Guns and Demography

Imagine how the civil rights establishment would react if Chuck Schumer and Sarah Brady proposed a law denying black people the right to keep and bear arms, but granting that same right to white people. Al Sharpton and Kweisi Mfume would cry, "Betrayal!" Yet many black leaders today support an anti-gun agenda that is fast driving America in the direction of race-based gun licensing.

Here's how it works.

Anti-gun activists have succeeded in turning the gun debate into an esoteric exercise in statistical number crunching, comprehensible only to highly trained academics. Anti-gun experts argue that guns increase violence. Pro-gun experts argue that guns in the hands of honest citizens reduce violence. We the People look on dumbly, mystified by the charts, graphs, tables and diagrams wielded by each side.

The Framers of the Constitution never intended that basic rights should be subject to this sort of academic debate. They knew that once the debate started, it would never end. One excuse after another would be found to chip away at our rights, until none were left.

That process has already begun. And, as the anti-gun movement progresses, the rights of racial minorities will clearly be the first to go. The reason is simple. If statistical number-crunching is to be our guide in rationing out basic liberties, there is no question that crime statistics unambiguously demand the disarming of black America.

Race and Violence

In the white suburbs of Syracuse, New York where I grew up, many families owned firearms for hunting and self-defense. Guns were plentiful in our community, but gun violence was completely unknown.

Later, I moved to New York City and took up residence in Alphabet City, a largely Hispanic neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, notorious for drug trafficking. There I encountered a level of violence that I had never before witnessed.

On one occasion, I was nearly stabbed in the stairwell of my apartment building, when I walked inadvertently into the middle of a knife fight between two drug dealers. On another occasion, my wife and I had to take cover in a doorway when a gun fight broke out between drug dealers in front of our building.

According to U.S. Justice Department figures from 1992, white Americans commit murder at a rate of 5.1 per 100,000. For black Americans, the rate is 43.4 per 100,000 — eight times that of whites. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports show that blacks, who make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, commit some 42 percent of all violent crimes, according to 1995–1996 data.

In addition, African American criminals prey on whites at a far higher rate than white criminals do on blacks. Justice Department figures show that in nearly 90 percent of all interracial crimes, a white person turns out to be the victim and a black person the perpetrator — a proportion that has remained remarkably steady for two decades (the figure was 87.49 percent in 1981 and 87.83 percent in 1999).

Youth Violence

Sensational media reports of suburban school shootings give the impression that Main Street, USA is seething with potential violence. Yet Mike A. Males, a researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has calculated that the murder rate among white American teenagers in 1995 (that is, the rate at which white youth, ages twelve to seventeen, were killed) was "virtually identical" to that of Canadian youth. By contrast, the murder rate among non-white youth in the United States was eight times higher than among Canadian youth in 1998.

Gun control advocates frequently point to Canada as a model of strict firearms regulation. Yet, even with our looser laws, white American teenagers are hardly more inclined to engage in gun violence than Canadian youth. Writing in the leftwing journal In These Times, Males points out that, in California, "where white households are the most likely to harbor guns… the gun death rate among white teens (three per 100,000) is as low as Sweden's or Canada's."

A similar phenomenon can be observed nationwide. Males notes that the proportion of youth murders committed with guns in Canada is much smaller than that in the United States. Yet, when Canadian youth are compared specifically with white American teenagers, the difference narrows considerably. "The U.S. white-teen [gun] murder rate is pretty close to Canada's," notes Males. "Non-white youth are a different story: 180 murders, 147 by guns in 1998, a rate five and eight times higher than for California white or Canadian youth."

Race, Class or Culture?

In keeping with his leftwing views, Males emphasizes the role of class in these differential murder rates. He contends that blacks commit more murders because, overall, they have less money. Males' figures do show that poor and affluent groups within the same race exhibit different levels of violence.

However, there are clearly factors at work in the American crime wave of the last forty years that cannot be explained by income alone. As John Perazzo points out in The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations, "During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when poverty and hopelessness plagued American life as never before or since, violent crime rates were far lower than today — for whites and blacks alike. Indeed, it was not until the 1960s, a period of economic prosperity, that crime rates soared."

Certainly, within the black community, cultural factors are at work that have wreaked special havoc among the young. "Thirty years of research suggests that the… boys who are most at risk for juvenile delinquency and violence are boys who are physically separated from their fathers…," writes Clark University philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys.

Sociologist David Blankenhorn writes in Fatherless America that "the weight of evidence increasingly supports the conclusion that fatherlessness is a primary generator of violence among young men."

Whatever the reason for the extraordinary level of violence in the black community, it presents anti-gun academics with a question they do not like to address: Why should white people be subjected to the same gun control laws as blacks, when black people are statistically far more likely to commit gun violence?

Anti-gun academics have no reasonable answer to this question. Only libertarians can answer it in a way that is consistent with traditional American freedom.

The Libertarian Position

Many people today have come to believe that rights are conditional. They believe, for instance, that if people are posting hateful or dangerous material on the Internet, then the Internet must be regulated. They believe that if people are making bad use of guns, then guns must be restricted.

In his book For a New Liberty, Murray Rothbard gave a name to this sort of thinking. He called it "utilitarianism" — the notion that rights and freedoms take second place to utilitarian or practical concerns. In other words, if your rights are felt to conflict in some way, with the greater good of society, then your rights can be taken away. He writes:

Suppose a society which fervently considers all redheads to be agents of the Devil and therefore to be executed wherever found. Let us further assume that only a small number of redheads exist in any generation — so few as to be statistically insignificant. The utilitarian-libertarian might well reason: "While the murder of isolated redheads is deplorable, the executions are small in number; the vast majority of the public, as non-redheads, achieves enormous psychic satisfaction from the public execution of redheads. The social cost is negligible, the social psychic benefit to the rest of society is great; therefore it is right and proper for society to execute the redheads.

A true libertarian, however, would recognize that the rights of redheads are just as unalienable as everyone else's rights. Likewise, a libertarian recognizes the irrevocability of gun rights — including those of black and Hispanic gun owners — regardless of how poorly those rights may have been used, up till now.

Tomorrow: The Disarming of Black America

November 4, 2003