This article serves two purposes. First it serves as an informational piece that examines the interrelationships between gun violence, right wing politics and racial discrimination in America versus human rights obligations we assumed under the International Convention to End all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). As a UN member state, our country became bound by the treaty’s many provisions following our ratification of it in 1994. The second purpose is serving as a source to facilitate the writing of a ‘shadow report’ to the UN committee (CERD) in advance of their formal review of the US periodic update in Geneva, Switzerland later this summer (August).
It is recognized that, as an informational piece, the article does not, and should not, represent the type of succinct document generally submitted to authorities for review (this writer has authored numerous such documents during his career). But the article achieves its second purpose by providing background information pertinent to the development of cogent arguments regarding the grossly disproportionate effects of gun violence in minorities (especially African Americans) and how our political process is obstructing our country’s ability to address this abuse. Additionally, it serves as a recruiting tool to attract other interested parties that can add their expertise and perspectives to the report as well as contribute to recommendations.
It is important to note that US obligations under another treaty our country signed and ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), were reviewed by UN committee in Geneva just this past month (March). In what was described by media as an act of public shaming, the committee addressed numerous human rights abuses in America to the large US contingent in attendance; included was rampant gun violence and the proliferation of stand-your-ground laws. As gun violence in America has been cited as a human rights abuse, and death and injury from gun violence disproportionately affects minorities in our country, especially our African American population, this issue becomes fair game for continued and expanded review in Geneva later this summer as part of the obligations we assumed to end all forms of racial discrimination.
Although some on the Political Right claim that racial discrimination no longer exists in the United States, e.g. conservative pundit Ann Coulter (“Regrettably for liberals there is no more racism in America”) and long-standing NRA Board Member Ted Nugent “racism against blacks was gone by the time I started touring the nation in the late 60’s” (note: the man recently referred to our African-American president as being a “subhuman mongrel” and a “chimpanzee”), those opinions do not represent the position of our government. In 1994 the United States ratified the United Nation’s International Convention to End All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and thus became bound by its many provisions. In a 200+ page multi-departmental periodic report issued by our Department of State to the UN’s CERD in June 2013, our government makes the point that, although we have made progress over the years, there is much work yet to be done. Excerpting from paragraph 2 of the report’s Introduction:
“The United States has always been a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society, and its pluralism is increasing. We have made great strides over the years in overcoming the legacies of slavery, racism, ethnic intolerance, and destructive laws, policies, and practices relating to members of racial and ethnic minorities. Indeed, fifty years ago, the idea of having a Black/African American President of the United States would not have seemed possible; today, it is a reality. We recognize, however, that the path toward racial equality has been uneven, racial and ethnic discrimination still persists, and much work remains to meet our goal of ensuring equality for all. Our nation’s Founders, who enshrined in our Constitution their ambition “to form a more perfect Union,” bequeathed to us not a static condition, but a perpetual aspiration and mission. ”
The US periodic report addresses several areas impacted by racial/ethnic discrimination including, but not limited to, Education, Employment, Voting, Healthcare, and Poverty. In a recent communication to the NC legislature, this writer described the devastating impact of racial discrimination in our African-American community on life expectancy, health, and childhood development.
Should there be any doubt about the continued existence of racial discrimination in America, one need only look at the well-documented and persistent life expectancy gap between African Americans versus their white counterparts in our country. A study published by UCLA researchers in the peer-reviewed journal Health Services Research (Febraury 2012), examined death certificate data of over 17 million individuals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, from the US Multiple Cause of Death, between the years of 1997 to 2004. The gap in life expectancy between American blacks and whites, although varying in degree, was consistently reported across states; and blacks nationally demonstrated a shortfall of 7 and 5 years for males and females, respectively. Although a six year average difference in life expectancy may seem trivial to some, this writer applied that shortfall to the 2000 census estimate of nearly 35 million African-Americans (closest census time point to the data in the study). The result was a total shortfall of over 200 million years which equates to nearly 3 million full life expectancies. As individuals would be dying at some fraction of full life expectancy the number of our African-American citizens prematurely losing their lives to the effects of racial discrimination, in just the population in existence at the turn of this century, would undoubtedly be much higher. This level of premature death is mind-staggering in its scope and represents nothing short of an ongoing human rights atrocity, of enormous proportions, in our country. This writer has made the point before that many of these deaths are silent and thus do not carry the same emotional impact as mass graves, violent attacks and other signs of overt atrocities that cross our TV sets on news broadcasts and documentaries. But none-the-less, the effects of racial discrimination has insidiously claimed, and is continuing to claim, the lives of millions of our African-American citizens.
