African Americans Kill People
By Clarence Lusane
The National Rifle Association has a new twist on the old slogan, ''Guns don't kill people. People kill people.'' The NRA now says guns don't kill people, African Americans kill people.
Always on the search for an explanation of why guns and access to them do not play a critical role in the nation's outrageous homicide rate, the gun lobby has come up with this new canard.
Paul Blackman, research coordinator for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, theorizes that race is a larger and more important factor in gun-related homicides than gun accessibility. He cites statistics that say young black males, who constitute only about 1 percent of the population, are five times more likely to be involved in gun-related homicides than whites.
At the same time, Blackman says, whites are more likely to have access to guns than blacks. If accessibility was the decisive factor, he argues, whites would be the main perpetrators of gun violence.
By Blackman's logic, if we lock up all African American youth, then homicides by handguns would virtually disappear overnight.
In social science, Blackman's conclusion is called a spurious correlation. In other places, it's called bull manure.
There are policy implications to Blackman's thesis. First, there is no further need for handgun control, just control of black youth. The second is that gun violence is a genetic predisposition that can't be changed; therefore, we should put more funds in prison construction than inner-city public school education.
While statistics show that young black males are disproportionately perpetrators and victims of gun violence, particularly homicides, Blackman ignores the real reasons behind such statistics.
There is no question that homicide in the black community is a serious issue. In city after city, the murder rate has skyrocketed in inner-city black communities over the last 10 to 15 years. Much of this was caused by the explosion in crack-cocaine trafficking in the early 1980s and the youth gangs that partially resulted from that epidemic. Although the trafficking has subsided somewhat, the violence associated with it and the large number of guns that entered the black community during that time remain.
More importantly, the cutbacks in social services and federal aid to the cities have disappeared in the last 15 years faster than a speeding bullet. With no jobs and rising poverty, the growth in crime of all sorts is a logical consequence of these policy decisions.
While it was expected that Presidents Reagan and Bush would give little attention to the plight of cities, the Clinton Administration has also been inattentive. Clinton has had national summits on everything from the economy to America's children, but he has made no overtures to urban America.
But for Blackman and the NRA, urban poverty and government neglect are of no concern. The availability of guns are of no concern. Their only concern is to find a convenient scapegoat for the horror that guns wreak. That scapegoat has a black face.
(Clarence Lusane is an assistant professor at the Du Bois Bunche Center for Public Policy at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.)
(This column ran 8/16/96)