Owning a gun does not make you a racist, but if you are a racist there is a strong likelihood that you own a gun. And if you’re a racist, not only do you own a gun, but you most likely oppose gun control. According to a 2013 study led by Kerry O’Brien of Monash University in Australia, “For each one point increase in symbolic racism, there was a 50 percent greater odds of having a gun in the home,” they write, “and there was a 28 percent increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns.” (salon.com). In the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina mass shooting the topics of racism and gun violence have become intermingled. Many on social media have debated the meaning of the Confederate flag, who is to blame for the racial divide in the United States, and whether or not there is anything that can be done to prevent another mass shooting.
“What we’re calling the Confederate flag, the rectangular one, really wasn’t flown during the Civil War except on a few naval vessels,” says John M. Hartvigsen. “It was picked up by some veterans’ groups after the war, and then used by the Ku Klux Klan.” Hartvigsen is president of the North American Vexillological Association – vexillology being the scholarly study of flags. In a recent article written for Rolling Stone, Simon Vozick-Levinson adds, ” In 1961, the South Carolina legislature gave that ersatz rectangular flag – the one the Klan favored – a place on the state capitol’s dome, in an open act of disrespect masked as a gesture to commemorate the centennial of the Civil War.” The flag was changed in 2000 to the one that most recently flew over the South Carolina state house. That flag never flew on a stationary pole and was only carried into battle by soldiers. While many on social media have made comparisons between the Confederate flag and the Swastika as symbols of racism, others have argued that the Confederate flag is a symbol of individual liberty and rebellion. Individual liberty can be expressed in any way one chooses to express their own will, but combined with the idea of rebellion and the history of the flag it is impossible to ignore the message of willful defiance in the name of continued racism. Supporters of the flag are bluntly stating that they will hate who they want to hate and nothing is going to change their mind about it. And that’s fine. Everyone has the right to be an uneducated idiot if they choose. And everyone else has the right to refer to them as bigots and shun them. It won’t bring anyone together, but it will deepen the divide.
“Asked whether race relations had improved or soured during President Obama’s time in office, 35 percent of respondents said they had gotten worse, while 52 percent said they had stayed the same,” writes Liz Peek for Fox News Opinion. “Only 10 percent thought the president had had a positive impact on relations – 8 percent of whites and 17 percent of blacks. That is an impressive underachievement from our first African-American president.” Liz and those like her seem to believe that every time our President or his administration acknowledge the facts of systemic racism within our nation that he is directly to blame for it and the divide it creates. In a video just over six minutes long, Laci Green does an excellent job explaining the history of systemic racism and if you pay close attention you’ll realize that it existed long before Obama was even a college graduate, let alone a community organizer, Senator, or President. When you look at how the federal government back whites only home loans (“red lining”) from 1934 to 1962 then it’s easy to understand the creation of black majority ghettos and the depressive impact on wealth in the black community today. Those low income houses have a direct impact on property taxes and the quality of public education in those neighborhoods. This lack of education perpetuates the economic cycle of poverty by decreasing the likelihood of getting higher wage, skilled jobs. Combine all of that with mass incarceration and as Laci points out, “black men are now imprisoned at six times the rate of white men.” But defining the problem is only the first step and that is why many take offense to the President’s insistence that systemic racism exists, because if we acknowledge it then we have to do something about it our admit apathy and opposition. We can start by addressing the issues within our criminal justice system that punishes the poor. We can invest in local entrepreneurs, state funded public schools, and increase the minimum wage to a living wage. We can do all of this without targeting one segment of a population, but helping that segment none the less by targeting the system. Individuals will continue to believe what they choose to believe, but it will become increasingly difficult to treat others as inferior when they have the same opportunities for the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness as everyone. Then they will truly be judged based on the content of their character. And why would anyone wish to oppose that? What is standing in the way? It would seem that all that prevents us from moving forward on these matters is fear.
“You all rape women and you’re taking over our country,” Dylan Roof said according to the lone survivor when addressing her son. “I have to do what I have to do.” While it has become clear that the Charleston, SC. mass shooting was motivated by fear and racism, not all mass shootings are motivated by fear or racism. ” In truth, there are many different types of motive for mass murder, ranging from revenge to despair to free-floating rage at the world,” Katherine Ramsland writes for Psychology Today. She explains how our desire to know why someone commits these heinous acts encourages the media to rush to judgment and create distortion. She compares the mass shooting in Aurora, CO. to the one at Columbine, CO. and focuses on explaining malignant aggression, but what caught my attention were two things. First she writes, ” Harris’s journals detail an intense hatred of his “inferiors,” which included just about everyone.” and later she adds, ” A motive for planned violence of this magnitude generally simmers for a while, absorbing support from multiple sources until it reaches the boiling point.” Ramsland warns against finding a simple reason and this is not an attempt to do so. This is an attempt to understand one common thread between racism and opposition to gun control. It is the idea that others are inferior, they are a threat, and the threat needs to be dealt with. This idea finds support from multiple sources such as the National Rifle Association, who, on their website, states they are “closely aligned with the most extreme elements in the Republican Party and [have] brought a number of the GOP’s most influential operatives into positions of power within the organization.” And conservative media writes, ” Most gun rights proponents don’t oppose modest reforms because they’re worried that if they can’t have 50 rounds in a magazine, they’ll be adversely affected. Instead, they fear the slow erosion of their rights… At the heart of this disconnect is individual freedom.” And finally, the Libertarian, or Tea Party, movement. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association and the primacy of individual judgment. This prevalent thread of individualism, often at the expense of the community, paints those in disagreement as inferior. The fact that most Americans do not agree with the NRA, conservative media, or Libertarians, creates a rebellion based on fear. In fact, the combination has created an alarming rise in right-wing terrorism. What I fear is the consequences of continuing to ignore the links between racism and gun control.
It is virtually impossible to have an intelligent conversation about gun control with someone who is driven by fear. We are often told after the most recent mass shooting that “now is not the time.” It is considered race-baiting to point out the disproportionate amount of unarmed black men and women being shot to death by police officers. And it considered a “dog whistle” for banning guns when one mentions the success of Australia or the United Kingdom in reducing mass shooting through gun control. But we cannot be driven by fear. Fear is the corrosive coercion that divides us, not the President. We must confront our fears and refuse to accept willful ignorance and apathy. We cannot speak in absolutes and we cannot treat those with opposing views as inferior beings.
But we can refuse to treat inferior views as equal. We can refuse the primacy of the individual over the community in favor of balanced equality. We start by removing symbols. Then we address the systems.