As was detailed in the above referenced correspondence to the NC Legislature, the premature loss of life in African Americans is seen across all age groups including increased infant mortality, teenage and young adult violence, and chronic health problems that take their toll later in life. And a growing body of evidence suggests that just the stress of living in a race conscious society results in prolonged exposure to naturally occurring stressors that contributes to premature aging and a host of chronic health problems.
But conspicuous by its absence in the June, 2013 US periodic report to CERD is any mention of gun violence – conspicuous because of the well-publicized attempt, and failure in 2013, by Congress to pass legislation aimed at reducing gun violence. As will be further elaborated upon in the Concluding Remarks section of this article, US human rights obligations under another treaty ratified by our country (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) was reviewed in Geneva this March with the UN committee citing multiple US human rights abuses among which was rampant gun violence and the proliferation of stand-your-ground laws. As death and injury from gun violence disproportionately affects minority populations in our country, especially African Americans, it becomes fair game for review as a human rights matter by the UN’s CERD in August of this year in Geneva.
As a brief summary of information presented in the following sections, our African-American community comprises only 13% of our population yet accounts for 50% of homicide victims, the vast majority of these crimes being committed with handguns. Gun violence disproportionately reduces African American life expectancy, being identified by the CDC as the second leading disadvantage for black males vs their white counterparts. The toll of gun violence on African American children, both death and injury, is appalling – the leading cause of death among Black teens ages 15-19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun homicide, and of the 116,385 children and teens killed by a gun since 1979, when gun data by age were first collected, 44,038 were Black – nearly 13 times more than the number of recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages in the 86 years from 1882 to 1968. Predominately black economically depressed urban areas that have been created through the effects of racial discrimination (the very factors discussed in the US Periodic Update to CERD), have become breeding grounds for violence where American blacks become both victims and perpetrators of gun violence. Further, both explicit and implicit expressions of racial bias are known to contribute to the disproportionate effects of gun violence in black America. The ability of our Congress to address this matter is being obstructed by a wing of American politics that has a long history of resisting African-American (and other minority) civil rights, an obstruction that continues to this day. Not only has this wing obstructed passage of legislation to reduce gun violence, it has supported legislation that facilitates the ability of those who would prey upon, and profit from, the effects of racial discrimination. This political wing is supported by a powerful, gun industry-funded, lobby whose rhetoric has been laced with racist overtones over many years.
This paper makes the argument that the United States can not fulfill the obligations it assumed under ICERD without addressing the issue of gun violence and race in America. And it additionally raises an important question: Why is our government not aggressively intervening to put a halt to the grossly disproportionate loss of life by violence in a segment of our citizenry?
Gun Violence and Disproportionate Effects on Life Expectancy
Research published from the field of actuarial science at the turn of the century showed that gun violence reduced the life expectancy of African-American males by a full year as opposed to only 5 months for their white American counterparts. Additionally, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has identified homicide as the second leading disadvantage of African-American males versus white American males in lowering life expectancy (ref page 4), the vast majority of which involve handguns.
