Juan Williams: Race and the Gun Debate

Juan Williams, Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2013

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One thing you don’t hear much about in the discussions of guns: race.

That is an astonishing omission, because race ought to be an inescapable part of the debate. Gun-related violence and murders are concentrated among blacks and Latinos in big cities. Murders with guns are the No. 1 cause of death for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34. But talking about race in the context of guns would also mean taking on a subject that can’t be addressed by passing a law: the family-breakdown issues that lead too many minority children to find social status and power in guns.

The statistics are staggering. In 2009, for example, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 54% of all murders committed, overwhelmingly with guns, are murders of black people. Black people are about 13% of the population.

The Justice Department reports that between 1980 and 2008, “blacks were six times more likely than whites to be homicide victims and seven times more likely than whites to commit homicide.”

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This awful reality explains why support for gun control in the black and Hispanic community is overwhelming (71% among blacks and 78% of Hispanics, according to a recent Pew poll). That is a marked contrast with national polls on new gun laws. Those polls show 46% of Americans of all races backing the right to own guns versus 50% who agree to the need for more limits on gun owners. Apparently, the heart of opposition to new gun regulations is in the white community. Yet white people face far less daily violence with guns.

The debate over gun control too often seems a matter of abstractions about the meaning of the Constitution and the permissible capacities of ammunition magazines. Why is so little time spent on a question of more immediate concern—namely, why are so many young black people using guns to kill their neighbors?

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Almost 50 years ago, when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, the national out-of-wedlock birthrate was 7%. Today it is over 40%. According to the CDC, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for white children was just 2% in the 1960s. Today it is 30%. Among black children, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has skyrocketed from 20% in the 1960s to a heartbreaking 72% today. The Hispanic out-of-wedlock rate, which has been measured for a much shorter period, was below 40% in 1990 and stands at more than 50% as of the 2010 census.

When President Obama tried to speak to this crippling dynamic in 2008, he was basically told to shut up by Rev. Jesse Jackson. The Chicago-based activist said: “Barack was talking down to black people,” then he added a vulgar threat about what he wanted to do in response. The moment revealed the high cost of speaking honestly about social breakdown in black America.

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