Hot on the heels of its front-page editorial demanding an end to most gun ownership in the country, The New York Times has published another “smart take” on guns that puts forth the argument that support for the right to keep and bear arms is racist. Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting claims that our “permissive gun laws are a manifestation of racism, an evil that, in other contexts, most gun-control advocates see as a fundamental threat to American society.”
How, you might wonder, are laws that protect the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms a manifestation of racism? Gutting never really says, though he does offer the bewildering assertion that the “case for the racist effect of our permissive gun laws is powerful.” One would think the professor could actually muster up an example if the case is that strong, but he seems more interested in offering up polemics than evidence.
Gutting’s chief argument is this: “If we fail to oppose with equal passion and vigor the relentless political pressure of (mostly white) gun advocates, we force a large number of black citizens to live with the constant threat of gun violence. We’re in effect letting the Second Amendment trump the Fourteenth Amendment, implicitly preferring the right of gun ownership to the right of black people to live free from fear.”
I hardly know where to begin, but let’s start with some recent poll numbers from the Washington Post. Back in November, they asked D.C. residents about bringing back the District’s gun ban (found to be unconstitutional in the 2008 Heller decision). Support for bringing back the ban, according to the paper, was highest among whites, whites who went to college, and those earning more than $100,000 a year. In other words, people who look a lot like Gary Gutting.
Majority opposition to a new gun ban could be found among residents making less than $50,000 a year. The poll also found, “African Americans, particularly those living in areas of the city that have experienced a 50-percent increase in robberies at gunpoint this year, were also among the least supportive.”
So why aren’t a majority of black residents siding with the 70-something-year-old white philosophy professor and demanding a new gun ban? Maybe they’re just a bunch of racists—or maybe Gutting’s thesis is all wrong. Maybe it’s not about the Second Amendment trumping the Fourteenth, or about gun bans allowing people to live free from fear. Perhaps good people in bad neighborhoods feel safer when they can protect themselves with firearms, too. Gutting doesn’t mention, for example, that a lot of law-abiding Chicagoans in violent neighborhoods are getting their concealed-carry licenses, though he does bring up Chicago’s violent crime as his sole bit of evidence that “permissive gun laws” are racist (in this case, he blames Indiana’s gun laws for Chicago’s violent criminals).
Gutting says that our “passion for justice and hatred of racism should galvanize us to action.” What he doesn’t say is the action that he wants wouldn’t just lead to a law being passed. It would lead to that law being enforced as well, and not just against violent offenders. Michael Bloomberg (ironically, another 70-something-year-old white guy) says when it comes to young minority males in bad neighborhoods, we should “throw them up against the wall and frisk them” to reduce violent crime. And if they’re in possession of a gun, let’s throw them in prison for years. Magazine over 10 rounds? Tack on an extra year or two. Unless, of course, we decide to plea bargain the charges down, or never actually prosecute after we’ve made an arrest. A closer look shows the recent accusations of racism in The New York Times are unfounded, illogical and, perhaps least surprisingly given their recent series of screeds—desperate.
This is why Gutting’s plea for white progressives to learn from the Black Lives Matter movement is so laughable. Black activists like Ta-Nehisi Coates want less policing in black neighborhoods. As Fred Seigel recently wrote, “Coates, who lived in fear of black street toughs as a teen, sees the police as a greater threat to black well-being than the drug ‘crews’ and gangs roaming the streets of West Baltimore today. His vision, in part, is to free gang-ridden areas from the malign grip of white standards and aggressive policing. Coates has adopted his father’s view that ‘our condition, the worst of this country’s condition—poor, diseased, illiterate, crippled, dumb—was not just a tumor to be burrowed out but proof that the whole body was a tumor, that America was not a victim of a great rot but the rot itself.’ Not even a hurricane of violence, says the new riot ideology, justifies a vigorous police presence in black localities.”
This is the gun-control problem that the Left doesn’t want to confront. Many white progressives like Gutting believe that we need to #DoSomething, to pass another round of gun-control laws and then proclaim victory over the “gun lobby.” But Gutting will never experience the enforcement of those laws in largely black neighborhoods, where most residents aren’t in favor of throwing a generation of young men against walls and patting them down in the hopes of finding a weapon, or putting new laws on the books that will serve as new vehicles for state-sanctioned harassment or worse, regardless of whether or not they actually want to own a gun themselves. One group on the Left wants additional laws that will be used primarily against young black males, while another group on the Left thinks we already have too much invasive policing and disproportionate imprisonment. So far the anti-gun movement has been able to gloss over the fundamental disagreement by not talking about it, but that doesn’t seem like an effective long-term strategy. Then again, their legislation isn’t really an effective strategy to reduce crime—and that hasn’t stopped them—so maybe they’ll try to patch over the irreconcilable differences for as long as they can.
I have no doubt that folks like Gary Gutting mean well. But I also can’t help but think his attitude towards high-crime neighborhoods is paternalistic, at best. Never mind that support for gun control is declining among black Americans, Gutting thinks he knows what’s best for the good people in bad neighborhoods, and it isn’t being able to protect themselves and their families with a firearm. No, it’s yet another gun law to go along with the umpteen other ones already on the books.
Call me crazy, but I’d rather see a gun store with an indoor range and a couple of firearms instructors in these neighborhoods than another gun-control law. I’d like for “gun culture” to be a real thing in places like Chicago, New York City and Camden, N.J. I’d like for law-abiding Americans, no matter their ZIP code, to be able to easily exercise their constitutional rights without navigating a maze of bureaucratic red tape and silly ordinances. I’d like for a generation of young men to grow up knowing that if you want to demonstrate your shooting prowess, you do it during your JROTC air rifle match, not out the window of a car driving by a crowded park. And I’d like those who do decide to commit violent crimes to know that their punishment will be swift, certain, appropriate to the crime, and supported by the community where they live.
It’s not racist to support the Second Amendment and what gun-banners call “permissive” gun laws. In fact, it’s awfully dumb and dull to even try and make that argument. Gary Gutting gave it the old college try, but in the end, all he did was expose the vacuous arguments and fundamental rift with the broader Left that the anti-gun movement is saddled with as it fights against a constitutional right to keep and bear arms and the fundamental human right of self-defense.