For the year 2011, blacks represented 13 percent of the nation’s population, yet accounted for 50 percent of all homicide victims, and guns – usually handguns – are far and away the number-one murder tool (reference Black Homicide Victimization in the United States, Violence Policy Center). According to FBI Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) data, in 2011 there were 6309 black homicide victims in the United States . Consistent with the above referenced statistics from actuarial science and the CDC, the homicide rate amongst black victims in the US was 17.51 per 100,000 as opposed to 4.44 per 100,000 overall nationally and 2.64 per 100,000 for whites. Of the 6309 black homicide victims, 5452 (86%) were male and the homicide rate for black male victims was 31.67 per 100,000 as opposed to 3.85 per 100,000 for white males. For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 82% of black victims were shot and killed with guns – of these 77% were killed with handguns. An article noting the disproportionate and long-standing toll of gun violence on black males has been recently published.
As gun violence disproportionately lowers African-American life expectancy, it is not unexpected that African-American children and teens are disproportionately affected. The Children’s Defense Fund analyzed fatal and non-fatal firearm injury data for children and teens (ages 0-19 years) from the US CDC for the years 2008 and 2009. Gun violence in children is a uniquely American problem as data from 23 industrialized nations shows that 87% of children under the age of 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the US.
* Black children and teens accounted for 45% of all child and teen gun deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15% of the total child population
* Black males 15-19 were eight times as likely as White males of the same age to be killed in a gun homicide in 2009.
* The leading cause of death among Black teens ages 15-19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun homicide. For White teens 15-19 it was motor vehicle accidents in 2008 and gun suicide in 2009.
* Of the 116,385 children and teens killed by a gun since 1979, when gun data by age were first collected, 44,038 were Black – nearly 13 times more than the number of recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages in the 86 years from 1882 to 1968. (Note: Although the report mentions that more white children than black children have been killed by gun violence, that figure is driven by the larger number of white children in the US and thus is not representative of the disproportionate rate of gun deaths in black children).
*Regarding non-fatal shootings, the rate of gun injuries was 10 times higher among Black children and teens than it was for White children and teens. In 2009 the gun injury rate was 51.1 per 100,000 for Black children and teens versus 5.0 per 100,000 for White children and teens.
Gun Violence: Racial Bias and Adverse Socio-Economic Conditions
Racial bias, both explicit and implicit in its expression, as well as the disproportionate exposure to adverse socio-economic conditions created by racial discrimination, contribute to the excessive loss of life and injury in our African-American population to gun violence.
Explicit (Overt) Racial Bias
This author has previously published on behavioral conditioning and its impact on gun violence; the cited article provides sources for what follows here. As long as there are those who have been conditioned to hold hateful beliefs and have ready access to guns, hate killings will continue to occur with little ability to stop them before damage is inflicted. It is well known that those who harbor hateful beliefs can consciously, overtly, carry out acts of violence against those of differing color, ethnicity, religion and political ideologies. Such has been documented in a report issued by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence (Guns and Hate: A Lethal Combination) that provides examples of prominent hate-related gun killings, between July 1999 and June 2009. And such killings have continued since the time period covered in that report, e.g., the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin by a white supremacist. Additionally, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracks both armed militias and hate groups in our country, both of which experienced a meteoric increase in number since the election of our first African American president, a president that was receiving 30 death threats a day following his election (an increase of 400% over that of his Republican predecessor, president G.W. Bush). It is well known that hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, have used all manner of violence against those who did not fit their belief of 100% Americanism as has been previously reviewed by this author (see section Can Fascism Happen Here).
Implicit (subconscious) Racial Bias
A number of references are provided regarding Implicit Bias that is also known as Hidden Bias or Unconscious Bias (ref) (ref) (ref). Drawing from these references, Implicit Bias arose conceptually as a way to explain why discrimination persists even though polling and other research shows that people oppose it. Over 2 million individuals have taken the Implicit Association Test that requires participants to push buttons identifying a face with a judgement like ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Almost 88 percent of white participants react to a black face as ‘bad’ and a white face as ‘good’ thus establishing this as a subconscious preference for whites. Interestingly, 42% of blacks do as well.
