In the wake of the Orlando shooting, the Republican Senate leadership has capitulated to a Democratic filibuster and agreed to hold a vote on “limited” gun control measures. Even Donald Trump, probably mistakenly, has made vaguely approving noises [Senate inches closer to gun control showdown after massacre by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan, Reuters.com, June 16 2016]. (There has been no filibuster demanding immigration control). But no-one seems to notice that, to adapt the famous apocryphal New York Times headline, minorities (if not women) will be hardest hit. And maybe they should be.
Thus Kevin Williamson, of downscale white communities “deserve to die” fame, penned an op-ed entitled “Conservative for Gun Control.” [National Review, June 14, 2016] This led many on the Alt-Right to cry out that National Review was caving to the Left.
Given National Review and Williamson's track record, this was a reasonable response to the article’s title. However, Williamson actually rejected all calls for new gun control laws, specifically the assault weapon and terrorist watch list bans. He just expanded on the old mantra about “enforcing the laws we have.” This is really no different than the NRA, which always calls to “enforce existing gun laws.” (See, e.g. the NRA video How to Stop Violent Crime, by NRA VP Wayne LaPierre.)
In particular, Williamson called for stricter enforcement of laws against “straw purchasers”—where someone who can legally buy a gun buys one to give to someone who can’t pass a background check, or is underage. (Side note: here Williamson is at odds with the NRA and with Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito who dissented in Abramski v. United States, which expanded the scope of straw purchase prohibitions even when buying for someone who’s allowed to buy a gun.)
Williamson’s real offense: responding to Left’s hysterical and dishonest attacks with policy minutiae—and missing the big picture. Williamson acts befuddled about why gun laws are not enforced, but it’s because (not for the first time) he ignores the racial angle.
When noting the under-enforcement of straw purchase laws, Williams complained that U.S. Attorney who covers Chicago stopped prosecuting straw buyers as a matter of policy. He acknowledged that “[t]hese cases are lots of work and generally don’t ensnare big-time criminals, but rather the idiot nephews, girlfriends, and grandmothers of big-time criminals” and that sending them in for long sentences “isn’t going to win anybody any friends.”
Of course, straw purchases can be lethal— black gunman Cedric Ford killed three co-workers and wounded 14 after being fired from a factory in Kansas. Ford had felony record, but his girlfriend was able to buy him a rifle and handgun, which he used in his killing spree [Ex-girlfriend is charged with giving Kansas shooting spree gunman an AK-47 and a pistol which he used to kill three at factory, By Jessica Chia, Dailymail.com, February 27, 2016]
Note, however, that when a team of economists investigated the illegal gun market in Chicago, they reported the demographics of the major neighborhood where the market occurred, Grand Boulevard/Washington Park: 98.2% African American. [Underground Gun Markets, by Phillip J. Cook, et. al., The Economic Journal, November 2007] Sending many otherwise law-abiding blacks to jail would not just not “win anybody any friends,” it could lead to an outcry from the criminal justice reform Left.
New York Times’ token conservative Ross Douthat noted:
I suspect liberals imagine, at some level, that a Prohibition-style campaign against guns would mostly involve busting up gun shows and disarming Robert Dear-like trailer-park loners. But in practice it would probably look more like Michael Bloomberg’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, with a counterterrorism component that ended up heavily targeting Muslim Americans.
[Liberalism’s Gun Problem, December 5, 2015]
Douthat is spot on—except he could have omitted “probably,” as this is how gun control already works in practice. One can simply compare famous gun enthusiast Ted Nugent (right) a white rock star who has never been arrested on gun charges, with the dozens upon dozens of rappers and basketball players who have.
The US Sentencing Commission (USSC) examined the demographics of those charged and sentenced under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (establishing minimum sentences for gun crime). It found,
[m]ore than half of all offenders convicted of an offense under section 924(c) were Black (55.9%). Less than one-quarter (21.0%) were Hispanic, followed by White (20.1%) and Other Race (3.1%) offenders.
[Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System, Chapter 9, Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Firearm Offenses (2011)]
In 2015, blacks made up 47.5% of firearms convictions, higher than any other federal crime. This was over twice the rate of blacks convicted for federal drug trafficking (23.6%) and over eight times that for drug possession (5.6%).
