Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXIX - Issue 3 - Opinion
Blacks and Guns
by Alec Rawls
Senior Staff Writer
African-Americans have a serious problem with guns. They don't have enough of them. Despite being victimized by crime at several times the rate of whites, only 30% of black adults own guns, compared to 43% of whites. Blacks are also heavily represented in California and in those northeastern and Midwestern states which, like California, deny citizens their right to bear arms. Thus criminals in black neighborhoods usually can be confident of not meeting armed resistance from the law abiding citizenry. This "safe working environment" emboldens criminals to commit more crimes. But that's only half the problem.
In the absence of self-defense, the moderating influence on crime must come from the police. Unfortunately, the way police crack down on crime--by cracking down on all kinds of minor infractions, looking for excuses to search people, being suspicious of everyone who looks suspicious--is a great irritant to the law abiding. Greater police presence also brings the drug war down on blacks with terrible force, prosecuting huge numbers of African-Americans for consenting behavior.
This leaves America's black neighborhoods in a terrible bind. Residents have a choice between being murdered, robbed and raped, or being subject to an overbearing police presence and possibly unjust prosecution. Both horns of this dilemma could avoided if the law abiding people were allowed to bear arms. They would then be able to defend themselves and each other from crime. Predation would be deterred from inside the community, allowing police presence to diminish. The police would have a few more dead predators to scrape off the ground, but far fewer victims.
Gun control laws in the United States originated as a scheme for keeping blacks disarmed. By turning gun rights into privileges, granted at the discretion of local police chiefs and county sheriffs, whites could keep blacks from bearing arms while still in practice maintaining their own rights. The slope turned out to be slippery and, in all but eight states, whites lost their gun rights too. Finally in 1987 people of all races started to reclaim their gun rights through the "shall issue" movement, requiring police chiefs and county sheriffs to issue gun permits to all adult applicants who are not disqualified by history of crime or mental illness.
The crime reducing effects of shall-issue laws have been well documented over the last fifteen years, and the current economic downturn is only accentuating the effect. Crime rates are stable in the thirty-three states that protect gun rights while many anti-gun states are experiencing a resurgence of crime. Boston, for instance, capital of perhaps the nation's most anti-gun state, experienced a 67 percent increase in murder last year (not as shocking as it sounds, given the small numbers involved, but significant nonetheless). Oakland California is experiencing a return to crack-era murder rates. Murder in anti-gun Chicago is surging, while ex-murder capital Detroit actually had one less murder last year, after passing a "shall issue" CCW law in 2000.
Interestingly, the shall-issue movement has been slowest to reach those states in the northeast and Midwest that were the destination of the great northward migration of southern blacks in the hundred years after the Civil War. Southern blacks can all get gun permits now, and the safer streets and lessened police harassment that inevitably follow. This time it is the north's turn to stop denying people their constitutional rights.
Rights are not conditional on need. Nevertheless, no group needs gun rights as much as African-Americans. Many blacks live in impoverished conditions where crime thrives, but bringing in more police, and having them use every excuse to question and search, is a terrible burden. Law abiding blacks must be free to defend themselves and each other so that they can live as safe as other people without being under the heel of the police.
Page last modified on Wednesday, 01-Mar-2006 23:50:38 MST.