Frank Harris III
5:00 PM EST, February 27, 2013
"If The Civil Rights era has to be mentioned at all in the current gun debate, it's that the U.S. would be safer if blacks had stayed at the back of the bus — without access to firearms."
— Email from reader taking issue with citing Emmett Till's open casket as an example of how to show the effects of gun violence in the Sandy Hook shooting.
On the surface, her email doesn't make sense.
The mass shootings that take place across America are usually committed by white males, or in the case of the Virginia Tech shooting, an Asian male.
Black males do not typically commit mass shootings that cause the soul-searching questions about gun control. Shootings by black males usually are of the daily, accumulative variety against other black males. The kind that provide the grist for the local news. The kind that makes many whites buy guns out of fear of black thugs. The kind that makes many blacks fearful of their young bloods.
In the discussion of gun control in the wake of the Newtown shootings, there are sidebars about the color of gun violence that separates the violence. These discussions are subjectively blind.
Many whites hear of black shootings and see it in racial terms as "those people," or worse, that they aren't people at all. Conversely, they hear of mass shootings by another white gunman and don't think of it in racial or nonpeople terms.
Nor do they think so in relation to suicides, in which whites die at their own hands to the point where it is the second leading cause of death among whites 15 to 34, with guns as the means for their demise in more than half of these, according to the Centers for Disease Control and GunPolicy.org.
Nor do they think of it in such terms with regard to the 3,800 accidental shootings that occurred from 2005 to 2011, according to the CDC.
Many blacks see the daily violence from guns that result in homicide being the leading cause of death for blacks 15 to 34, according to the CDC, in which innocents and gang members are killed without regard. They finally see a national discussion on gun violence and gun control after Newtown.
The nature of things is to see gun violence through the prism of race. Newtown transcended race in the sense that the murder of children in a classroom touches everyone. Had the children been mostly black, I believe the coverage would have been similar, but the discussion different — just as the discussion would be different if the Newtown shooter had been black.
The reality is that bullets don't discern the color of the hand pulling the trigger or the color of the bodies they enter. Red is the blood that flows whether it is another mentally damaged white guy shooting at masses of people or another mentally damaged black guy shooting at a rival and hitting the intended and unintended.
President Barack Obama has tried to move the discussion of gun control to include all gun violence.
How telling it is to have two black members of a contingent from Chicago at Obama's inauguration fall victims of Chicago's gun violence in the several weeks since his inauguration.
But back to the email writer.
Undoubtedly, black Americans would be safer with reduced access to guns. But that's not what she said or meant. She meant white Americans. Truth is we — all Americans — would be safer if all Americans had reduced access to guns.
Gun violence and gun control needs to be addressed across the board. The conversation needs to continue united rather than divided. That is, we have to value the end to gun violence for the folks in the black neighborhoods across America with the same intensity as we do for the folks in classrooms, malls and movie theaters.
It's all senseless.
Guns and bullets are colorblind — if people are not.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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