One week ago, in an op-ed for the far right wing website World Net Daily, National Rifle Association (NRA) Board Member Ted Nugent commented on the violence that has made national headlines in Ferguson, Missouri, and stated, "The overwhelming majority of violent crime across America is conducted by young, black males who, sadly, are on the self-inflicted expressway to prison or an early grave-or more often than not, both."
Where to begin... For starters, Nugent has blatantly misstated the facts. In truth, more whites are arrested for violent crime in the
But reading Nugent's column brought an equally important point home for me. The way we talk about incidents of gun violence in this country -- and the solutions we propose to stem future acts of violence -- seems to be dramatically different depending on the race of those involved.
Consider the tragic death of 25 year-old African-American Kajieme Powell in
It was a textbook example of suicide-by-cop. And yet very little of the subsequent national conversation mentioned the issue of mental health. Instead, we got the standard character assassination that is so common when African-Americans are involved as perpetrators. Comments like this one by NBC contributor Jeff Halevy: "Knife-wielding thug who just robbed a store. Get over it. It's not always race."
It's not always race? Then why is a perpetrator immediately dehumanized when he is African-American? He is a "thug" who was involved in a "drive-by." Or he's a "gang banger" who got caught up in "inner city violence" ... Convenient terms to let people know that it was a black person who pulled the trigger. Mental health is not part of the discussion, even in cases like Powell's where it's an obvious factor.
Conversely, when an episode of mass gun violence involves a white perpetrator (think Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Elliot Rodger, etc.), the conversation immediately turns to mental health. The shooter was "deranged" and probably on medication, we are told. And we'll hear asides like, "He seemed like such a good person" or "We never could have seen this coming."
This dichotomy of treatment is intentional. Consider the NRA's response to the
The NRA fully understands the racial dynamic at play here. As long as we can blame something other than guns,
The gun lobby is able to pitch this myth because, on the surface, it may seem that gun violence is connected to race. Although African Americans make up only 13 percent of the
Nonetheless, the NRA understands that fear is the best motivator when it comes to selling guns. Sadly, its not-so-subtle attempt to blame African-Americans for (all) violence seems to be a contributing factor to the unnecessary killing of unarmed black men in our society.
Let us also reject the gun lobby's unnecessary stigmatization of the mentally ill. The truth is the majority of individuals with a mental illness diagnosis will never be violent toward others. Only about 4 percent of interpersonal violence in
Which brings us back to what the NRA is trying to hide from public understanding, because whatever one's circumstances, easy access to firearms is known to make violence more lethal. For example, studies show that areas with more guns have more gun-related homicides. It is a national tragedy that we have a gun policy that makes it easy even for individuals with long histories of violence to obtain firearms. Felons, domestic abusers and those who have recently been adjudicated a danger to self and/or others based on mental health history are indeed a public safety threat, yet we still live in a country where approximately 40% of firearms transfers happen without a background check.
So I have three suggestions for a more peaceful and free