(As a side note, Hispanics make up 84% of federal drug possession convicts. I suspect the bulk of these are small time drug smugglers who plead down. [U. S. Sentencing Commission's 2015 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 4, Race of Offenders (2016)]).
Of course, many Leftists blame racist prosecutorial discretion for this. Thus writing in Yale Law Journal, Sonja B. Starr & M. Marit Rehavi argue
These laws hit black men particularly hard because, as our data show, they are more frequently arrested for gun crimes and because of large apparent disparities in prosecutors’ exercise of charging discretion.
As evidence, they quote black civil rights litigator and legal scholar Michelle Alexander [Email her] in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, giving an anecdotal story from a former US Attorney:
I had an [assistant U.S. attorney who] wanted to drop the gun charge against the defendant [in a case in which] there were no extenuating circumstances. I asked, “Why do you want to drop the gun offense?” And he said, “He’s a rural guy and grew up on a farm. The gun he had with him was a rifle. He’s a good ol’ boy, and all good ol’ boys have rifles, and it’s not like he was a gun-toting drug dealer.”
[Mandatory Sentencing and Racial Disparity: Assessing the Role of Prosecutors and the Effects of Booker, 123 Yale L.J. 2 (2013)]
However, the statistics paint a very different picture. According to the USSC’s congressional report, whites were only slightly more likely than blacks to receive relief, from the gun enhancements, at 18.4% to 17.0%. Of much more significance, however: Blacks committed a much higher percentage of crimes eligible for the enhancement (63.7%) than they were actually charged with (55.9%). This suggests that prosecutors were actually exercising discretion in favor of blacks.
And, like Alexander, I can point to some anecdotal evidence. Bill Nettles, the Obama-appointed US Attorney for South Carolina said last year that "progressive things" they have done to fight "gun violence," while bemoaning South Carolina’s lack of state level gun control laws. At the same time, he said: "I'm not interested in picking up 18 year-olds and giving them 15 years in prison because they have a gun."
It’s a safe bet that “18 year olds” is the same type of euphemism as “youths” or “teens.” [Gun Violence and Public Health, C-Span, December 4, 2015’.]
Why is this? Even most Democrats don’t dare openly argue for prohibiting gun ownership. Instead, our laws ban specific types of guns, prevent certain people from owning guns, or increasing red tape and screening prior to purchasing guns. This has not changed in the wake of the Orlando massacre: gun control advocates like Hillary Clinton are focusing on banning those on the terrorist watch lists from gun ownership and banning so-called “assault rifles.”
This means the people who violate gun laws are those who purchase illegal weapons, are barred from gun ownership (most often felons), or are too lazy/ incompetent/ impatient to go through the red tape. In addition, even if you own illegal weapons, the police are much more likely to catch you if you are committing other crimes and give them a reason to search your car, home, or person.
There are probably a few white gun enthusiasts and militiamen who take the slogan “The Second Amendment is my Gun Permit” literally. But your average NRA member will follow gun laws even if they don’t support them.
In contrast, blacks are much more likely to be felons and unable/unwilling to follow directions. And this does not just affect career criminals. Thus many of the aforementioned black athletes and rappers charged with gun crimes were previous felons—but many could have purchased the guns legally; they simply did not even think to follow the law.
For example, New York Giants star Plaxico Burress (right) spent two years in prison after shooting himself with an illegally-concealed pistol. Even with New York City’s stringent gun laws, he could have applied for a special handgun permit (Trump has one of these)on the grounds of special need. As a celebrity who robbers and stalkers could target and who had no prior criminal record, Burress surely could have received such a permit—had he bothered to consult with an attorney. [Former Giants Star Defends Himself to Grand Jury in Weapons Case", The New York Times, July 29, 2009.]
I thought Burress’ sentence was too severe, but it was Burress’s mindset, no doubt shared by many black celebrities, that led to the outcome.
I oppose strict gun control. But it’s a something of a comfort that, in practice, the proposed gun regulations will largely serve as an inconvenience for ordinary law-abiding Americans (the "bitter" kind Obama said "cling to guns") while sending more thugs to long federal sentences.
John Reid [email him] is an American citizen and a recent law school graduate.