Waiting for the War on Guns

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

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

(The Root) — James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings, which killed 12 and wounded nearly 60 more, purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition online in four months. He was captured with automatic handguns, assault rifles, magazines (which allow multiple firings without pause), tear gas and other military-style weaponry in his apartment. All of it was purchased legally, and in some cases without a background check. Yet somehow Holmes failed to spark the interest of local or federal authorities. No FBI red flags, no Homeland Security surveillance, no wire taps or “no-fly” lists.

The fact that Holmes was able to amass his arsenal without rousing suspicion reflects a racial bias at the heart of existing American gun-enforcement policies: how present laws might aid and abet white male criminal behavior. Beyond Second Amendment arguments, which have flooded the airwaves, a more basic consideration should be the misguided view the country has of who fits a “criminal” profile. Who counts as a “terrorist”? And what constitutes a “suspicious” character?

The tragic events of Sept. 11 gave birth to a “war on terror” that frames Muslims — whether domestic or foreign-born — as the enemy within. Even Hindus and Sikhs from India are targeted, simply because of their appearance and brown skin. Trillions in taxpayer dollars have been committed to defeating this elusive enemy — from lower Manhattan to Afghanistan, Iraq to Pakistan.

Similarly, the war on drugs has left a legacy that criminalizes African-American and Hispanic males, leaving them subject to search and seizure, and denying them the Fourth Amendment protections most Americans take for granted. Some of our media, politicians and law enforcement apparatus have colluded to ensure minority communities are over-policed and that blacks, in particular, are the main suspects. And like the war on terror, this 25-year drug war comes at a high price. Billions are spent targeting, policing and prosecuting minorities, despite statistics that show white Americans are more engaged in the illegal trade of guns and drugs. Press reports focus on gun violence in the inner cities of Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, but independent studies confirm that per capita rates of gun violence are the same across rural and urban communities — from small-town Montana to Newark, N.J.