In 1999 a shooting occurred in New York City where police officers shot and killed an unarmed 23-year-old West-African immigrant named Amadou Diallo when Diallo reached into his pocket to pull out a wallet. The incident motivated Joshua Correll, then a graduate student in psychology, to conduct research examining the influence of race on shootings. What Correll found time and again was that participants in his research (reacting to video game simulations) wrongly shot unarmed Black “targets”. And his findings held even when his research subjects were black. This phenomenon has been called “shooter bias” (ref). Correll explained that the shooter bias observed in his studies exists because of how individuals are conditioned rather than what they might personally believe or want to believe, coming rather from “long standing associations drilled into our heads every time we go to the movies or pick up a newspaper or hear a joke.” As Correll’s studies have shown, and as has been pointed out by Maya Wiley, the decision to shoot in cases where implicit bias exists is governed by defense mechanisms that trigger with split second speed.
Concerns expressed by the UN committee overseeing US human rights obligations under ICCPR regarding the proliferation of stand-your-ground’ laws are supported by a recent article, Racial bias and ‘stand your ground laws: what the data show. The article raises questions about how notions of self-defense are evolving and whether, under such laws, race-based fears are more likely to influence juries. Results from a recent study, cited in that article, show: “In states with stand-your-ground laws, the shooting of a black person by a white person is found justifiable 17 percent of the time, while the shooting of a white person by a black person is deemed justifiable just over 1 percent of the time… . In states without stand-your-ground laws, white-on-black shootings are found justified just over 9 percent of the time. Such findings ‘show that it’s just harder for black defendants to assert stand-your-ground defense if the victim is white, and easier for whites to raise a stand-your-ground defense if the victims are black,’ according to Darren Hutchinson, a law professor and civil rights law expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville. ‘The bottom line is that it’s really easy for juries to accept that whites had to defend themselves against persons of color’.”
Thus, as long as racism/racial discrimination exists in this country (and the US periodic update to CERD admits that it does), the proliferation of Stand Your Ground Laws is inherently dangerous and will result in lost lives simply because of how some are born. Such laws wrongly assume that all individuals perceive risk and threat the same way. Drawing from the Trayvon Martin matter, it would be folly to assume that all individuals would perceive a black male teen in a hoodie walking the streets at dusk in the same fashion.
Adverse Socio-Economic Conditions
The disproportionate level of gun violence in the African-American community plays out in economically depressed urban areas. Factors contributing to adverse socio-economic conditions in our African-American community are cited in the recent US periodic report to CERD. Examination of gun violence statistics in two major American cities, NY City and Chicago, demonstrate the relationship between adverse socio-economic conditions (that have been fostered through racial discrimination) and the disproportionate level of gun violence amongst African-Americans who become both victim and perpetrator.
New York City
Data on gun violence were collected during the first six months of 2013 in New York City.
Blacks compose only 25.5% of the city’s residents (2010 census), yet:
* Black individuals are almost 25 times more likely to be shot in NY City than a white person and more likely to be arrested for pulling a trigger
* Of the 153 murder and manslaughter victims, 63.8% were black versus 8.6% white
* Of the 567 shooting victims 73.9% were black versus 2.8% white
* Of the 222 people arrested for shootings 70% were black versus 2.9% white
Black community activists have pointed out that these statistics have barely fluctuated since 2009 and reflect the realities of economics in poorer neighborhoods. Tony Herbert (president of the National Action Network’s Brooklyn East Chapter) is cited as saying: “It’s all a battle between the haves and the have-nots…In the end, it’s the survival of the fittest, and there are some who want to bring weapons into the mix. That’s what it comes down to.”
Although such data were used to support stop-and-frisk laws in NY City, such a tactic is simply addressing a symptom of racial discrimination thus serving to further victimize a population that has already fallen prey to racial bias.
Police analyses have shown that the death toll by murder in Chicago (January 1, 2003 – December 31, 2012) was greater than the number of American forces who have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom (October 7, 2001 – ongoing).
