Americans are correctly outraged and horrified by what occurred in Parkland Florida. We are rightly exhausted at witnessing this spectacle of violence unfolding in our society. Yet, for all the anger and angst that this has created, I would argue that this nation’s outrage is quite selective indeed. So much so that it crosses over into fecklessness.
People see what they want to see and that is driven by what is of concern to them. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”, is not just a passage about money. It is really a passage about all of our lives. Judging by the media coverage and the social media outcry what this nation cares about is only deaths of suburban schoolchildren. In fact if all one did was watch the media one would conclude that this was the only group being murdered.
This would of course be wrong. Let’s first look at who is being killed. According to the Gun Violence Archive in 2018 so far there have been 2137 gun deaths. Of those 82 have been those 11 years old or younger, 404 are 17 or younger. That means that over 77% are adults. It is just not the case that schoolchildren represent a disproportionate number of gun deaths. These percentages have held fairly steady over time.
When we look at who is being killed by race we can see that blacks suffer a greatly disproportionate number of gun deaths. Even in terms of raw numbers, more blacks are killed than whites but as a percentage of the population the disparity is stunning. Gun deaths per 100,000 of population show blacks with roughly double the rate of victimization of gun violence as whites. This is not the image that plays out on out screens day after day.
When we look at how people are being killed in this country we also get a different story than the media narrative. In 2018 of the 2137 gun murders, 34 were the result of a mass shooting, about 1.5%. 323 were the result of a home invasion, 337 were the result of a police officer involved shooting. So both of these categories produced about 10 times the number of deaths as victims of mass shootings. These percentages have also held roughly steady over time as well.
When we look at the weapons used to kill people we also get a clearer understanding of what is occurring. Handguns have consistently been used 6 times more often than other guns to kill people over a long stretch of time. When we couple this with the fact that gang-related deaths make up about 20% of total gun homicides each year, which is the single biggest line item regarding how people are being killed with guns, we can start to see more clearly what is going on.
I will use gang-related activities as a proxy for drug trade related murder, for that is the primary source of gang revenues. This trade occurs mostly in urban areas, which overlaps with the geographical dispersion of gun deaths. This trade is heavily concentrated in poor areas where economic prospects are bleak and is concentrated among blacks who suffer a disproportionate share of poverty.
Adding it all up we can see that those being killed are; young adults, black, in urban areas, involved in the illicit drug trade and killed by handguns. We can therefore conclude that the single biggest way people are being killed is through activity surrounding the drug trade, which coincides with the breakdown by race, age and type of weapon used.
Here is the rub: unlike those who kill because of an argument gone out of control, a result of substance abuse, being a jealous spouse, etc.; this is the one area of gun violence that we can control. We could end this carnage tomorrow, if we immediately cease the drug war. A good synopsis of this is here and here. All we need consider is how the violence surrounding the liquor trade ended once Prohibition was repealed.
The other area that we can control is police violence. If you do the math on the numbers I cited above; 2137 gun deaths in 2018, 337 of them by cops equals 15%. We can notably decrease the incidence of gun violence in the United States with better training, less militarization of local police departments, less government In general so that police don’t have to hassle people as much and some actual accountability for officers who cross the line. We can bring down this number and this is actually doable.
Why does none of this happen? The answer to this is what should generate the true outrage in our culture. The nation simply does not care. First and foremost not many people care about inner city morgues stacked high with dead blacks. Second, none of the law enforcement agencies are pre-disposed to give up the power that the drug war confers; from increased stature to increased budgets to the ability to profit via asset forfeiture the deck is stacked against a reasonable or just change in policy. Third, looking at where and how people are actually being killed takes away the reason for the gun control movement. They hate the gun culture and the “deplorables” who make up that culture. Now I am not a part of that gun culture but the simple act of owning a weapon is not an act of violence. Nor is it healthy to demonize the NRA. Unless you knew someone was an NRA member then you would not know they are an NRA member. They look and act just like you and me and as children of God, they are just like you and me.
As followers of Christ we cannot allow ourselves to be sucked into this miasma. We rightly grieve over any murder and I recognize that it is human to have your heart torn all the more when those victims are young. Yet we cannot respond with anything but love and reason. Love because Jesus is love; reason because that is what our Lord gave us to use in our sojourn through this world.
Let us take a clear-eyed look at where the problem really is, refuse to turn over more of our God-given rights and dignities to violent institutions, as I pointed out last week, insist on changes that honor people as fully human, increase the scope of conscience and freedom and that will actually lessen the violence. Then we as a nation can stop being feckless and start putting our heart where it belongs; in service to God.
Praise Be to God