The following letter, issued to US Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) in advance of the vote on ‘The Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act’ (S498), is self-explanatory. This legislation (like others) has little to do with protecting or defending the rights of law abiding citizens. It is about the union of an appalling political strategy (that for decades has successfully exploited racial conflict for votes) and corporate profits. This reproduction includes links to sources in support of the various points contained therein.
February 21, 2015
The Honorable Richard Burr
United States Senate
217 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Beyond S. 498: The Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act
Dear Senator Burr:
I was asked to write you a letter requesting that you oppose the above referenced legislation and have noted that you voted in favor of similar legislation in the recent past. However, I believe most letters like that are a waste of time and effort in today’s political environment. Additionally, it’s clear that neither facts nor public opinion matter much these days after witnessing the highly partisan US Senate vote against expanded background check legislation in 2013, yours included – legislation that was supported by nearly 90% of the American public including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, men and women, gun owners and non-gun owners, and (immediately prior to that vote) 90% of the citizens of your state (February 2013), as well as 74% of NRA households (February, 2013). And you, and others of your party, could vote to oppose such measures with impunity as evidenced by the 2014 midterm election results simply because gun violence is largely a non-issue regarding reasons why people cast their vote for Congress – but likely not for much longer. Because, in stripping away the veneer, as detailed below, legislation like this has little to do about protecting the rights of ‘law abiding citizens’; it is about the union of an appalling political strategy (that has contributed to an unthinkable number of premature African-American deaths) and corporate profits that, with this country’s changing demography, will eventually exact a price at the polls, perhaps sooner than later.
If facts really mattered, consider the following:
- This month in your state, just a week apart, two CCW permit holders perpetrated two separate mass shootings (Chapel Hill and Wilmington) that claimed six lives, 3 in each incident. The Chapel Hill slaying of three Muslim students, each sustaining a gunshot wound to the head, garnered international attention. And the Wilmington shooting claimed three lives in a murder-suicide that included the death of a pregnant woman’s fetus (she was shot both in the head and the abdomen while in the presence of her children). There was no waiting period required for the Wilmington shooter to purchase a gun as he had a CCW permit; the weapon he used was purchased within an hour of the incident.
- Although public access to CCW permit holder identification has been blocked in many states through the legislative efforts of the gun lobby (including North Carolina), in recent years 544 incidents of non-self defense shootings by CCW permit holders (permit identified by news media) have been reported in 36 states and the District of Columbia that claimed 722 lives; included are 17 law enforcement officers and 28 mass shooting incidents resulting in the deaths of 136 victims. As this is only what can be culled from media reports, the figures are held to be a considerable underestimate. Does Congress really hold that hundreds of news media reports across the nation have this all wrong? This should bear attention.
- Although there is much rhetoric about the right of ‘law-abiding citizens’ to defend themselves, examination of FBI data shows that guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes in the United States. Over the past several years criminal gun homicides outnumbered justifiable gun homicides some forty-fold in our country without any reproducible evidence of an offsetting public benefit. Another recent FBI report, using a tight set of definitions, tracked a steadily increasing number of mass shootings between 2000 – 2013, 160 in total that caused 1,043 casualties (486 killed, 557 wounded) – in only one instance did a private citizen with a firearms permit participate in the resolution, whereas many have been reported to be perpetrators of such crimes.
- Despite the word ‘Constitutional’ in the title of this legislation, it has not been held that the Second Amendment confers a right to carry a concealed weapon (reference Justice Scalia’s writing for the majority in Heller as well as Peterson v. Garcia where the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit unanimously held that the Second Amendment does not provide a right to carry concealed weapons in public).
- Despite recent published claims by the gun lobby in your state that, by training, CCW permit holders would be a resource, not a hazard, at your State Fair, please know that CCW requirements vary widely from state to state and that residents of your state have obtained CCW permits through the Virginia non-residents program where there is no requirement to show proficiency with, or even handle, a firearm (simply an on-line test). Your state not only honors permits from multiple other states using that program, but others such as Florida where one instructor has reportedly qualified thousands of permit holders, some firearms novices, after just one morning’s lecture in his home followed by the firing of one blank cartridge at a paper target in his garage. And in North Carolina our legislature has opened multiple public venues to these including playgrounds, greenways, educational properties, and more while stripping local government of any say in the matter. And, yes, even into establishments that serve alcoholic beverages – this with the knowledge of investigative reporting by the NY Times that matched nearly 900 DUI convictions in NC to the CCW permit database (when it was still available) in recent years.
And there’s so much more. But none of it matters. Because like so much of your party’s agenda, gun violence has a grossly disproportionate effect on our minority populations – particularly our African-American citizenry where they account for nearly half of our gun homicide victims while representing only 13% of our total population. And gun deaths in African-American children and teens mirror the same. The lack of intervention by your party, as well as its work to expand public exposure to firearms, fits all too well with its admitted political strategy to exploit racial conflict for votes, as well as its work to disenfranchise that population at the polls (i.e. the recent spate of ‘voter suppression laws’) and so much more (refusal to expand Medicaid largely affecting the African-American poor, cutting social safety nets while maintaining tax cuts for the wealthiest, etc) all of which contribute to premature death. Additionally, the gun lobby, that directs the overwhelming majority of its overall political contributions to your party, is also gaming race to the financial benefit of its corporate sponsors.
