Gun Violence’s No. 1 Target: Black Children

Mass shootings and Chicago get the headlines, but states with lax gun laws are the real problem.

Residents rally against crime in New Orleans in 2007. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Residents rally against crime in New Orleans in 2007. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

(The Root) — In the weeks since the Washington Navy Yard shooting, the city of New Orleans reached a tragic milestone.

All told, 108 people have been murdered in the Crescent City so far this year. In September two black girls, one 11 years old and the other age 2, were shot and killed. And earlier this year a national organization advocating for stricter gun control told the story of a black 10-year-old New Orleans boy who has been shot and seriously injured twice in his short life.

Although the national spotlight has remained fixed on mass shootings in Washington, D.C.; Newtown, Conn.; and Aurora, Colo., as well as the gun violence coming out of Chicago, street crime and “ordinary” shootings that take one or two lives at a time are still disfiguring communities and putting black children and teens in particular peril. For black America the national gun debate is not about the shocking, but still relatively rare, mass shootings or the political gamesmanship that draws attention to the violence consuming President Barack Obama’s adopted hometown. Cities riddled with gun violence, such as New Orleans, are also located in states with some of the nation’s weakest gun laws. Those laws are costing children, particularly black children, their lives, gun control advocates say.

Across the country in 2012, gun violence was the second-leading cause of death for American children ages 7 to 19, according to a July report released by the Children’s Defense Fund. But it constituted the No. 1 cause of death for black children and teens.

Between 1963 and 2010, nearly 60,000 black children and teenagers have been killed by guns. That means more than 17 times the number of black children have been killed by guns than the total number of black Americans lynched between 1862 and 1968, according to Caroline Fichtenberg, director of research at the CDF.

“Gun violence really has a staggering impact on black children and black families,” says Fichtenberg. “People think guns and gun control are rural issues, just the stuff of political debates, but this is an American issue that certainly involves black families.”

A growing group of gun control advocates say that in cities and states where gun laws make guns easier to buy, legal to carry and easy to sell without a background check are places where gun violence and homicides happen more frequently. In fact, the 10 states with the weakest gun laws collectively suffer gun violence at a rate twice as high as that of the 10 states with the nation’s strongest gun laws, according to an April analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Right now federal law requires anyone purchasing a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer, such as a gun store, to clear a background screening. Meanwhile, private sales — everything from large-volume sales at gun shows and private meet-ups to the exchange of weapons in parking lots and living rooms one at a time — don’t face any sort of background-check requirement at all.

“Politicians will point to Chicago,” says Arkadi Gerney, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “They like to say, ‘See, it has tough gun laws, and look at the gun violence there; that just proves gun control doesn’t work.’ But when you really look at the data, the numbers, and leave the politics out, you see that Chicago is an outlier. More typically you find that cities that have the highest rates of gun violence are in redder states with lots of guns and less-stringent gun laws. Those are the facts.”