NRA Chief’s Racial Rant Hides Larger Truth

New gun control measures could lead to more over-policing and imprisonment of African Americans.

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA (Mark Wilson/Getty Images News)

In a recent interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley tried to link the assault-weapons ban to so-called black-on-black violence. O’Brien quickly reminded Grassley that most mass killings — like the ones in Columbine and Aurora, Colo., Tucson and Newtown — are carried out by white males.

LaPierre’s manifesto read much like the race-baiting tactics employed by the Republican establishment since President Obama took office in 2009: an incoherent tirade about loss of American freedoms, combined with an “us against them” paranoia, which appeals to the worst in human nature — the answer for which is “more guns” and the mantra of which is “stand and fight.”

But LaPierre’s misguided rhetoric belies a more sinister truth: that stricter gun control measures — as necessary as they are — and more expansive police engagement to tackle America’s gun violence may very well do far more damage to minority communities than Democratic politicians like President Obama and California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein intend.

Elaine Brown, the former head of the Black Panther Party, echoed these sentiments in a recent exclusive interview with The Root: “The gun control discussion could result in policies that further criminalize and target black people … Bill Clinton’s ‘three strikes and you’re out’ crime legislation emerged from a similar discussion over ‘black violence,’ and that law has resulted in an explosion of incarceration disproportionately of black people … We have to remember that the NRA represents the moneyed power of gun manufacturers who will stand in the way of any meaningful gun control laws but will support policies, like guns in schools, that will further oppress black people.” 

The NRA’s anti-gun control campaign attempts to play on old racial stereotypes — ginning up the fears of white gun owners in the South and Midwest who may be susceptible to LaPierre’s dog whistles. But the real work must be done in Washington, the Justice Department and FBI — where authorities are already prone to over-policing African-American communities and young black men in particular.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s own stop-and-frisk program in New York — aimed at preventing gun violence — is the best example for its failure on this point. Despite the program’s almost exclusive focus on young black and Latino men, the New York Civil Liberties Union found that white men were twice as likely to have an illegal weapon, if stopped. But they were nine times less likely to be stopped at all.

Much the way Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs led to the mass incarceration of two generations of black men, we now run the risk of expanding the prison industrial complex under the leadership of the first African-American president. As the gun control debate evolves, the question of how stricter regulations can be implemented without creating a more racially inequitable police state must take center stage.

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

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