The rate of gun homicides has declined dramatically in the last 20 years. Here we observe this:

gun violence  urban gun

Vox author German Lopez dissects the typical liberal reaction to mass shootings, after the tragedy that recently occurred at UCLA. While Democratic voters are undoubtedly acting in good faith in wanting stricter gun laws right after mass shootings, these incidents represent about 1% of gun deaths. Two articles that I came across address how privilege renders many Americans numb to the stark reality of black victims of gun violence. The black-white gap in gun deaths is simply astounding as the statistics for the type of deaths are in reverse:

The data shows that 77% of white gun deaths are suicides, but 82% of black gun deaths are homicides. Black people are 13% of the population, but are over half the victims of gun homicide.  How could this public health crisis that has sparked such moral outrage remain for so long? And more daringly, why does discussion about gun control appear to be centered around white victims when black victims are a disproportionate share? (This is not to say white lives don’t matter, and no offense was intended as this is not what I’m implying)

There are several explanations, one of which seems to be the most obvious. White people are the majority, which I consider a fair reason. (To an extent) But more unfortunately, “black on black crime” is seen as an inner-city issue regarding culture. The famous line is often invoked by conservatives to counter arguments about racial inequality. As countless authors have demonstrated, it is a myth that black people don’t care about crime in their communities.

I think other answers, such as the perception of black gun violence being more complicated are more plausible. As evidenced by conservatives’ insincere use of “black on black crime”, talking about problems in the black community is difficult. Besides the explanations of poverty, unemployment, and general lack of opportunities, space maybe the best explanation. The combination of poverty and unemployment in a densely populated area (specifically urban) sounds like a recipe for disaster. The “culture of violence” theory posited by conservatives is broken down by research regarding income, unemployment, and geography.

(Side Note: Think it’s a race thing? Think again. “Poor urban blacks (51.3 per 1,000) had rates of violence similar to poor urban whites (56.4 per 1,000)” It’s not genetics or just culture that explains black criminality, despite what racists would have you believe.)

Another important topic is illegal vs legal guns. There is a correlation between stricter gun laws and fewer gun deaths. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) 40% of incarcerated individuals guilty of gun crimes obtained firearms illegally. Research also indicates gun laws affect the availability of illegal guns. While tougher gun laws have a modest effect on homicides from illegal guns, specific legislation regarding urban communities is also needed. Operation Ceasefire has been better at curbing urban gun violence than gun legislation. Also known as Cure, the name for the newly formed organization, it reduced shootings in one neighborhood in Chicago by 67% in its first year! And to conservatives’ surprise, it has existed since 2000, well before Black Lives Matter activists were “thugs.”

Overtime, Ceasefire has resulted in 42%, 34%, and 44% drops in gun homicides over the years in several cities. The approach requires the cooperation of community leaders such as church pastors, at risk victims and offenders which are typically low-income black males, and law enforcement. A series of meetings and incentives are used to prevent violence, and to attack the issue head on at the local level and literally on the street.

Some have expressed concern with how the Obama administration has handled urban violence. In terms of activists rallying against gun violence, there has been a perception that the first black president has been quick to respond to suburban white violence and not to the violence in black urban areas. The president responded to the Sandy Hook mass shooting insufficiently, according to Rev. Charles Harrison:

“What was said to us by the White House was, there’s really no support nationally to address the issue of urban violence…The support was to address the issue of gun violence that affected suburban areas — schools where white kids were killed.”

Aware of the success of programs such as Ceasefire however, Obama has called for an increase in federal funding of programs that address urban violence. When the president pushed for tripling the funding for such programs, Congress cut one program by 50% and another by 30%. Congressional funding of programs that address urban gun violence are a very small fraction of criminal justice spending. It is quite clear that the Republican congress cares about “black on black crime” as much as they claim they do.

But even liberals who are concerned with gun control and violence should be focusing more on this as well. When 15 of the 30 people who die of gun violence each day are black, those on the left, which is supposed to be aligned with people of color, should raise more awareness of the color of gun violence. Additionally, there should be an emphasis on community based programs as they are not only politically neutral, not falling into either liberal or conservative camps, but they require the help of the people being served. When public policy is paternalistic, communities generally express backlash. Having several groups involved, including the community, results in a dramatic reduction in violence and an increase in feelings of autonomy and freedom. Omitting the latter can have disastrous political effects as shown by Thomas B. Edsall in “The Anti-P.C. Vote”


My next post will be about political elitism vs populism, which I expect that my colleague Jack will take the elite side, but we shall see what occurs.


14 thoughts on “Gun Violence in Black and White

  1. Unfortunately I think if people we informed that gun violence is a mostly black issue they’d on average care about it less. I think you’ve seen this dynamic play out with opioid anise pretty clearly. Now that there are more white victims it’s a disease not a crime, treatment over prison etc. Etc. You might be on the side of righteousness but raising more awareness “about the color of gun violence” is almost certainly a failing political strategy.


    1. I would have to strongly disagree with your cynicism on two fronts:
      1. Ignoring racial issues specifically through colorblind appeals and policies has proved costly for people of color. We have tried it for years with progress lagging, and this has been a crisis that everyone from Jesse Jackson to the infamous rapper Sistah Souljah has discussed. Ta-Naheisi Coates’ brillitantly describes the fault of the “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality:
      2. Since colorblindness has not been that effective, how is capitulating to it’s racist effects the practical thing to do? Why not try something different in the face of failure? As the conservative reliance on the black on black crime trope becomes more frequent, communities of color can put more pressure on them in holding up their end of the bargain legislatively. A few examples of Republicans showing some genuine concern for black issues(and even racism) are Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.


  2. I admire your optimism but you couldn’t be more wrong here. Your vastly underestimating how racist Americans are. Maybe when the U.S is a majority minority country on 2040 this strategy would work (but even then it turns out Latinos are just as racist towards blacks as whites are) . Besides the drugs exsample that you have no rebuttal to, here’s a prescient article from Vox: “Telling white people the criminal justice system is racist makes them like it more”

    Saying a colorblind approach isn’t sufficient is a different argument. And as for Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, I think there performance in the primary underscores the appeal of their vaugly progressive rhetoric on race. While national legislation on guns hasn’t yet been successful, the closest it ever has been was after Sandy hook.


  3. I wouldn’t say Hispanics are “as racist as white people” are toward black people . There are substantial gaps between how they and whites view black people.

    And on changing racial attitudes:

    To tell me that it is better to not try to raise awareness about racial issues is counter to what political advocacy is, and counter to the aims of Civil Rights. Yes the War on Drugs, drug legislation, and health disparities are racist in our country. But as a black person, it is too ironic, too lazy, and too negative mentally to remain silent on racial issues in our country.


  4. So while hispanics are more likely than whites to admit blacks are disadvantaged by discrimination, that doesn’t mean they aren’t racist.
    “To what extent do Latinos hold prejudicial attitudes toward blacks? As figure 2 shows, the distribution of responses to the stereotype questions about blacks is similar among Latinos and whites. On a question about blacks’ work ethic, where “1” represents “hardworking” and “7” represents “lazy,” the average response among blacks is 2.86, skewed toward the “hardworking” end of the scale. In contrast, white and Latino responses are nearer the middle of the scale: the average white response is 4.10, the average response among Latinos born in the United States is 3.90, and the average response among Latinos born outside the United States is 4.34. White and Latino responses are statistically indistinguishable from each other but statistically different from blacks’ responses (p < 0.001). A similar pattern is evident among responses to the question about blacks’ intelligence." from
    On changing racial attitudes I think the evidence is pretty mixed. If you look beyond the headline of the mic article and actually look at the numbers they're quite modest changes, and contradict some other surveys. One exsample:

    And finally my overarching point is that pointing out gun violence is racist is not going to be an effective mass political strategy, and is in fact likely to make things worse. As an alternative, the community programs you highlight could be a more effective front for advocacy. They don't seem to actually take guns away which appeases conservatives. Secondly, since they only need money, funding doesn't have to come from some contentious national bill to prevent gun violence. What they do need is a strong constituency of advocates like yourself.


    1. You have to separate charges of racism from mentioning a race specific issue. You don’t need to call gun violence “racist.” A great example here is that race specific policies such as affirmative action have wide spread support. A majority of white people and people of color support the most famous race specific policy there is:

      Your theory that people would oppose this particular race-specific policy is not that strongly supported. For example, the Vox article’s study focuses on criminals and punishment. Gun violence is about the victims, not the offenders. You ignored my point about holding conservative politicians accountable for their promise(s). I’m sure if the media covered the black communities’ response to crime the same way protests against racial inequality are covered, there would be more genuine offers of white conservatives getting on board. (See the very last link below)

      On changing racial attitudes in the face of explicit racial rhetoric from protesting: 39% of whites in March 2014 said more racial equality for black people was needed, jumping to a staggering 53% a year later.
      *For republicans the change from 2014 to 2015 increased from 27% to 42%*


  5. You’re getting ridiculous here. Your own evidence contradicts what you’re saying about affirmative action. “Two-thirds of Americans believe college applicants should be admitted solely based on merit, even if that results in few minorities being admitted, while 28% believe an applicant’s racial and ethnic background should be taken into account to promote diversity on college campuses. Three-quarters of whites and 59% of Hispanics believe applicants should be judged only on merit, while blacks are divided in their views.”
    If you think the evidence from the criminal justice system is unconvincing what about drug addiction where similar dynamics are playing out.
    These surveys of racism are not consistent or easily interbrarable. For instance, a lot of people saying there’s a lot of racism mean anti white racism not anti black.
    And your have a lot of confidence in Republican politicians to be progressive on race when they’re lining up behind Donald Trump’s candidacy.


    1. Another point is that most liberals are unaware of the research that shows exposing racism makes people more racist. I questioned why white liberals haven’t talked about the color of gun violence, and it’s not because they all know about that study. I wouldn’t say gun control advocacy is a self serving agenda for white suburbia, like the quote in my article says, but it is concerning how race is left out on this issue.


  6. I was fully aware of the college section, but I thought you would take the time to scroll down:
    “Americans Support Affirmative Action in General
    Even though Americans largely reject the idea of using race as a factor in college admissions, they still support affirmative action programs more generally. A separate question in the poll finds 58% of Americans saying they favor “affirmative action programs for racial minorities,” including 51% of whites, 76% of blacks, and 69% of Hispanics.”

    You also missed the limitation they cited for the question:
    “Americans may be less likely to support affirmative action in college admissions because the question raises a potential specific consequence of such programs — admitting some minority students who would otherwise not be admitted on their merits alone — which could in their minds outweigh the positive aspects of the policy mentioned in the question. The general question on affirmative action, asked prior to the question on college admissions, does not discuss any pros or cons of affirmative action, suggesting Americans mostly have a positive reaction to the concept or term.”

    I don’t think you can really deny that a majority of white Americans support some race specific policies in general, i.e. affirmative action.

    As for the point regarding opiate addiction in the black community I said: “You have to separate charges of racism from mentioning a race specific issue. You don’t need to call gun violence “racist.” ” My point is that white liberals never tried to raise the issue of race, which is what I’m saying about guns.

    And on Trump, very weak point as evidenced by his historically low unfavorables among establishment and voters. It is the general consensus that Republican politicians do not like Trump. He got the nomination and that is why Repubs have been supporting him. It is clear Republican politicians are unhappy, with several people calling out his bigotry such as Paul Ryan. Conservatives are not THAT racist.


    1. I think those polls are more indicative that people don’t really know what affirmative actions means, since they like it a lot less when it’s defined for them. Other than that I think I’ve made my points clear.


      1. You seem to have missed my comment about a broader theme in this article:
        “Another point is that most liberals are unaware of the research that shows exposing racism makes people more racist. I questioned why white liberals haven’t talked about the color of gun violence, and it’s not because they all know about that study. I wouldn’t say gun control advocacy is a self serving agenda for white suburbia, like the quote in my article says, but it is concerning how race is left out on this issue.”


  7. Also you keep focusing on society in general whereas I’m talking about highlighting the hypocrisy of Republican politicians.


    1. Again, still does not address how race has been ignored. Most people do not know of all the studies and evidence you listed.


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