It looks like this past week was a busy one for the gun control crowd, busy giving us insights into their thinking, and windows into their minds. Professor Adam Winkler has been on a book tour to promote “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” in which he brings up the subject of many early gun control efforts having racist roots. This infuriates Ladd Everitt, who confronts Professor Winkler at one of his events:
This is another example of the gun control crowd failing to understand our positions, or even really grasp the core of what we argue. I don’t think anyone who’s an opinion leader in this issue, that has discussed the racist roots of gun control, has suggested that Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign, or any of its supporters, are pushing gun control because they are racist, or that their efforts are motivated by a desire to racially discriminate. All we’re suggesting is that the racist motivations of past gun control efforts should be acknowledged and openly talked about. That is the Professor’s position as well, and it is also mine.
But I will go slightly farther than perhaps Professor Winkler would be willing to go, and suggest that even today, gun control, in effect, can have racial consequences, even if it is not motivated by racial considerations per se. I will give you an example, in using the issue of “Florida Loophole,” in Pennsylvania. The City leaders have lamented that people in high-crime neighborhoods are being issued Florida licenses, presumably because they have been turned down for a license by the City of Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania law allows police to deny a license to “An individual whose character and reputation is such that the individual would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety,” which the City of Philadelphia has interpreted quite broadly, even going to far as to suggest unpaid parking tickets are sufficient to deny permits under this clause. Philadelphia will also deny your license if you have ever been arrested, even if the arrest was minor and long ago. There is an appeal process to contest a license revocation, but it costs time and money. A typical suburban resident has sufficient access to the legal system to be able to successfully challenge an unfair denial, so suburban jurisdictions, even ones who probably would not issue licenses at all if they had a choice, tend to use this criteria fairly. Philadelphia routinely gets away with unfair denials because its residents are poorer, and don’t have the same access to the legal system. A Florida license, for which Florida only counts convictions, rather than arrests, is a cheaper alternative for being able to legally carry for self-protection. But City officials have been champing at the bit to get the “Florida Loophole” closed, leaving those residents with no recourse.
It’s worth noting that suburban applicants are going to tend to overwhelmingly be white and middle or upper class. City applicants stand better chance than not of being African-American, given they are the city’s predominate ethnic group. It is outrageous to me that some Americans have better access to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms than other Americans. I have no doubt the motivation to close the “Florida Loophole” is not racial. Indeed, many proponents of closing the loophole are African-American, including Mayor Nutter and Commissioner Ramsey. But the end of result of what they advocate is that African-Americans in Philadelphia, who live in high-crime areas and who may be lower-income, will have less access to their constitutional rights than the white folks in the suburbs. This is what I mean when I suggest the law has racial implications, even if it is not racist in its motivations. The implication should concern any American who believes in the Bill of Rights, and equal protection under the law.
Ladd Everitt proposes we airbrush this from the debate, probably because it makes him uncomfortable. To be sure, I don’t think Everitt is a racist; i’m sure he’d be happy to disarm both black and white equally. But we don’t live in a country where a gun ban is possible anymore. Given that, I think it’s important to ensure that all Americans, regardless of color or income, have the same access to exercise their rights as everyone else. The Florida issue has uncovered a fundamental unfairness in the way Pennsylvania law is written, and how it is being implemented. It should be fixed. I’m willing to talk about the Florida issue as part of that solution, but I am absolutely not willing to airbrush the racial implications of the current status-quo. All law-abiding Pennsylvanians should have equal access to their right to carry a firearm for self-protection. I would like to think that’s a base principle we could all get behind, and leave the disagreement limited to whether the standard needs to be tougher, more lenient, or just less subjective.
Professor Winkler and I may be at opposite sides of that particular debate, but his willingness to take our side seriously, and make serious arguments in return, is a breath of fresh air in an issue dominated by the Ladd Everitts, Joan Petersons, and Abby Spanglers of the world. And that’s not even speaking of the boneheads on our “side.”
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