definition I just cited of “liberal” is now called “conservative” in the US today — or as you point out, “libertarian.”

    I am no historian, but my observation is that modern American liberalism (or “progressivism”) is infected with some basic handicaps. The first is a disdain for history, hence the dismissal of anything created by “DWEMs” (dead, white European males), which of course includes our Constitution and basic government structures. The second is the embrace in the early 20th century of socialism and Bolshevism. That was a crucial turning point for Progressives. Before that, social justice was championed by Christians (such as abolitionists), women activists like Jane Addams and the suffragists, and Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt. After 1917, those who identified with the totalitarian Marxists of Russia entered the fold. Liberals like FDR championed socialism, but rejected Communism. After JFK, a vigorous anti-Communist, was killed, the patriotic American liberals seem to have yielded to the more Bolshevist elements. We still had patriotic leaders of integrity like Jimmy Carter and Bill Bradley. But that is not the case now, and I will not support the current leadership in the next election.

    So modern liberals who are actually classic liberals (like me) cannot convince the left to return to its liberal roots because the current leadership rejects history; in their mind, a return to 1776 means a return to slavery and DWEMs. Where are all of us going? Some of us are defecting to the Libertarian party. But many of us can’t imagine going anywhere. It’s a problem of branding. The media has convinced everyone that the Libertarians are “far-right,” so we can’t go there. And to be honest, Libertarians scare liberals, because while we all agree on maximum liberty, many of us won’t reject basic social services like limited welfare and public schools, paid for by progressive income taxes, which in my mind is a fine system. So we have no place to go. I was really rooting for the “Blue Dogs,” but the party has rejected them. It’s very sad. For now, I’m voting for integrity, patriotism and liberty, regardless of party affiliation. I consider that “liberal” in the best sense of the word.

    — Bluebarrel

  3. Scott Mercer permalink

    Yes, Libertarians do bother me. I would find them scary if they had a little power, or impact, but they don’t.

    Government is not going away. Government almost never gives up any power voluntarily, it only takes more of it.

    But, I contend, people don’t mind the Government doing this, IF they get something back in return. They don’t even mind paying taxes.

    Fire departments, public libraries, Social Security, the FDIC. These are all things where government is GOOD.

    The IRS, tax audits, the FBI tapping your phone, some shady dudes like the ATF (supposedly) coming to take your guns. (Not you specifically, the generic you.) All things where government is BAD.

    Or, it could be both. Army good, but Army drafting your child, bad.

    Ideology is always problematic, but I feel that the Libertarians always get a free ride. People are always willing to quote that line from Ronald Reagan, “the most ridiculous words in the Enlgish language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

    The task for you and me is not to reduce the size of government, but to make government work for us instead of against us. If the goverment did good things for people all the time, Libertarians wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

    • Chris permalink

      First off I will say that Libertarians most definitely don’t get a free ride on their ‘ideology’. Some of the particularly noteworthy ones have even won Nobel Prizes in Economics for their work, as is the case with Milton Friedmon. A couple of others worth looking up are Thomas Sowell and more recently Ron Paul, both of which repeatedly have defended their ‘ideology’ with actual hard numbers.

      But you did touch on a few interesting things. You mentioned getting something for their money. That’s actually an often over looked part of the constitution. When it comes to taxes we argue about what “general welfare” means but sadly the concept of “just compensation” never comes up, and I wish it would more often because it clearly shows the insanity of a progressive tax system. Similarly “general welfare” starts to fall apart when you put it into context with inflation, debt, and taxes to provide services the free market can provide more efficiently.

      Though trying to define something as good has that fuzzy feel good, “free ride” on ideology to it, since what’s good for one person is not necessarily good for any others, and often isn’t. As a matter of fact, stating, “If the goverment did good things for people all the time, Libertarians wouldn’t have a leg to stand on” is down right absurd when you realize that anything the government does requires taking someone else’s property (in the form of money) first.

      Ultimately the only way to maximize ‘good’ is to protect us from force and fraud and leave the rest up to the individual.

  4. Chris permalink

    Bluebarrel, you have so many things I’d like to comment on, but I doubt I’d do much of it justice. I agree whole heartedly with your first point about the DWEMs, and I’d like to expand on the concept of the Socialists/Bolshevists and how they can fit into the Libertarian society. In a nutshell what they overlooked was the pure unfettered power of the people; in the workers to form unions and collectively bargain on a level footing with the corporations, and the consumers to boycott business practices they don’t like. That would be the Libertarian approach, instead they chose the totalitarian approach of laws and the force of law, and instead we end up with a see-saw of laws and administrations who go back and forth favoring corporations or the unions when in reality the government just needed to stay out in the first place.

    And sadly like your first point, I’m saddened by your last point, the media and our society treating politics like it’s Monday night football is a huge problem. They want to divide us into a binary left or right, but in reality the playing field for politics is so much broader than that. As a Libertarian my favored way to represent these issues is with the Nolan Political Spectrum chart, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nolan_Chart even if it does have some real world discontinuities like where Libertarian backs up against Anarchy which ends up wrapping around to Tyranny.

    On the bright side of things, the November elections are right around the corner along with Thanksgiving, and with politics fresh on their minds I can really tick off every last family member at Thanksgiving dinner by pointing out how Romney isn’t any different from Obama :-).

    Ohh, and how to make this related to guns so it’s all on topic :-)…… oh yeah, the Dems are having a hearing on S. 941 (BATF modernization act) Tuesday the 14th, hopefully the blue dogs will pull through and throw us gun owners a bone in hopes of getting a few more votes.

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  1. Gunning while black, part 2 « Liberal Gun Owner

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