Waiting for the War on Guns

Laws have been made to end drug trade and terrorism. So why don't mass shootings inspire change?

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In fact, crime waves -- including murder -- when committed by white males are never categorized as systemic problems that have a racial component. Ferguson's attorneys said he had "black rage" and the media sought to tie Muhammad to the Nation of Islam, but Holmes, Klebold, Harris and Loughner have not been accused of "white-on-white" crime. And their actions never engender aggressive legislation. No domestic war on terror. No federal crackdown to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous men who look like them and behave like they do.

New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, appeared to be the most reasonable high-profile politician to address the need for practical gun control, challenging both President Obama and Mitt Romney to take bold stands. But when it comes to the racial bias that underpins the nation's lack of gun control, Mike Bloomberg is a hypocrite and perhaps the best example of what not to do.

Last month Bloomberg defended the New York City police department's stop-and-frisk policy, which amounts to de facto racial profiling. The data analyzed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) showed that 87 percent of those stopped were young African-American and Latino males, despite the fact that such people comprise a small percentage of the total population. Whites were distinctly underrepresented -- as 33 percent of city residents, they constituted only 9 percent of stops. The NYCLU showed that "the number of stops of young Black men last year actually exceeded the total number of young Black men in the city (168,126 as compared to 158,406)."

The purpose of these stops? To find guns. Bloomberg defended the policy on that basis, and even attacked the NYCLU for drawing attention to the inequity. Yet of the nearly 700,000 stops in 2011, only 0.1 percent resulted in the confiscation of a gun. And fewer than 10 percent resulted in any criminal charge whatsoever -- the most common one being possession of small amounts of marijuana, for personal use.

Gallup Poll statistics from 2005 show that white Americans are twice as likely to own guns -- 44 percent to only 23 percent of nonwhites. And white men are three times as likely.

Yet despite national statistics showing white males are most likely to own and carry weapons, intellectually dishonest politicians like Bloomberg find ways to harass minorities instead. The conventional wisdom has become that whites use guns for hunting or protection. But who needs a 100-round magazine and automatic assault rifle to hunt? It only takes the actions of mass shooters to remind us that crazed men are stockpiling weapons to unleash horror, while police officers are busy stopping and frisking their black or Latino neighbors.

The over-policing of African Americans, Latinos and Muslims creates a separate and unequal justice system that too often allows white criminals the ability to escape notice. And though FBI statistics show whites commit 70 percent of all crime in the United States, police forces continue to focus on minority communities -- using the war on drugs as justification for racial profiling. The horrors of Aurora and Columbine are dismissed as the acts of madmen -- which can't be prevented with policy -- while the potential dangers of inner-city crime are controlled with military precision. Even the unarmed -- Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and Kendrec McDade -- become victims of an over-zealous police state, shot to death simply for being black and suspicious.

Perhaps, at the very least, the nation can begin to apply policing of gun crime equitably to whites in line with their percentage of the population. That very act -- aided by sensible, more restrictive gun controls -- can help prevent the kinds of horrors unleashed by this latest tragedy.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.