From the July-August 2022 issue of News & Letters
The same day the Senate passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act by 65 to 33 votes, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1911 New York State law requiring “proper cause” for the state to issue concealed carry licenses. Dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer worried about “the extent to which the Second Amendment prevents democratically elected officials from enacting laws to address the serious problem of gun violence.” Justice Alito responded that recent mass shootings were not “relevant.” Yet this ruling is expected to affect dozens of other gun regulations nationwide.
Anthony Perkins of BronxConnect believes easing concealed carry licenses would increase retaliatory shootings and allow perpetrators to claim self-defense, raising the level of gun violence in communities.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed by President Biden on June 25 enhances background checks for 18-21 year old gun buyers, incentivizes states to enact “red flag” laws which allow judges to temporarily confiscate firearms, provides hundreds of millions of dollars for mental health and school safety and includes dating partners in a federal law prohibiting domestic abusers from purchasing guns. But the act doesn’t ban gun purchases for 18- to 21-year-olds and barely addresses illegal purchases for someone unqualified or using stolen credit cards, and, most importantly, it doesn’t ban assault weapons. The urgency of the problem requires thinking about the full context of gun culture.
GUNS NEVER STOP PROLIFERATING
The Annual Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) 2021 Report reveals annual domestic gun production rose from 3.9 million in 2000 to 11.3 million in 2020, with an additional record seven million imported firearms. Police recovered 19,344 untraceable homemade weapons (“ghost guns”) in 2021, up tenfold since 2016. In 2020, 79% of all homicides and 53% of all suicides involved firearms. Young people, males, and Black people have the highest firearm homicide rates. Less well known is the Centers for Disease Control list of 45,222 suicide deaths in 2020; slightly over half (24,292) from firearms. Total homicides numbered 19,384.
The Supreme Court claims its reactionary rulings are based on “historical” precedents, but they ignore the true history of U.S. gun culture, like the Second Amendment “well-regulated militia,” created so European settlers could suppress rebelling African-American slaves and destroy Native people resisting genocide and expropriation of their lands and cultures. Black, Brown and Native people are far more likely to be prosecuted, punished and criminalized for gun law violations.
THE INCUBUS: THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION
Until recently, the outrageous power and impunity of the NRA dominated U.S. thinking on guns, opposing ANY measures to improve gun safety as a Second Amendment violation. They also use fear of race-based terrorism, when in fact selective gun law enforcement—and police shootings—targeting Black, Latinx and Native American people, continues daily on city streets in Driving While Black “traffic stops” and on Indian lands.
But millions are determined to build a more humane society. After the mass shooting at Parkland High School in 2018, students and their families organized the nationwide “March for Our Lives.” Their activism also led to Florida’s “red flag law,” under which judges have heard 8,000 cases, like that of an eighth-grade boy threatening to wipe out his entire class. Organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, with 8 million members, are growing.
Determination and continued discussion and organization will help begin to change the pervasive, oppressive gun culture.
—Susan Van Gelder