Chicago Police Department Murder Analysis reports from 2003 – 2011 show that 98% of the murder weapons were handguns: “The weapon used is generally a handgun, and rarely is it purchased through legal channels” (Police Supt. Garry McCarthy). The disproportionate effect of gun violence in the African American community in Chicago is strikingly similar to what has been reported in New York City. Whereas the 2010 census shows that only 33% of Chicago is black, between 2003 and 2011 blacks were victims of 75% of the murders and were also the offenders in 75% of the murders.
A New York Times analysis of homicides and census data in Chicago showed that residents living near homicides over the last 12 years were much more likely to be black, earn less money, and lack a college degree, supporting the link between disproportionate adverse socio-economic conditions and gun violence amongst urban blacks.
|Population||1.3 mil.||1.4 mil.|
|No high school||27%||15%|
|Under age 18||28%||20%|
Citing the opinion of an attorney having considerable experience in prosecuting gun violence crimes (personal communication): “In my cases it’s struck me how in inner cities, people, especially young men and adolescent boys, can readily get a gun, which is a massive risk factor….This occurs via gun trafficking through bad apple gun dealers, to a large extent. Just as drugs are piped into these streets, there is an apparent racial/socioeconomic disparity to who is subjected to these risks, and it comes largely from bad actors in the gun industry who prey on this market. Proving this point would, I think, energize and help mobilize those communities on this problem.”
The gun violence statistics from both NY City and especially Chicago support the link between race, adverse socioeconomic conditions (fostered by racial discrimination) and gun violence.
The Link Between the Political Right, Gun Violence, and Racism
The Political Right and ‘Gun Rights’ Legislation
Resistance to addressing the issue of gun violence in America largely resides with the political right, represented by today’s Republican Party. Following a public outcry over multiple mass shootings in 2012, Republican US Senators, as a minority, consistently obstructed passage of multiple pieces of legislation intended to reduce gun violence by invoking the filibuster. This included failure to pass a bi-partisan gun-buyer background check bill, a measure that was supported by 86% of the American public (Washington Post-ABC poll taken during the month of the vote). The senate voted 54 to 46 in support of the legislation, but failed to achieve the super-majority of 60 votes required to break the Republican filibuster (41 of 45 Republicans voted to oppose the legislation). As another example, the Senate also voted 58-42 in support of a bill addressing gun trafficking (pertinent to the black urban violence discussed above), but again failed to achieve the mandatory 60 votes to break the Republican filibuster (all but three Republican Senators opposed the bill).
Not only has Congress failed to enact legislation to curb gun violence, in recent years it has passed legislation that could only help to protect and facilitate the ability of those who engage in illegal gun sales, thus facilitating the ability of some to prey upon, and profit from, the effects of racial discrimination. In 2005 Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) that provides broad immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers in federal and state court. The PLCAA, generally speaking, prohibits “qualified civil liability actions” which are defined as civil or administrative proceedings which “result from the criminal or lawful misuse” of firearms or ammunition. As additionally discussed in the cited reference, at least 34 states provide either blanket immunity to the gun industry, similar to PLCAA, or prohibit cities or other local governments entities from bringing lawsuits against certain gun industry defendants.
Although conservative politicians have argued that there are already numerous gun laws on the books and what is needed is better enforcement, they have at the same time worked to undermine law enforcement efforts. The Tiahrt Amendments are provisions attached to federal spending bills that have made it harder for law enforcement officers to aggressively pursue criminals who buy and sell illegal guns. Although there have been some modifications to the original amendments, several damaging provisions still remain. A bill has been introduced to repeal certain impediments to the administration of firearms laws (H.R. 661). The bill was assigned to a congressional committee on February 13, 2013, but has been given a prognosis of 1% chance of being enacted. Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show’ applied satire, in a two segment presentation, on how Congress and the Tiahrt Amendments have worked to impede the work of law enforcement (worth the watch) (segment 1) (segment 2 – ATF).
