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On "Gun Violence"

On "Gun Violence"

And what it really means

No one knows exactly what an emergency order over gun violence entails, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued one, likely to distract from his previous, pandemic-related emergency order that resulted in a couple of thousand deaths. Showing zero self-awareness, he declared, "We want to do with gun violence what we just did with COVID." So, what, you want to shoot up a nursing home?

2020 and 2021 are turning out to be some of the most violent years on record. Theories float around posing the grand, impossible question "why", but anyone with two ears and two eyes who saw the racial riots of 2020 knows instinctively that a perceived slackening in law enforcement likely contributes to looser criminal behavior. This is the kind of common sense that data obscures.

When Cuomo says "gun violence" what he really means is "black-on-black violence". Before you get in a tizzy about the term "black-on-black", please look at the second sentence of the Biden EO. Gun violence is a newspeak convenience meant to distort the reality of the situation for fear of offending. It also grants license for wider, more liberal enforcement, even in areas where gun violence is not a problem. Coded within the gun violence issue is a lunge at infringing upon rights enshrined by the Second Amendment. All this speaks to a wider application of measures Cuomo appears to be pondering in the Empire State. With that in mind and in light of the Biden administration's intent to deal with gun violence, it'll behoove us to look at some numbers about gun violence.

One of the more common methods of wrangling gun violence involves the requirement of background checks before purchase. In 2007, Missouri repealed the requirement that customers have a permit and background check before purchase. As a result of the repeal, the homicide rate in the black community spiked 17% while white communities saw no increase in homicides. 90% of black homicides come at the hands of other blacks. Black men make up 6% of the population but over 50% of gun homicide victims. As dangerous as NYC is, the most intense gun violence in the country clusters in the South (p. 21). As recently as 2015, a study by Brookings observed that the firearm homicide rate among black men aged 20-29 is about 89 per 100,000. To put that fact in some international perspective, in Honduras—the country with the highest recorded homicide rate—there were 90.4 intentional murders per 100,000 people in 2012. Nearly all of these homicides cluster in impoverished areas.

Generally speaking, gun violence has drastically fallen since its last peak in the early-1990s most famously encapsulated by NYC's crack epidemic. Coincidentally, the Mayor of NYC at the time was another African-American, David Dinkins, that ran on a similar agenda to recent NYC mayoral favorite, Eric Adams. During Dinkins term, he expanded the police force in NYC by 25% and oversaw the first decrease in homicides the city had seen in 30 years. Adams will inherit an emaciated police force that has witnessed a 75% increase in departures and retirements since the pandemic began and rioters took to the streets. It's likely that Cuomo's directive combined with the near-certainty of Eric Adams taking the mayorship in NYC will result in more aggressive policing and harsher punishments for gun crimes.

But back to the term "gun violence". 60% of gun deaths are suicides, the vast majority (85%) of which are by white Americans. White males are 2xs as likely to commit suicide as black males, 3x as likely as Hispanic males, and 4xs as likely as Asian males. Mass shootings, depending on how you categorize them (e.g., this shootout from Philly is not a "mass shooting"), make up a small fraction of total gun deaths. It's difficult to find statistics for what proportion of total gun deaths they comprise because the definition has become essentially useless even though these events weigh heavier on the public's conscious. It might seem lazy to dismiss them, but for all intents and purposes, mass shooting events appear to be a problem addressed by other pieces of the Biden agenda such as the EO against Domestic Terror.

The Biden gun violence EO mostly involves limiting what types of firearms are available for purchase, closing background check loopholes, and monitoring the transfer of guns within the country. There is also a carve-out for Community Violence Interventions (CVI) that mentions the stats I point out above about how homicides are concentrated in impoverished, black and brown communities. It's clear that inner-city initiatives aimed at curbing gun violence will receive plenty of funding. What goes by the wayside, however, is any mention of suicide, especially as it pertains to white Americans. Aside from a tacit admission in the first paragraph that "the President is committed to taking action to reduce all forms of gun violence – community violence, mass shootings, domestic violence, and suicide by firearm," nothing more is said.

Executive Orders are an expression of priorities. The two biggest issues in America as regards gun violence (and I'll just ignore you if you start from the premise that guns shouldn't be here, because they are) involve homicides in the black community and suicides in the white community. Only one of these is addressed by Biden's Executive Orders. But, both of these issues go beyond guns. Problems in the inner-city stem from broken families and poor education. Problems in white communities stem from unhinged rhetoric that demonizes them. The Biden administration cynically uses the proliferation of gun violence in poor, black communities to push against the rights enshrined by the Second Amendment and, conveniently, ignores the collateral damages of its racist agenda. Regardless of the intent, the effect is as stated: destructive.