THE BEST OF
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King - murdered 47 years ago tomorrow - must have been spinning in his grave when the Georgia head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that he'd founded in the 1960s spoke to reporters last week.
The SCLC's Samuel Mosteller was responding to a spate of shootings of black suspects by police when he said African-Americans should "exercise their Second Amendment rights . . . You stand there, [police] shoot. You run, they shoot. We're going to have to take a different tack." Not surprisingly, the national SCLC suspended Mosteller and told him to undergo training in King's nonviolent principles.
But police-involved shootings are just one aspect of the dangers of living in arguably the most violent developed nation in the world - especially for those who live in poverty-stricken inner-city neighborhoods, where many blacks and other minorities are concentrated.
After crime soared in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, many leaders in the black community shared a common political goal - getting guns off the street. Mayor Nutter could be a poster child for that movement - throughout his two terms, Nutter has traded barbs with the NRA, called for a renewed ban on assault rifles, and led anti-gun coalitions. His views were shared by rank-and-file city voters.
With decades of failed efforts to enact saner gun laws, the mood is changing. There's mounting evidence that African-Americans are embracing gun ownership.
A national poll published in December by the Pew Research Center chronicled this stunning change in attitudes. It reported: "Currently, 54 percent of blacks say gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger personal safety, nearly double the percentage saying this in December 2012 (29 percent)."
The Pew findings were cited yesterday in an NPR story about black gun ownership. It quoted Detroit's African-American police chief, James Craig, as an example of changing opinions. He said gun ownership by law-abiding black citizens could be a strategy for dealing with slow police response times in poorly served, high-crime neighborhoods. It's the argument, basically, that the NRA has been putting out there for years - just now reaching a new population.
Except that putting more guns into circulation - not just in the inner-city but anywhere in this ammo-crazed nation of ours - is a truly terrible idea. Quite simply, the more firepower that's out there, the more people who will die needless deaths that will further destroy families and entire communities, in places where more destruction is the last thing people need.
For every decent shop owner who turns away some punk robber with the business end of a .38, how many more cases will we see of toddlers getting their hands on licensed handguns and causing lethal mayhem? The truth is that no matter how many law-abiding people obtain permitted weapons, these guns will be used in ways that were never intended or imagined - to settle a beef, or, as is far too often the case, a lovers' quarrel.
The NPR story included the anguish of a black Detroit woman named Evelyn Marks who lost her only daughter to gun violence. It noted: "Her daughter, Christina Lazzana-Webster, was murdered by someone with a concealed-carry permit: her own husband. He killed her in their home. Marks assumes they'd been having an argument. She says the rise of legal guns doesn't make Detroit feel any safer to her. In fact, it's just the opposite."
That's exactly right. This new trend is a sad commentary on the current state of the violence debate in America - and it's also infuriating. Make no mistake, a dangerous extremist group called the NRA - and the politicians who beg for its offerings on bended knee - bears a disproportionate share of the blame. The gun lobby's growing success in killing even the mildest moves toward gun sanity in America, even after the senseless slaughter of babies in Newtown in 2012, has finally convinced rational people that we can never reduce the firepower on our streets - that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
The circle on this is beyond ironic. History buffs remember that blacks arming themselves - citing police brutality - was a key tenet of the rise of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. A black open-carry event at the California State Capitol led the NRA and the state's then-new governor - Ronald Reagan, perhaps you've heard of him? - to endorse gun-control measures aimed at the black-power movement. Today's new developments may test how much has really changed in American society since 1967.
But in the meantime, what a blow to the memory of a man of peace like Martin Luther King as we recall this weekend what he fought for - and how his efforts were cut short by a man with a high-powered rifle.