Wednesday morning, I listened to CSPAN radio, a true national treasure, to the very civilized Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings on Gun Violence, and they started my poor old brain thinking.
Let’s start with the obvious: the recent mass killings of young pupils in Newtown, Connecticut, were horrific beyond words. No sane person can doubt that. But in the aftermath of that tragedy, I have noticed a certain willful avoidance of some basic truths about guns and deaths in this, our beloved America.
First of all, the figure of roughly 30,000 gun deaths per year was endlessly tossed about after Newtown and in the recent Senate hearings about gun violence. Thirty thousand is a huge number. But I didn’t hear anyone say that two-thirds of those gun deaths were suicides – self-inflicted gun deaths.
These are sad, no doubt, often unbearably sad, but very different from gun deaths caused by a madman with an AR-180 at a school, shooting six year olds with .223 ammunition designed to be used against the Vietcong. Those latter are spectacularly horrific, but extremely rare — not rare enough, alas.
Now, even after subtracting the sad suicides, something else is going on: deaths by firearms are wildly heavily concentrated in the African-American population of this country. The rate of firearms deaths per 100,000 population is about four times higher in the black population than in the white population.
Gang-related killings account for much of this difference. In large cities with mostly black populations — such as Newark, Detroit, New Orleans — the rate of firearms deaths is almost unbelievably high compared with the rate in the mostly white suburbs.
In any given week, on any given weekend, dozens of black youths are gunned down by other blacks in America’s cities. This is a horror show happening in real life. The total number of deaths from this ongoing disaster far outpaces the deaths in mass killings in Aurora or Newtown.
Now, in no way should either of these grim phenomena be used to minimize the other. But it amazes me that the whole country, the whole world, goes berserk about the killings in a charming town in Connecticut, as we should — while the daily slaughter of black youths by other black youths is just part of the wallpaper of modern life.
Obviously, we would like to stop as much gun homicide in any area as we can. But I have not seen any proposal from the White House that would make it a national priority to seriously crack down on gang activity, drug sales turf activity, just plain macho g-thing activity and to take the Glocks out of the inner city.
President Obama is the biggest celebrity in the world, as a 2008 GOP ad said. But is he ready to lead? In particular, is he ready to use his star power to speak in and walk the streets of gang territory and tell his brothers that gun violence is distinctly uncool and even horrible. Is he ready to do what Dr. Dre did, and tell young blacks that their gangs are killing far more blacks than the Klan ever did?
Nor have I seen the national media go wild about the rap culture that often — not always — celebrates being drunk or high and going on a killing spree as a gang initiation or as marks of cool manhood.
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. And we pay very little attention to it when the people on both ends of the barrel are black. The national shame of gun violence is not coming from gun shows or guns that look like military weapons. It’s not coming from Idaho or Montana or Wyoming or the duck blinds of Talbot County, Maryland. It’s coming from people who live in a culture of violence and death that we as a nation sometimes worship and more often ignore. Something’s very wrong here.
“He’s the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?” It sure doesn’t look like it so far.