The Political Right and Historic Ties to Racism
It is not unimportant that today’s Republican Party, that has obstructed legislation to help curb gun violence that disproportionately affects the African American community, represents that same wing of American politics that has historically resisted civil and human rights for American blacks and other minorities. Prior to the Civil War this branch of American politics resided with the Democratic Party that supported slavery prior to the war and segregation for the better part of a century thereafter. Many Southern Democrats stopped supporting the party following the party’s civil rights plank in 1948 that gave rise to the Dixiecrats, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and federally-mandated desegregation. The recent spate of so-called ‘Voter ID Laws’ in multiple states, that work to disproportionately disenfranchise minority voting (especially affecting the African-American community), have been driven by the Republican Party without evidence of widespread in-person voter fraud. In the case of NC, such a recent change in voting law has led to lawsuits by multiple parties including the US DOJ, the NAACP, the ACLU and the League of Women Voters. These modern-day voting laws follow a history of similar such attempts by this wing of American politics to obstruct the African-American vote including literacy tests and poll taxes.
Starting in the 1960’s, backlash against federally mandated desegregation, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act was harnessed in the so-called Southern Strategy (ibid), a Republican strategy to gain political support for its candidates by appealing to racism against African Americans. It did not go unnoticed that Barry Goldwater, whose platform in his 1964 presidential bid included opposition to the Civil Rights Act, carried deep Southern states that had historically been Democratic strongholds.
Richard Nixon was the first Republican presidential candidate to use the strategy to help capture the White House. Lest there be any doubt about the sharp divide between Northern and Southern (soon to be Republican) Democrats on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the US House and Senate votes follow:
The original House version:
Southern Democrats: 7–87 (7–93%)
Southern Republicans: 0–10 (0–100%)
Northern Democrats: 145–9 (94–6%)
Northern Republicans: 138–24 (85–15%)
The Senate version:
Southern Democrats: 1–20 (5–95%)
Southern Republicans: 0–1 (0–100%)
Northern Democrats: 45–1 (98–2%)
Northern Republicans: 27–5 (84–16%)
In an infamous 1981 interview with political science professor Alexander P. Lamis, Lee Atwater (a prominent Republican Party strategist) explained the evolution of the GOP’s Southern strategy as recounted in Bob Herbert’s 2005 NY Times column (Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant):
”You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
”And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.”’
Mr. Herbert went on to say in that same article: “The truth is that there was very little that was subconscious about the G.O.P.’s relentless appeal to racist whites. Tired of losing elections, it saw an opportunity to renew itself by opening its arms wide to white voters who could never forgive the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights and voting rights for blacks.”
Although in 2005, RNC chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized to the NAACP for his party’s exploitation of racial conflict for votes, the ‘coded’ and ‘abstract’ language of the party still continues as evidenced by the reaction to Representative Paul Ryan’s recent comments:
“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”
Representative Ryan’s comments drew immediate and sharp criticism from Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA): “Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city’, when he says ‘culture’, these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’ ”
The Gun Lobby, Industry and The Political Right
The National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying force in DC and around the country, has shown the ability to affect outcomes in low turnout or close elections through an active single-issue voter base (consider the successful recall of two Democratic Colorado politicians who participated in successfully implementing new gun control legislation in that state, or the organization’s intimidation of US Democratic senators who are facing tough reelections in red states if they support the president’s pick for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who holds gun violence to be a public health issue).
The gun industry and the NRA are intimately linked including ties to the organization’s Board of Directors. Corporate donations from the gun industry have been detailed in the Violence Policy Center’s (VPC) document, Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA. As described in that document, NRA involvement with the industry represents a 180-degree turnaround from the organization’s position just a few decades earlier as was detailed in Americans and Their Guns, an official history of the organization published in 1967, which stated that the NRA (at that time)”…is not affiliated with any manufacturer of arms or ammunition or with any jobber or dealer who sells firearms and ammunition.” And as has been previously reviewed by this author, this association with the gun industry coincided with a decades long decline in household gun ownership (see subsection: Continuing Decline of Gun Ownership in America and Commercial Pressures).
