I was disappointed in the Star Tribune’s article “New fear bolsters gun rush in state” (Jan. 1), which amounted to a grossly misleading advertisement for the gun industry.
The subheading, “Worried for their safety, minorities have increased applications since Nov.,” is not supported by any information in the article. The article itself states, “There is no data on the number of Muslim-Americans buying guns, and permit application records don’t reveal demographic information beyond the age, gender and the county of the applicant.”
The only evidence of a “rush” on guns by Somalis and other minorities is the word of gun lobbyist Andrew Rothman and the existence of one minority gun group.
There may or may not have been any such rush on guns. You’ve got to hand it to Rothman, however. He scored, with no proof, a front-page story normalizing gun carrying for a market the gun lobby has been unsuccessfully pursuing for years.
Now for the reality. Gallup’s research shows that American household gun ownership reached a near-historic low of 37 percent in 2014, compared with 57 percent in 1977. According to the General Social Survey, overall household gun ownership has dropped fairly steadily for decades (though a small number of people continue to increase their already large collections, keeping the gun industry profitable).
There are many reasons most Americans, including minorities, aren’t behaving the way the gun lobby wants. First, bringing a gun into the home puts the family at greater risk of injury or death. The Annals of Internal Medicine reported in a 2014 meta-analysis that a gun in the home doubles the risk of homicide and triples the risk of suicide. Unsecured guns also pose a lethal threat to young children.
The push to market guns to people of color is particularly ironic in light of the gun industry’s history of championing an extreme white supremacist agenda. In 1977, extremists took over the formerly moderate National Rifle Association. In the post-civil rights movement era, the NRA found it advantageous to play on white Americans’ fear of people of color, and the organization has now become a platform for racist rhetoric from white supremacists like board member Ted Nugent.
Legalizing concealed and open carry has laid the groundwork for Trump-style bullying. In 2003, when such a bill was being debated here in Minnesota, proponents dismissed all predictions of political intimidation with guns. But such intimidation is now commonplace. Men (it is almost entirely men) now openly carry loaded weapons to legislative hearings about guns at the State Capitol and to other government meetings and political events. A gun-toting group took over a national wildlife refuge in Oregon, with no legal consequences. Following a shooting last year in Minneapolis at a demonstration led by people of color, one man whom a prosecutor identified as a “white supremacist” is soon to be tried on charges of shooting and wounding peaceful demonstrators.
The gun lobby frequently blames people of color for gun violence, claiming they are more violent than whites. But as author Michelle Alexander points out in her book about mass incarceration: When controlled for joblessness, the difference in violent crime rates between young blacks and whites disappears. But as long as the violent-black-man image scares people, the gun lobby and the people like Donald Trump capitalize on it.
Gun carry laws don’t go far enough for those who want to return to the “good old days” when it was easier for white men to kill black men with impunity. That’s why the gun lobby invented “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws, which allow a person to shoot and kill, in public, anyone they deem threatening — and people of color are well aware who that means. Thankfully, “Shoot First” has not passed in Minnesota. This is because our law enforcement groups, the public and our governor — but not our Legislature — still oppose the legalization of murder.
I share many Americans’ concern about the safety of vulnerable people in today’s toxic political environment. I wish the Star Tribune wouldn’t try to sell guns as the answer. What we need is leadership that denounces violence and individuals who will de-escalate situations in public spaces — not more people with guns. Guns escalate conflict and are demonstrably ineffective for self-defense for all but the most highly trained individuals. Those who go to a shooting range once in order to get a permit to carry are sorely lacking in such training.
We all must hold legislators accountable for sacrificing this country’s safety, and 33,000 lives annually, for the profits of the gun industry. This industry fought to stop the single most effective preventer of gun death and injury — a background check on every gun purchase — and spent millions to put Trump in power. The gun lobby helped drive the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) campaign to suppress minority voting rights through voter ID laws and to eviscerate the federal Voting Rights Act. It is the ultimate cynicism to now market guns to the very communities targeted by Trump and the gun lobby.
“We cannot erase hatred by feeding the machine that spreads it,” as writer Ladd Everitt put it.
It is bad news that, contrary to actual evidence, an increased number of Americans think guns make them safer. This imperils not just all of our safety, but also our civil society and democracy. And as long as the media parrots the fact-free advertising of the gun lobby, it deserves some of the blame.
Heather Martens is former executive director of Protect Minnesota. The opinions expressed here are solely her own. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.