WASHINGTON – Several new studies confirm what most people have suspected all along: No group is harmed more by gun violence than young Black males.
“While 13 percent of Americans are Black, in 2010, 65 percent of gun murder victims between the ages of 15 and 24 were Black,” revealed a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP). “Forty-two percent of the total gun deaths of individuals in this age group were of Black males.”
This trend has continued, the report noted, even as crime rates decline.
Another report on gun violence by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) mirrors the CAP findings.
“Between 1963 and 2010, 59,265 Black children and teens were killed by guns – more than 17 times the recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages in the 86 years from 1882 to 1968.”
The Children’s Defense Fund study also reported that, “Black males ages 15-19 were nearly 30 times more likely to die in a gun homicide than White males.”
Yet another study on Black homicides in the United States by the Violence Policy Center, shows that 8 percent of Black homicide victims never reached their 19th birthday and the average age of Black homicide victims was just 30 years old.
But the numbers tell only part of the story.
“More than 1 million years of potential life are lost due to gun deaths each year,” the CAP report found. “These are years of life that young people killed by guns would have achieved educational milestones, entered the workforce, had families, and contributed to the social, economic, and cultural advancement of society in untold ways – all erased by gunfire.”
Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, said that the proliferation of guns in the Black community is directly linked to the growth of illegal drug markets there and the failed War on Drugs.
Franklin worked as a narcotics agent early in his career and is now the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit group of current and former law enforcement members that advocate for reform in existing drug policies in the United States. Franklin said that guns were tools of the trade for managing the drug territories.
Franklin said that there’s no major drug organizations controlling drug traffic in the cities anymore, just little independent drug dealers on the corners fighting for market share and the “stick up boys” robbing the drug dealers.
Part of the violence can be attributed to the way disputes are settled on the streets.
“Now whenever there is a dispute of any type, whether it’s over a girl or something that someone said, or if somebody’s shoe gets stepped on, the way to settle that argument is with a gun,” explained Franklin.
Add the easy availability of guns to that dangerous mix and the problem is compounded.
According to a report by the Children’s Defense Fund on youth gun violence “virtually anyone can buy a gun without a background check.”
A loophole in the federal law governing gun sales allows private sellers, even on the Internet, to peddle guns without submitting the buyer to a background check.
“In 2009, undercover stings at gun shows in Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee revealed that 63 percent of private sellers sold guns to purchasers who stated that they would be unable to pass a background check,” stated the CDF report.
It also found: “A 2011 study of internet gun sales found that 62 percent of sellers agreed to sell a gun to a buyer who said he probably couldn’t pass a background check.”
Researchers say that this is how guns often make it onto the black market – literally and figuratively – and it’s also the reason why many gun control advocates support background checks for every gun sale.
A law mandating universal background checks on all gun sales enjoys nearly unanimous support (92 percent) among with 18-29 year-olds.
According to the CAP report, 60 percent of people under the age of 30 were concerned that gun violence would affect them “personally or their communities in the future.” For people of color under 30 years old, that concern jumped to 73 percent.
“A vast majority of Americans support this idea: that every gun sale should have a background check,” said Chelsea Parsons, associate director of Crime and Firearms Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Without that, it’s meaningless to say that certain categories of people can’t buy guns.”
Although Franklin supports background checks on gun sales, he said that handgun laws don’t have anything to do with the massive gun violence in the Black community in cities like Baltimore.
“Criminals don’t care about the law,” said Franklin “They buy their guns illegally. They pay twice or triple what the gun is worth, because they have the money, because they are selling dope. These laws that we’re passing are only going to affect law-abiding citizens.”
Franklin said that background checks don’t get to the root of the problem: the continued drug war waged in our nation’s poorest communities.
The drug scene often attracts urban youth because they aren’t many attractive alternative economic opportunities for them, said Caroline Fichtenberg, research director for the Children’s Defense Fund.
“A smart, Black boy living in Southeast, Washington, D.C. may see the drug economy as the best way to get money and to be recognized as someone who has accomplished something,” said Fichtenberg. “And that is something we absolutely must change.”
Fichtenberg said that reducing the availability of illegal guns, teaching children that violence is not the way to resolve conflicts, making long term investments in communities and improving educational and economic opportunities for poor communities are just a few of the steps needed to change the tide of rampant gun violence that disproportionately affects young Blacks.
Franklin said that ending the drug war is paramount to stemming the tide of gun violence among Black youth.
“We have to end this drug war, we have to end drug prohibition,” said Neill Franklin, a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit group of current and former law enforcement members that advocate for reform in existing drug policies in the United States.
“That’s going to halt the cycle of mass incarceration of sending all these young boys to prison. Once we end the drug war, we have to take some of the money that we’re not spending on cops and court rooms and prisons and we have to beef up these organizations that have these wonderful mentoring programs.”
Franklin continued: “If we don’t start now, outlining a long term plan to deal with these children and their families, beginning with ending the drug war, we’re going to continue to lose generation after generation. It’s been decade after decade after decade. We should know that by now.”