A document published by open secrets.org outlines political spending by the NRA (it should be noted that this site is continually updated and figures cited here are those available at the time of writing). The NRA is listed as a ‘Heavy Hitter’, being one of the 140 biggest overall donors to federal elections since the 1990 election cycle, the activity being supported by corporate donations from the gun industry. The corporate donation programs have been described in the above cited VPC document with Wayne LaPierre promising that the “National Rifle Association’s newly expanded Corporate Partners Program is an opportunity for corporations to partner with the NRA…This program is geared toward your company’s corporate interests.” The NRA directed 89% of its contributions to Republican candidates in the 2012 election cycle, and 96% (so far) in the 2014 election cycle. During the 2011-2012 election cycle the organization spent $13 million opposing Democratic candidates versus only $221,000 opposing Republican candidates, and the total of contributions to candidates from NRA PAC’s was 27 times larger than contributions from individuals.
In addition to the organization’s turn around with industry involvement, NRA also once supported gun control and in the 1920’s and ’30’s NRA leaders helped write and lobby for the first federal gun control laws – “the very kinds of laws that the modern NRA labels as the height of tyranny.” The article describes the eventual battle for control of the NRA by Libertarian forces versus the more mainstream conservative elements of the organization’s board, with the Libertarian forces eventually gaining control. And the issue of race played a role in the NRA’s eventual arming of America. The assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were the tipping point for enacting new federal gun control laws in 1968 following several summers of race-related riots in American cities. “The nation’s white political elite feared that violence was too prevalent and there were too many people – especially urban Black nationalists – with access to guns.” In 1967 a couple of dozen Black Panther Party members carried rifles into the California Statehouse in protest of gun control legislation leading then Governor Ronald Reagan to state “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” In the 1960’s the Black Panthers were better known than the NRA for expressing the view of the Second Amendment protecting an individual right to guns. Libertarians began to assert the same, but in reality “they were seeking to keep America’s white gun owners fully armed.” The interpretation of the Second Amendment by white Libertarians was at odds with more mainstream conservatives. In 1991, former SCOTUS Chief Justice Warren Burger – a Nixon appointee and a conservative – was interviewed by PBS where he called that interpretation “one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” (Note: In support of the former Chief Justice’s view is the work of Josh Horwitz (an attorney and visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and Casey Anderson (Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea) who reveal that the position of gun rights advocates who claim that the Second Amendment provided for the arming of individual citizens to defend themselves from an aggressive government was based on a deliberate misreading of history. They debunk the revisionist history on a point by point basis in the work and “expose insurrectionism – not government oppression- as the true threat to freedom in the United States today.”)
NRA Board Member Ted Nugent’s recent slurs calling President Obama a chimpanzee and sub-human mongrel have, not surprisingly, been condemned by several mainstream Republicans, e.g., Senator John McCain. (Charles M. Blow of the NY Times detailed the historic use of mongrel as a pejorative term for a person of mixed-race heritage and subhuman being a prevailing sentiment of those who tried to justify the institution of slavery). Nugent’s slur violated the type of abstractness and code described by Lee Atwater as part of the post-civil rights era ‘Southern Strategy’ – see above. Additionally, although NRA leaders worked to insulate their organization from Nugent’s slur at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, at least three board members downplayed the matter including past-president and current board member David Keene and Grover Norquist. The difficulty that both the organization and politicians who denounced Nugent’s current remarks (Senator McCain is listed as being a top recipient of NRA political contributions) is that Nugent’s language is tolerated by the organization; he has not been denounced by the organization and still holds a board position despite a history of issuing similar racially offensive language dating back into the 1990’s.
The Violence Policy Center’s document NRA Family Values – see section on Racism & Sexism (issued in the 1990’s), cites examples of Nugent’s prior rhetoric including “apartheid isn’t that cut and dry. All men are not created equal. The preponderance of South Africa is a different breed of man. I mean that with no disrespect. I say that with great respect. I love them because I’m one of them. They are still people of the earth, but they are different. They still put bones in their noses, they still walk around naked, they wipe their butts with their hands….These are different people. You give ’em toothpaste, they f—ing eat it…I hope they don’t become civilized. They’re way ahead of the game.” He additionally claimed to make use of the word ‘n—r’ “because I hang around with a lot of n—rs, and they use the world n—r, and I tend to use words that communicate.”
Additionally, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has created a Meet the NRA website that details numerous statements, not just from Mr. Nugent, but from several of that organization’s leadership on the issues of race, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. This link should direct the reader to NRA Leaders on Race.
The statistics on the disproportionate effects of gun violence on our African American citizens, including African American children, have been known for quite some time. The ties of the NRA to the political wing that has historically worked to obstruct African American civil and human rights, in conjunction with the tolerance it displays to overt racist slurs by not removing or condemning offending board members, would indicate little desire to address the issue of gun violence in our African American community. After all, if the political right is still working to obstruct the African American vote, what would be the impetus to stop the carnage?
Although the issue of shortened African-American life expectancy noted in the recent US periodic report to CERD is considered largely in terms of access to healthcare, the matter is far more serious than that. Whether one applies the recently published UCLA life expectancy study to 2000 US census data (as discussed above), or the shortfall noted in the aforementioned recent CDC report to the nearly 40 million African Americans in the 2010 US census, it becomes clear that several million African-American citizens are prematurely dying in our country. The CDC data additionally show that the shortened life expectancy in American blacks is due to multiple factors and not attributable to any one specific cause. All the listed causes, i.e., Heart Disease, Homicide, Cancer, Cerebrovascular Disease, and Perinatal Conditions, are consistent with the effects of adverse socioeconomic conditions that have been fostered by racial bias and discrimination. This massive premature loss of African American lives represents an ongoing human rights atrocity of considerable magnitude – an atrocity that is playing out, and is being permitted to play out, in our country.
Although conservative politicians and the gun lobby expound on Second Amendment rights in resisting legislation intended to reduce gun violence, there are far greater constitutional issues at play, involving the very principles upon which our country was founded, e.g., all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our government exists to protect its citizens and a valid question would be on what basis our government is not aggressively intervening regarding a disproportionate loss of life to violence in a segment of its own citizenry. To use the Second Amendment as a reason to not address this disproportionate loss of life to violence makes a mockery of our constitution and gives credence to former SCOTUS Chief Justice Burger’s comments that the Second Amendment interpretation embraced by gun rights organizations and the political right is but a fraud.
As was stated in the US periodic update to CERD, much work has yet to be done in addressing racial discrimination in our country and, not unexpectedly, it is proving to be generational in its scope and timeframe. Long-held biases do not change overnight, but can be reduced with each passing generation through education and exposure through initiatives like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ‘Mix it Up at Lunch Day’ program in schools. But, in the meantime, there is little excuse to not take steps legislatively to curb the disproportionate gun violence in black America.
As our Congress has failed to move on this issue, it is time to have our Congress, through the US delegation that will be in attendance at the CERD review later this summer, explain itself on the international stage. And there is precedent for this. As was noted above, the US came under sharp criticism at the UN human rights committee in Geneva just last month (March) regarding its obligations under The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) for a long list of human rights abuses that included rampant gun violence and the proliferation of stand-your-ground laws. Compliments are due the US Human Rights Network that provided coordinating efforts amongst many advocacy groups in advance of that review. The US sent a large delegation to Geneva and, in what was described as an act of ‘public shaming’, the review was frequently uncomfortable for the US. The issue of gun violence and race can and should be expanded upon at the review of US obligations by the UN’s CERD later this summer.