Guns Are Racist: Chicago Politics and Blame-Shifting for Urban Violence
Guns are responsible for violence in the same way that pencils are responsible for bad test scores. Those of us who embrace the notions of character and accountability would say that the person himself is responsible for how he uses his gun. If an individual or group tends to use guns in a murderous manner, then we point to defects in character and hold those individuals or groups fully accountability for their actions.
However, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has a different idea: he recently asked a church to consider "federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers, across this country, that are killing black and brown children." So laws should be blamed, to some significant degree, for minority violence. This may come as a surprise to those with a more traditional view of free will and human dignity.
McCarthy made his remarks at the St. Sabina Church, with Father Michael Pfleger and the congregation in approval. It's always tempting to evade responsibility and blame society for individual failings. But that temptation carries a serious price, especially when community leaders and public policy strip people of their responsibilities. Claiming that gun laws cause violence in the black community is a shameful attempt to shift responsibility.
Shifting responsibility is a natural but dangerous reaction to the black crime rate. Different racial groups experience the problem of gun violence differently: the firearm homicide rate is at 18 per 100,000 members of the population for blacks, and 1.5 per 100,000 for whites, according to the liberal Brady Center. Even the white rate is over 50% above the gun homicide rate in other Western nations, but the contrast is not nearly as extreme as the contrast among racial gun violence rates in America.
Of course, the culture of any given community will determine its level of violence, with gun laws making a minor difference at best. The devastating cultural changes impacting society -- and the black community in particular -- during the 1960s are largely to blame for the violence we see. Political scientist James Q. Wilson summed up that cultural change perfectly, saying, "[P]eople abandoned the idea that self-control was the standard by which life should be led." The current conditions on the South Side and in ghettos around America are a direct result of generation upon generation of excuses -- wrapped up in social-science garb, righteous indignation, and racial sensitivity -- but excuses all the same. The young men committing violent crimes today have been steeped in generational irresponsibility, and Chicago's police superintendant has kept up the flow.
Our urban areas have since the 1960s been awful and desperate places for both the underclass and anyone else unlucky enough to run into the underclass. This is the downside of diversity and multiculturalism. Living in a multicultural society creates a conflict for many, especially liberals. When minorities occasionally fail and wreak havoc, we have a tough choice: do we blame the particular group, or do we blame "society"? Of course, "society" is shorthand for the society whites have created. Many people, even nominally educated ones, will jump at the chance to chastise society for the failings of individuals or groups. That approach offers a cheap sense of moral superiority, wrapped in false compassion, and appeases the neurotic desire to be liked by groups that are not succeeding, which is a hallmark of liberalism.
Pandering is another element of liberalism, and Superintendant McCarthy's speech certainly had a dash: at one point he said that "everybody's afraid of race" but that he wasn't afraid of talking about the subject, as if he were there to say something bold. How did he show that he wasn't afraid to talk about race? By going to a liberal black church and blaming a black social problem on white racism.
McCarthy heaped on, saying that the accessibility of firearms in America is an extension of "government-sponsored racism" that goes back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow. That's right: it's racist that some blacks don't know how to use guns without slaughtering each other en masse. The alternative viewpoint is that cultures based in accountability and self-control will thrive in conditions of Second-Amendment freedom, while that same condition of freedom will be difficult for cultures that, say, tend to make excuses for their failings. The more a group depends on the government, the more that group will define its own agency and free will as being dependent on that government, and the more that group will debase itself while waiting for the government to take responsibility for the group's own conduct.
But McCarthy had even more to say: there has to be "a recognition of who's paying the price for gun manufacturers being rich and living in gated communities." So top it off with a dash of class envy. McCarthy and white liberals in general all know that they can make gullible people swallow anything if they mix it in with a bit of class envy. This is a case in point: McCarthy is claiming that gun manufacturers are rich because black people are killing each other, and government racism made it all possible. That class envy feeds into a sense of grievance and entitlement, which translates into crime. Chicago has its head of law enforcement peddling black grievance and class envy. It's no wonder black teens are going up to the North Side in mobs to beat and rob whites and Asians.
McCarthy, with his reckless comments, is helping the black community to delude itself and maintain a violent status quo that has existed since the 1960s. His remarks were despicable, and his ideology is a wretched failure. Violence will naturally result from the refusal to hold individuals or groups accountable for their actions; that goes for families, communities, and entire societies.
McCarthy would insist that he, and the legal system, will hold violent gun users accountable. But he and the communities that cheered his excuses are setting up mixed messages for young people: we're going to hold you totally responsible for the consequences of your actions, even though we hold gun laws responsible for the causation. So punitive crime control policy meets the welfare state, with the result being that irresponsibility and excuses continue to produce violent behavior and incarceration, and nothing changes. McCarthy should not be joining in the chorus of excuses that causes the very problems his police force is trying to combat.
John Bennett (M.A., University of Chicago, MAPSS '07) is a veteran, writer, and law student at Emory University living in Atlanta, GA.