By MARC H. MORIAL
National Urban League
“Once again, so-called pro-life pundits and politicians responded by pontificating about all of the possible causes of the shooting tragedy, like mental illness, while willfully ignoring the role of white supremacy and easy access to firearms … while every peer nation is home to men who have been radicalized, only America allows them to have easy access to arsenals and ammunition again and again.”
– Shannon Watts and Angela Ferrell-Zabala
The 18-year-old gunman who slaughtered 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket last week was fueled by a frenzy of white supremacist hatred and enabled by an unprecedented national tidal wave of firearms spilling into American hands.
He spent the months before the massacre stockpiling ammunition and compiling a racist screed with references to the “great replacement.”
The “Great Replacement,” a racist conspiracy theory referring to a nefarious plot to undermine and outnumber White Americans, is not new. Its origins are evident in the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which limited immigration based on race. The term itself comes from a 2011 book, Le Grand Replacement, by French white nationalist Renaud Camus. It inspired the deadly 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, West Virginia, where marchers chanted “You will not replace us.” It was the motivation for the antisemitic terrorist attack at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 that killed 11 worshippers. It was explicitly referenced by the gunman who killed 23 people in El Paso in 2019 in the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history.
As deadly as this toxic conspiracy theory has been in recent years, it is our nation’s sinfully lax gun policies that lend it the power of mass destruction. New York State does have a red-flag law that can bar gun sales to potentially violent people like the Buffalo shooter, who last year declared his intent to commit murder-suicide at his high school. However, the law apparently gave police enough discretion, or they were not sufficiently well-trained, that they did not invoke it in his case. New York Governor Kathy Hochul this week issued an executive order requiring police to do so going forward.
More Americans died of gun injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record, according to a recent Johns Hopkins analysis of CDC data. Guns were the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020, killing more young people than COVID-19, car crashes or cancer.
The year 2020 also saw record gun sales.
“Millions of people, including many first-time purchasers, bought guns. Tens of thousands of these new guns turned up at crime scenes across the country – almost twice as many as in 2019,” the researchers wrote. “While it remains to be seen whether this surge in gun purchases contributed to the rise in gun violence over the long term, a strong body of research has identified drivers of gun violence – namely, easy access to guns and weaknesses in our country’s laws that create a patchwork of gun regulations.”
The report confirmed that common-sense policies like red-flag laws – and Governor Hochul’s order to strengthen New York’s – are effective in reducing gun violence.
“While the media often focuses on gun violence in cities in states like New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Illinois, all of these states had gun death rates lower than the national average,” the researchers found. “New York, for example, had a rate 2.5 times lower than the national rate. Many of the states with the lowest gun death rates have strong gun violence prevention policies.”
Specifically, the five states with the lowest gun death rates all had both a firearm purchaser licensing law or a waiting period, and a “red flag” law.
All five of the states with the highest gun death rates had “stand your ground” laws and three of the five had permitless carry laws. Alabama, one of the five passed permitless carry earlier this year.
The National Urban League is a longtime partner of Everytown for Gun Safety, largest gun violence prevention organization in America, and emphatically supports its evidence-based, commonsense solutions to make communities and save lives.
On Friday I joined with other civil rights leaders in a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to discuss the Department of Justice’s role in addressing the spread of white supremacy across social media platforms and hate crimes tearing through Black communities across America.
Our hearts and deepest sympathies are with the families who have lost loved ones to another senseless act of racial violence. Our fury is with the white supremacists who are the perpetrators of this violence. And our anger is with the social media companies and gun merchants who have aided and abetted them and other extremists for profit and with the politicians who have recklessly encouraged them for votes.
Our commitment now is to do something about it, beginning with calling on President Biden to hold a national summit on hate crimes to elevate the national consciousness around the rising danger of white supremacy and online extremism.
We need a whole-of-nation approach to combat and eliminate this threat to our national security and the stability of our democracy. Until we do, innocent people will continue to pay the deadly price.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through https://nul.org.