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

(The Root) — Last week Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, wrote a troubling column for conservative outlet the Daily Caller. In it, the 64-year-old gun-rights advocate painted a horrifying picture of a postapocalyptic world in which African Americans from "south Brooklyn" and Hispanic members of "Latin American drug gangs" were such a threat to the American way of life that the only answer was to buy more guns.

"It has always been sensible for good citizens to own and carry firearms for lawful protection against violent criminals who prey on decent people," LaPierre wrote. "During the second Obama term, however, additional threats are growing."


The tone-deaf rhetoric of LaPierre's column is very much in line with his recent media blitz following the tragic deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Conn. That tragedy, along with record homicides in cities like Chicago — which claimed more than 500 lives last year, many of them children, teenagers and innocent bystanders — has resulted in a fervent call for stricter gun control measures.

LaPierre, his NRA operatives and their Republican allies have reacted by employing a tried-and-true strategy — race-baiting, fearmongering and subversive innuendo — in an attempt to halt any proposed gun controls on white men like themselves. By re-engineering the focus of the debate, LaPierre hopes to shift lawmakers' attention onto black and brown people in urban areas — in a classic case of scapegoating.

"Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States. Phoenix is already one of the kidnapping capitals of the world," LaPierre says. Of course, the facts don't support his claims: As a 2010 FBI report revealed, the states along the U.S.-Mexican border are among the safest in the nation; and among the nation's largest cities with the lowest violent-crime rates, Phoenix ranked among them, alongside San Diego and the Texas cities of El Paso and Austin.


And because of so much focus on immigration reform over the past few years, and Tea Party Republicans' insistence on "securing the border," Obama has invested more in border security than any other president in recent history, fortifying border states with thousands of additional agents and the National Guard.

The paranoid NRA CEO also took a swipe at a largely African-American and Latino community in New York City's Coney Island neighborhood — known for its large housing-project development. "After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia," he said. "Looters ran wild in south Brooklyn. There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark or you might not get home at all."

The tone of his commentary is indefensible for its racial overtones — but also because it is completely unhinged from the truth.


According to the New York City Police Department's CompStat Unit, for five days after Superstorm Sandy, there were no homicides reported in New York City at all. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told the Daily News, "(In) the 60th Precinct in Coney Island, it was hardly hell week — there were no murders, no rapes and no shootings. The same was true in the neighboring 61st Precinct." The Daily News reported that all other crime categories were also down, including assaults, robberies and car thefts. Overall, crime across the five boroughs fell by 25 percent.

But of course, facts don't appear to concern LaPierre very much, and many conservatives on the far right share his skewed thinking.

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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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.