In his CNN column on race and gun violence, David Frum quotes a previous post of mine (about the demographics of homicide in Baton Rouge) and says:
“What can we learn from these statistics? That murder in Baton Rouge is almost entirely about young black men from the poor part of town killing other young black men from the poor part of town. It’s mostly a matter of thugs killing thugs.”
If you look at the world that way, gun control must seem a pointless diversion from the real problem: not guns, but one particular group of gun owners. Somebody else’s problem. But life is not so neatly separated.
Guns offer equal opportunity tragedies. More than 8,000 white Americans had to be treated for nonfatal gun injuries in 2008. Eighty percent of those who commit suicide with a gun are white males. The gun that the suburban family buys to protect itself from “thugs killing thugs” ends up killing its own: One important new study finds that a gun kept in the house is 43 times more likelyto kill a household member than to be used in self-defense.
Thugs killing thugs? Maybe. But many of those seeming thugs are carrying guns for the same reason that people who consider themselves respectable carry them : in a futile quest to protect themselves with greater firepower. One person can find safety that way. But if two people carry firearms, a confrontation that might otherwise have ended in words or blows ends instead with one man dead, and the other man on his way to prison for life.
OK, but my blog postings on the topic — the first one here, and the subsequent one David quotes here — were not about gun control, not remotely. It began with a news story about a black flash mob shutting down a local mall, and menacing a second nearby mall, and became a discussion about the connection between violent crime and young black males in Baton Rouge. The subsequent discussion, in the combox thread of that post and subsequent posts, had to do with race, crime, and culture, and the fact that violent crime (especially homicide) is almost entirely committed by young black men, against young black men. According to crime stats for 2012, most of the murders in Baton Rouge were young black men with criminal records, often involving drugs, killing people like themselves.
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.
Wait, what? Frum seems to have read my post as saying that somehow we shouldn’t care if young black thugs are killing young black thugs. That’s not what my column says at all. I didn’t address gun control in this blog post or its predecessor, but rather crime, demographics, and geography. The “thugs killing thugs” point was to say that if you are a) not black, b) not male, c) not young, d) not a resident of a poor neighborhood, and e) not involved in crime, you stand an excellent chance of not being one of Baton Rouge’s murder victims. You can be foursquare in favor of gun control, or resolutely against gun control, and still agree (or disagree) with the points made in my blogs.
I am troubled that readers of David’s column might think that I said, in effect, “Oh, it’s just black criminals shooting black criminals, who cares.” That’s not it at all. Rather, I was trying to say that to focus only on the racial demographics of homicide in Baton Rouge is to miss some important context that help you evaluate whether or not you are safe in certain parts of the city, e.g., the shopping mall in south Baton Rouge. Which was the genesis of the discussion on those threads.
I think it’s fair to ask why people who can and do use guns responsibly should have to surrender some of their liberties because of people who don’t use guns safely. I think it’s also fair to ask why people who don’t have an apparent need to buy weapons easily should enjoy the liberty to do so when that liberty causes such destruction in other communities. Both are reasonable questions. Neither has much to do with the discussion here from which David quotes in his pro-gun control piece.