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The Next America Culture 2012 / Culture

Opinion: Addressing Gun Violence and Its Effects on Our Communities of Color

The profound tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has renewed a heated debate over gun violence, but the story has been a repetitive one for many communities of color. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)()

January 18, 2013

Opinions and other statements expressed by Perspectives contributors are theirs alone, not of National Journal's. Content created by third-party contributors is their sole responsibility and its accuracy is not endorsed or guaranteed.

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One does not need to be a parent to feel grief, anger, and shame in the wake of the shooting that took the lives of so many at Sandy Hook Elementary. Unfortunately, for communities of color, shootings and the death of children are often part of daily life. While certainly an incident of the magnitude of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy is very unusual, violence in communities marked by poverty and the lack of resources are common and affect people of color in profound ways.

All we need to do is to look at the data to understand this reality. In Chicago, 319 students were shot over the course of the 2011-12 school year, and 24 of them died. In 2008 and 2009, gun homicide was the leading cause of death among black teens. The gun homicide rate for black males is 2.4 times as high as that for Hispanic males, and 15.3 times as high as that for non-Hispanic white males. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter victims are most frequently black or Hispanic, with blacks comprising 67 percent of victims and Hispanics comprising 28.1 percent.

Blacks make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, but in 2009 suffered almost 24 percent of all firearm deaths—and more than 54 percent of all firearm homicides. And just this past summer, the New York City police department published a report indicating that 96 percent of all shooting victims and 97 percent of all shooting suspects in the city were black or Latino.

The public outcry at gun violence after Sandy Hook is long overdue, and it is time for Congress and the president to take meaningful action to prevent further violence and bloodshed.  President Obama took important steps this week by announcing executive action to strengthen the existing background check system to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, as well as to improve mental-health and school-safety programs.

But the president cannot do this alone. Congress needs to pass commonsense legislation that protects our families and communities. We need to ensure that there is a universal background-check system that prevents dangerous people from being able to buy a gun and protects our communities from deadly military-style assault weapons. Congress can also fund prevention and intervention strategies, such as family-strengthening programs, academic and school supports, positive youth development, and other efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency and support the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

Communities of color understand the importance of implementing these actions and support these measures. A survey commissioned by Common Sense Media and the Center for American Progress shows that parents of color are particularly concerned about the safety of their children and that the majority support stricter gun laws. The survey asked parents with children ages 18 and younger to share their opinions about factors that contribute to violence in America. The survey found:

  • The majority of parents of color strongly agree that addressing violence in the U.S. will require taking action on violence in the media and keeping weapons away from our kids.
  • Seventy-six percent of African-American parents and 69 percent of Asian-American parents said that shielding their children from violence today is difficult.
  • When asked what factors contribute to violence in the U.S., parents of color listed violence on TV and movies, and crime in day-to-day life as top factors. About 84 percent of blacks and Hispanics and 88 percent of Asians felt that crime in day-to-day life contributes to violence in the U.S. compared to 82 percent of whites. In addition, 85 percent of blacks, 81 percent of Hispanics and 90 percent of Asians cited violence on TV and movies as a factor compared to 85 percent of whites.
  • The vast majority of parents of color--91 percent of African-Americans, 83 percent of Latinos, and 92 percent of Asian-Americans--support policies that prevent the advertising of violent games and movies when children are watching.

In addition, a recent study by Pew Research Center found that 66 percent of blacks and 72 percent of Latinos favor controlling gun ownership over protecting the right to own guns, compared with their white counterparts at 42 percent.

Gun violence extracts a huge toll on America's children and youth, both in terms of lives lost and quality of life. Sensible gun violence reduction policies are one step, but if we are really serious about preventing violence, we need targeted interventions in urban and poor neighborhoods. The time is now to stand up for all our children and communities and protect them against gun violence.

Vanessa Cárdenas is the director of Progress 2050, a project of the Center for American Progress.

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