Gun Violence Prevention: A Tale of Two Worlds



The mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, SC provides yet another stark example of the death that can result from the racial divide that plagues our country and that the issue of gun violence in America is not a one size fits all matter.

Last summer, in Geneva, Switzerland, I participated in the review of our country’s obligations under the International Convention to End all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) as a report author on the topic of African-American Gun Violence Victimization.  Proudly, the report was endorsed and joined by both Amnesty International USA and the Violence Policy Center (the Violence Policy Center periodically updates, amongst others, a report on Black Homicide Victimization in the United States).

The statistics on gun violence victimization in our black population are appalling as outlined in the first two pages of the report issued to the UN committee.  Although representing only 13 percent of our population, African-Americans account for nearly half of our gun violence victims.  Statistics in black youth mirror the same.  And this disproportionate loss of life in that community to gun violence occurs through multiple mechanisms including overt acts of hatred, implicit (subconscious) bias, and adverse socio-economic conditions (created and maintained through discriminatory practices) that become breeding grounds for violence where black males become both victims and perpetrators of violent acts.

The mass murder of nine of our African-American citizens  at a historic black church in Charleston, SC,  last night by a white gunman, (the event already being labelled a ‘hate crime’) provides yet another stark example of the death that can result from the racial divide that continues to plague our country.  And it is appalling that this loss of life to violence in our African-American citizenry is but the visible portion of a staggering number of silent deaths, totaling into the millions, tied to racial discrimination.

The call for background check legislation on gun purchases was aggressively pursued following the shooting of Jim Brady (President Reagan’s Press Secretary) by a deranged individual.  Initiatives to close the ‘loopholes’ on background checks have been spurred by many other horrific shootings by disturbed individuals including, but clearly not limited to, the Aurora CO theatre shooting, Virginia Tech, the assassination attempt of Representative Giffords, and Sandy Hook Elementary.  The solution?   Keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm.  But that loophole does not begin to explain the three-fold difference in African-American gun violence victimization versus their representation in our population.  We simply cannot screen out those with hateful ideologies that can do harm – and it’s not unusual to hear those who hold such beliefs claim their right to bear arms as being sacrosanct under the Second Amendment.

Gun violence prevention is a tale of two worlds.  And our approach remains as segregated as the racial problems that continue to tear at the very fabric of our society.  It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  In having attended both the Jim Brady Memorial event in Washington, DC last year as well as the Trayvon Martin Memorial Dinner as an event sponsor, the stark difference in demographics attending the two events is noteworthy.

Brady Memorial stage shot


Trayvon Memorial Dinner stage shot

The issue resonates differently.  And what resonates with the African-American community is the lower value placed on the lives of its citizens who fall victim to violence that has been justified and reinforced in our criminal justice system.   Gun violence prevention is not a ‘one size fits all’ matter.  And it would be immoral to spur fundraising on the Charleston massacre without taking concrete steps to address the disproportionate loss of life in our minority populations.

It’s time we recognize gun violence for what it is.  It is a violation of a fundamental human right, that of Life – and that right encompasses all parties.  As pointed out in a recently authored Op-Ed in the Raleigh N&O, that right is foundational in our country – being cited in our Declaration of Independence as being unalienable.  Two separate committees last year consisting of legal and academic scholars in the field of human rights held that the high number of gun deaths in our country (particularly African-Americans) constituted a failure of our government in one of its most fundament duties – to protect Life.  And as pointed out by the ICERD committee in its Concluding Observations, gun violence is but one of a myriad of discriminatory issues in our country, many of which prematurely end life.

Solving the gun violence issue in our country will take a broad approach, one that encompasses the exceptionally complex nature of the problem and embraces all our population.  And, as written before, this can be accomplished by putting muscle, financial and political, into achieving full and equal participation in our Democracy, a participation that can shape Congress into a more progressive body willing to not only address the issue of gun violence, but the many other discriminatory issues that plague our country.

Yet the fundamental right to vote is being obstructed in our minority populations.  Make no mistake of this.   Having recently attended a town hall meeting in Raleigh NC on race and race relations, the crowd being overwhelmingly African-American, at the top of the handout materials was a flier helping the attendees understand the new requirements governing their ability to vote.

It’s time for the gun violence prevention movement, especially those with deeper pockets and political connections, to join the broader fight for rights in this country.  Everybody wins.