The Missing Element in the Gun Debate

With the tragic shooting deaths of 3 students in California (3 more were stabbed to death) by a deranged and sexually frustrated man last week, the American left has quickly mobilized to exploit the tragedy for political gain.  The usual suspects trotted out the usual arguments about why more gun control is needed.  With the novel wrinkle of a grieving father raging against the NRA, the reaction to the Isla Vista shooting was par for the course in leftist outrage for their topic de jure.

Except for one thing.  One of the left’s favorite grievance issues has not made an appearance in the wake of this shooting, or in the aftermath of most incidents related to guns and death.

Give up?  It’s race.  That’s right, while all other problems this country faces, from health care to taxes, can be explained by racism against black Americans*, racial considerations magically disappear when the discussion switches to American gun violence.  The problem, American liberals insist, lies with the easy access to firearms in the United States and their new favorite boogeyman: the (white) “gun culture.”  The numbers indeed tell the tale: America has 3 times the guns per capita than the typical European nation, and, surprise surprise, triple the murder rate!  Case closed!

Of course, conservatives, deluded red necks that they are, insist that the problem isn’t in fact the proliferation of guns, but a disregard for the law and for the value of life on the part of evil people who use guns in evil ways.  One of my racist conservative friends even dared imply that the problem was even more specific than that.  The cultural decay conservatives describe, he said, is found disproportionately in the black American community.  As a card-carrying Sid Dinsdale-supporting RINO whose gun cabinet is empty but for a lonely Remington 11-87 shotgun, I of course had no choice but to put this Koch-induced teabagging bigotry to rest.

Our first stop is to the FBI’s Crime Statistics page.  We see here the following numbers for 2012:

Homicide Victims**:  Total: 12,765, White: 5,855, Black: 6,454

Well that’s disturbing.  Not only are black Americans overrepresented as murder victims, but they represent a majority of murder victims.

Broken down into murder rates for 2012 per 100,000:

Blacks: 16.5

Non-Blacks: 2.3

Well that is certainly odd.  Once black Americans are removed from the equation, the United States’ murder rate comes into line with noted violence-ridden dystopias Finland and Norway and is only slightly more violent than Canada and Belgium.

“But wait!” says the left, “more guns = more violence!”

Well, we can measure that as well.  I’d like to play a game based on this hypothesis.  It’s just a guess on my part, I haven’t researched this before.  I will take the 10 worst states (and DC if applicable) by murder rate, and compare their rankings on two counts: gun ownership per capita, and proportion of black American residents.  Whichever ranking is higher (nearer to first), wins a point toward that “murder factor.”

The contenders: D.C., Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee.

State, Rank Black Population %,  Rank Gun Ownership rate.

DC:  1st, 51st

Louisiana: 3rd, 21st

Mississippi: 2nd, 17th

Alabama: 7th, 10th

Michigan: 17th,  37th

South Carolina: 6th, 28th

Missouri: 20th, 15th

Maryland: 5th, 45th

Delaware: 9th, 43rd

Tennessee: 11th, 11th


By a decisive 8-1-1 margin, the percentage of black Americans in a state’s population was more predictive of the state’s murder rate than the rate of gun ownership.  7 of the 10 murder-prone states were also in the top 10 of proportion of black American residents.  Interestingly, only 1 murder-prone state (Alabama)  also ranked in the top 10 states for gun ownership, while 3 of the aforementioned states (DC, Maryland, Delaware) ranked in the bottom 10 for gun ownership.  I don’t pretend that the issue of murder prevalence is anywhere near that simple, but it does help show how utterly nonsensical it is to blame gun proliferation for a high murder rate.

So what do we take from all of this?  Many would declare this post racist.  On the contrary, I would say to willfully ignore the facts laid out above is racist.  America does have a gun violence problem.  The problem however, does not largely rest with the proliferation of guns, but with a subculture that regards human life as being expendable.  Every single year, thousands of young black Americans are cut down in our cities and our reaction depending on ideology is either to shrug it off or propose feel-good laws that demonstrably do not work and perhaps make the problem worse.  How we got to this point is a long, complicated road spanning centuries.  Finding the way out will be a long and arduous process, and we will get nowhere without talking about it.  Like many liberal commentators, I too am tired of lives cut short by senseless violence.  But instead of scoring political points off the dead, we must focus on the person behind the gun – that’s a conversation on race worth having.

*I disdain the usage of hyphenated demonyms.  Black Americans are no more African than I am Danish or European.

**I use victims because the killers are not always caught and cross-racial murders are pretty rare, making the victim’s background a good predictor of the murderer’s as well.

***Yes, I’m aware that the recent school shooting did not directly involve black Americans and inner city crime generally, however the “guns” discussion encompasses all violent crime, not merely school shootings, which, while tragic, are statistically irrelevant in the larger discussion.