A shooting at Lone Star College in Houston resulted in three injuries last week, just two days after the first-ever “Gun Appreciation Day.” Gawker tallied at least sixteen incidences of gun-related death or injury on Gun Appreciation Day, too. Because none of these events was a mass shooting, the reader comments on the news stories covering them often contained sentiments like the following from the Houston Chronicle: “No ‘school shooting’ here at all. Just two thugs in a part of town known for gang and gun violence on a daily basis,” or, “A couple of thugs got into a typical thug fight. It happens every day in Houston. The media would have you believe this was a massacre,” or, “This is NOTHING like the shooting at the elementary school…it just happened to happen at a junior college between 2 hot blooded young men!”
They’ve got one thing right. It does happen everyday. Unlike mass shootings, other types of gun violence are so common that, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, more children and teens die from guns every three days than died in the Newtown massacre. That they’re treated as yawn-worthy speaks to our acceptance of gun violence in certain neighborhoods.
Those neighborhoods, of course, tend to be populated by people of color. The Children’s Defense Fund reports that 43 percent of all children and youth killed by firearms in 2009 were black. And while the annual number of shooting deaths of white youth decreased by 44 percent between 1979 and 2009, the deaths of black children and teens increased by 30 percent. The annual number of shooting deaths of Hispanic children decreased, but only by 25 percent.
The question we have to face is this: Do we want to address all gun violence or do we only want to try to prevent mass shootings? Is one group of victims more important than the other? The answer, of course, is no. All lives are important.
Whether it’s a seemingly random mass shooting at a predominantly white, suburban school or the death of a child of color caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting in the inner city, gun violence is often facilitated by two things: Availability of guns and a lack of services and supports available to our children and their families around the issues of drugs, gangs, failing schools and mental health services.
If I had my druthers, we’d ban both assault weapons and handguns, but the proliferation of guns in America makes that a near-impossibility. So, let’s start with the proposal on the table from President Obama. It calls on Congress to close background check loopholes and bans military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Current law only requires background checks be performed by licensed gun dealers, but about 40 percent of guns are sold through private dealers. Requiring all gun sellers to perform background checks and facilitating better sharing of this information among states will help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
The president’s plan also suggests that Congress allocate money to schools for social and mental health services that address students’ behavioral issues. But it also gives the schools the option to hire more school cops, covertly termed “school resource officers,” that some youth advocates fear will exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline.
Here’s how the ACLU explained it: “We fear that neutral sounding safety policies, such as putting more cops in school will lead to the over-incarceration of school-age children, especially students of color and students with disabilities, who are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for issues that would normally be handled by school administrators when law enforcement is introduced into schools.”
Legislators must consider not only middle-class, white victims who’ve died in mass shootings, but the victims who are more likely to die everyday because of the color of their skin—think Trayvon Martin or 23-year-old Rodrigo Diaz of Georgia, who was shot in the head and killed this weekend after pulling into the wrong man’s driveway.
The president’s plan is not as comprehensive as it should be.. Studies show most gun crime is committed with handguns and it’s not clear how much of an impact the Obama proposals will have on that. Still, even modest, common sense measures will have trouble clearing Congress, especially the Republican-controlled House. That’s just the current political reality.
But while we’re debating gun violence, let’s no longer pretend that it’s a problem just confined to the occasional mass shooting.