The recent school shootings in Connecticut have reawakened the country to the carnage caused by gun violence. Many now feel the time is ripe for meaningful legislation --- restrictions on the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, as well as mandating background checks before all gun purchases.
It certainly makes common sense to begin with these sensible gun control measures. President Obama has said “enough is enough” and is placing the weight of his office behind these proposals. He’s given specific marching orders to Vice President Biden to ensure that real change happens early in 2013.
Even politicians from gun-toting states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania are feeling the strong winds of change. It appears that more than ever, many Americans are questioning why anyone needs to own an assault weapon such as the Bushmaster AR-15 used in the Newtown shooting. After all, not even the NRA can claim that the Average Joe needs a rifle that can consume 30 rounds from a standard military magazine in seconds just to shoot at Bambi on the weekend.
It does seem that meaningful gun control laws will come to America very soon- whether 2nd Amendment advocates like it or not.
But will this be enough to really protect black boys in Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia and other cities in America?
Certainly it’s a needed first step in taking a stand against the steady drip of violence occurring in our nation’s urban centers. Those of us who work with black boys and young men have known for years the deadly consequences of easy access to automatic firearms. President Obama’s own home town of Chicago is witnessing record homicides this year, mostly gun-related, and many involving young Black males. Similar deaths are a regular staple of life from New York to Los Angeles.
Restricting the sales of Sig Sauers and Glocks will make all communities safer, and thus give our youths a chance at longer lives. But children that grow up in communities such as Newtown with manicured lawns and middle class families won’t need much more to get the best that America can offer. On the other hand, African American youths, and particularly the young black males growing up in and around Chicago and places like it, require an investment that just begins with the removal of these tools of violence.
While research and studies from think tanks offer varied explanations, most agree that the plight of African American young men is due to a complicated mix of structural and institutional racism, class issues, and lack of equal access to the best of what America offers. Our boys and men need help but don’t have the tools to repair the damage done by society and to themselves.
Some have suggested that a second term in the White House affords the President the freedom to focus on issues that keep young black men from becoming meaningful participants in this grand and successful experiment called America. Other have gone even further to encourage our Commander-in-Chief to take on this challenge as his “legacy” issue --- in the same way that championing the financial rescue of this country will be his legacy achievement.
Indeed, as probably the best-known black man in the world, providing leadership to this pernicious problem, and helping to shape policy and practice in diverse areas affecting African American boys and men such as education; youth development and mentorship; employment and wealth creation; and fatherhood, just to name a few, would be exciting and might just interest both sides of the political and social aisles.
Keeping them safe from guns is the first step. What we do next will determine if we’ll really see change for black boys and men in 2013.
George L. Garrow, Jr. is an attorney and Executive Director of Concerned Black Men National, a youth service organization located in Washington, DC.
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