From the political perspective, one can consider Lee Atwater’s explained evolution of the Southern Strategy during the Reagan years into coded and abstract language, e.g., economic cuts, “…and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites”. Or RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman’s apology to the NAACP in 2005 for his party’s exploitation of racial conflict for votes, including issues such as busing and desegregation. Or even Paul Ryan’s coded language just last year of “inner city” and “culture” and “generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of and the culture of work…”. Consistent with that strategy in a majority white voting population, only one in twenty who voted for your party was non-white during Mr. Atwater’s years, a statistic not much improved in 2012 (one in ten).
Also, there is a long history of NRA leadership issuing racially insensitive, if not overtly offensive, language without consequence to their position in that organization. Just last year a longstanding NRA board member referred to our African-American president as being a “subhuman mongrel”. A former NRA board member stated that keeping troubled black urban areas “well supplied with ammunition” would seem to be “a valid social service”. Or the published fear mongering from the president of a prominent NC gun rights group that individuals should be allowed to carry concealed guns into your state fair because of a “Beat Whitey Night” that purportedly occurred at another state fair several years ago. Although politicians publicly decry such statements, it certainly hasn’t stopped them from lining their pockets with NRA political contributions – reportedly 95% of that organization’s overall political contributions were directed to your party in the 2014 election cycle. There’s a hand and glove fit between your party and the gun lobby in exploiting racial conflict for gain.
The link between gun violence and racial bias/hatred in America is recognized, both here and abroad. My work on the intersection of race, human rights and gun violence took me to the US Department of State last year where I gave a statement on the matter, and to Geneva, Switzerland where I participated in the review of our country’s obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. The work was successful in having the committee state its concerns about the “high number of gun-related deaths and injuries [in our country] which disproportionately affect members of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African-Americans. It is also concerned at the proliferation of ‘Stand Your Ground’ (SYG) laws which are used to circumvent the limits of legitimate self-defense in violation of the State party’s duty to protect life, and has a disproportionate effect on members of racial and ethnic minorities”. Our government is obligated to respond to the committee recommendations, one of which was banning the practice of carrying of concealed weapons in public venues (again, not a constitutionally protected right). Similar concerns were expressed in the American Bar Association Task Force Report last year that SYG laws are a “solution searching for a problem”, that they are associated with increased homicide rates and reinforce racial bias.
I just returned from Miami, FL where I attended, and supported as a sponsor, the Trayvon Martin Remembrance Dinner. The resentment in the largely African-American audience was tangible when listening to presenters who discussed the lower value placed on black/brown American lives. Many senseless and brutal acts were recounted that all too often did not find recourse in our criminal justice system.
However, that loss of life to violence, as horrific as some of these events have been, is but the tip of an iceberg regarding a staggering number of ‘silent deaths’, totaling into the millions, in our African-American citizenry across all stages of life from infancy through adulthood. Large numbers of deaths have been attributed to low education, racial segregation, lack of access to medical care, low social support, individual-level poverty, and income inequality, all of which disproportionately affect the African-American community and are intimately tied to the effects of your party’s political agenda at both state and federal levels.
Regarding the CCW reciprocity bill, you can certainly vote in support of expanding public exposure to concealed weapons in the hands of some having little if any training as well as those either holding, or conditioned by, racial hatred/bias (and CCW required background checks do not screen that out). But here is where you, and your party, should be concerned. It’s pretty clear in looking over the last four election cycles that outcome is tied to what shows up at the polls, vacillating back and forth between higher turnout presidential election years and lower turnout midterms. And 2016 is a presidential election year (when you next run) with your party holding a disproportionate number of Senate seats to defend. You are in a state where there are not only more registered Democratic than Republican voters, but where 22% of its population is African-American (as opposed to 13% nationally) – a population that statistically votes 90% Democratic [for president, clarified here]. What we witnessed in 2012 was that the NRA, as well as Karl Rove’s super PAC, had an abysmal return on the millions of dollars invested into that election – the combined impact of the Latino, Black and female vote (your party being none-to-friendly to those populations in recent times) countered a 20 point spread in the white vote favoring your party. What I have communicated to the gun violence prevention movement is that its interests would be better served by placing capital into overcoming voter suppression tactics and augmenting the black/brown vote (a population disproportionately affected by gun violence) rather than placing millions into political commercials and other activities that have a dubious impact on election outcome.
I am a believer that our system of government is one that can be a model to unite the world, if only we put into practice its principles rather than engaging in divisive strategies that are claiming an unthinkable number of lives in our diverse society. In 2012, that diversity demonstrated its power at the polls.
This correspondence will be shared with other legislators in advance of the vote on S 498.
Arthur R. (Art) Kamm, PhD