David Frum quotes Rod’s recent blog post on gun crime in Baton Rouge in an op-ed for CNN entitled “America’s gun problem is not a race problem.” He doesn’t like the idea of dividing Americans into groups based on their disproportionate rates of gun crime:
The price of redefining gun violence as an issue pertaining only to “those people” — of casting and recasting the gun statistics to make them less grisly if only “those people” are toted under some different heading in some different ledger — the price of that redefinition is to lose our ability to think about the problem at all.
There’s a bit of a problem here. The post he quotes from was about the difficult, fraught question of whether it’s racist or merely realistic or both to avoid certain dangerous places in Louisiana where most crimes tend to be committed by black men. Rod wasn’t talking about gun policy, nor was he suggesting that gun crime is exclusively a black problem, as Frum seems to suggest. One of his tweets even suggests he knows he’s reaching a bit–Frum says it’s an instance of when one of the “leading” gun control arguments “peeks out.”
Frum favors stronger federal gun laws, Rod is skeptical of their efficacy, and that’s what this is really about. He adds:
… fears of being victimized by violence explain why so many white Americans — especially older and more conservative white Americans — insist on the right to bear arms in self-protection. They see gun violence as something that impinges on them from the outside. They don’t blame guns for gun violence. They blame a particular subset of the population. And they don’t see why they should lose their right because some subset of the population abuses theirs.
What might the fleshed-out version of this argument be? You know, not “peeking,” but fully emerged? That white conservatives oppose gun control because they view their AR-15s and high capacity magazines as a defense against black violence? There are probably some people who think that way, but it’s a mentality more in line with the most reactionary white South Africans than your average American gun owner.
Frum is abstract but gun violence isn’t always just “something that impinges on them from outside.” For a store clerk in Hollywood on Tuesday, the outside sure impinged pretty close. Moreover wouldn’t anyone living in a violent neighborhood, black or white, think along similar lines?
Leaving aside race, most people agree that some people abusing their rights isn’t grounds to deny them to others. Most people also believe in equality under the law. Frum is suggesting that at a certain point–once the murder rate hits a given number or one too many mass shootings have taken place–collective responsibility demands some limitation on everyone’s rights because some just can’t act civilly. From a conservative standpoint, that’s justifiable. I’d only say it’s the logic of the TSA, not the Bill of Rights.
Yet Frum’s concern about the politics of division is a worthy sentiment. So in that spirit let’s take that paragraph and see how it holds up, reversed:
fears of being victimized by gun confiscation explain why so many black Americans — especially younger and more radical black Americans — insist on the right to bear arms in self-protection. They see gun control as something that impinges on them from the outside.
That was once the view of the Black Panthers. I’m reminded of this book on the early history of gun control, and how in the 20th century many gun regulations were aimed at disempowering black radicals. From Thaddeus Russell’s review in Reason:
In 1967 Don Mulford, the Republican state assemblyman who represented the Panthers’ patrol zone and who had once famously denounced the Free Speech Movement and anti-war demonstrations at the University of California at Berkeley, introduced a bill inspired by the Panthers that prohibited the public carrying of loaded firearms, open and concealed. As Winkler puts it, the text of what became the Mulford Act “all but pointed a finger at the Panthers when it said, ‘The State of California has witnessed, in recent years, the increasing incidence of organized groups and individuals publicly arming themselves for purposes inimical to the peace and safety of the people of California.’ ” The law made California the first state to ban the open carrying of loaded firearms. …
Although contemporary gun control moralists such as Michael Moore portray their cause as being on the right side of history, Gunfight establishes that the first gun control organizations in the United States were the posses that terrorized freed slaves after the Civil War. Many freedmen came into possession of guns that were confiscated from former masters and Confederate soldiers. But organizations with names like the Men of Justice, the Knights of the White Camellia, and the Knights of the Rising Sun roamed on horseback across the South, shooting, hanging, and disarming blacks. “The most infamous of these,” Winkler reports, “was the Ku Klux Klan.”
To the Black Panthers, gun control was just another way racist governments disempowered them and their communities.
That’s not to say they were correct, or that their experience is analogous to today. It is to say that the terrain of the gun debate has shifted and is ever-shifting, along racial lines and others. And with all his talk about fearful whites clinging to their guns and racial resentment–or resentment against “a particular subset,” as if we don’t know who he means–it seems like Frum is the one drawing racial lines to support his political position.