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Inquirer Editorial: Tighter gun laws would reduce black homicide rate

Police found a semiautomatic handgun used in a shooting near the Walnut Street Bridge.
Police found a semiautomatic handgun used in a shooting near the Walnut Street Bridge.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer / File

Poverty, joblessness, and other societal problems may form the roots leading to a higher murder rate when African Americans are the victims, but too many guns are the fertilizer that makes that statistic grow.

A new report released Tuesday shows African Americans make up only 13 percent of the nation's population, but are half of its murder victims.

The annual Black Homicide Victimization in the United States study notes that the national black homicide victimization rate, 16.38 per 100,000, far exceeds the rate for whites who were murdered, which is 2.52 per 100,000. The analysis is based on unpublished data from the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report for 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

Pennsylvania had 387 murders that year, which produced the fifth highest black homicide victimization rate in the nation, 26.07 per 100,000. That's one-and-a-half times the national black homicide victimization rate and six times the overall homicide rate nationwide, according to the Violence Policy Center's analysis.

Missouri had the highest black murder rate, with 250 victims, or a rate of 34.98 per 100,000; followed by Indiana, 29.49; New Mexico, 28.48; and Nebraska, 28.17. New Jersey, with 217 black murder victims, had a rate of 16.43 per 100,000, ranking it 19th. Tiny Delaware had only 42 victims, but it ranked 14th in the country with a rate of 20.18 per 100,000.

The study found that of Pennsylvania's 387 black homicide victims, 340 were male; the victims' average age was 31 years old; 87 percent were killed with guns; and in instances where a relationship could be established, 87 percent were killed by someone they knew, typically as the result of an argument.

"Pennsylvania remains a dangerous place for African Americans, especially African American males," said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA. "And while our legislature has the power to enact policies that could help reverse this trend, it not only fails to enact them, but also fails to give our cities the tools to better protect their own people."

Making Goodman's point is a renewed effort in the legislature to allow the weapons industry to sue Pennsylvania towns that try to enact tougher gun laws. "The gun lobby is obsessed with creating a special right for itself to sue our cities, punish elected officials for working hard to keep people safe, and divert tax dollars to frivolous litigation," said Goodman.

Mayor Kenney, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, and Oxford Mayor Geoff Henry have signed a letter urging the Senate Local Government Committee to oppose the legislation.

The importance of better gun control is validated by the new statistics on black homicides, which show that in 83 percent of the cases where the weapon could be identified, the victim was shot; and in 73 percent of those cases a handgun was used. In 71 percent of the homicides, no other felony was committed, which weakens arguments that people need guns to fend off robbers.

The numbers show that most black homicide victims were shot by someone they knew after an argument. More police may prevent some of those murders, but not as much as by having fewer guns.