Those are the victim rates. The ethnic disparities among gun homicide offenders mirror the disparities among victims. Though blacks make up less than 13% of the U.S. population, year after year they commit more than half of all gun homicides. The numbers for Hispanic offenders are harder to pin down since law enforcement agencies tend to group them with white offenders — perhaps to make the black-white contrast seem less stark. But given the high rate of Hispanic victimization, and the fact that more than half of all homicide victims in the U.S. are acquainted with their killers, it seems safe to conclude that Hispanic offenders also commit gun homicides at substantially elevated rates.
Any honest discussion of gun violence, therefore, begins with the inconvenient truth that it’s disproportionately a black and Hispanic phenomenon. That makes last summer’s horrors in Colorado and Wisconsin exceptional on at least three levels: first, because of the body count; second, because of the weaponry; third, and most critically, because of the demographics of shooters and their victims.
Recognizing the centrality of ethnicity to the problem of gun violence is just another way of saying, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” But it also underscores the gnarly politics of dealing with the issue. You likely could significantly reduce incidents of gun violence in the U.S., and save many black and Hispanic lives in the process, with mandatory sentencing. So, for example, if you’re convicted of using a gun to commit a crime, we could tack an extra five years onto the end of your sentence. If you discharge a gun while committing a crime, make it 15. If you shoot someone, make it 25. No exceptions. No plea bargains. No mercy.
If states began to adopt such sentencing guidelines, you likely would have a drastic reduction in gun homicides — not because violent criminals would necessarily be deterred, but because, once they’re caught and convicted, they’d be incarcerated for much longer periods. It would therefore be a boon to the overwhelming majority of blacks and Hispanics, who are law-abiding citizens. But it would also require building many more prisons and filling them with mostly black and Hispanic males — which means that most blacks and Hispanics would oppose the effort. So too would every left-of-center advocacy group that fancies itself a guardian of minority interests.
So, yes, by all means, now that our emotions are no longer raw, let’s have a national conversation about gun violence. But for once, how about an honest one?
Mark Goldblatt is the author of “Bumper Sticker Liberalism.” He teaches at Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY).