US needs to widen its focus on causes of gun crime
On the day that Americans celebrated the birth of their nation, its democracy and its freedoms, a shooter killed seven civilians and injured more than 40 others in an attack on a parade in one of Illinois’ wealthiest suburbs, Highland Park.
Immediately, this violence became the focus of a national debate over the issue of the weapon the shooter used to carry out the killings, rather than on the motivations that pushed the suspect.
Democrats are demanding tougher gun control laws, while Republicans insist that controlling guns is not the answer. Gun laws prevent law-abiding citizens from owning guns, but the killers using the guns are not law-abiding at all, Republicans argue.
The debate gets edgy when the race of the shooter is discussed and most try to avoid pointing a finger at issues of poverty and racial anger as causes of the violence. Most minorities live in urban areas that are dominated by Democrats and not in areas dominated by Republicans. Violence in Republican-controlled areas generally involves poverty.
Those are difficult issues to address and anyone who raises them is often denounced as “racist.” So, the focus instead shifts to the easier-to-argue battle over gun control.
But is the debate over gun control merely a distraction to prevent a discussion of more uncomfortable issues, such as poverty, race and even ideology? Chicago’s population is 66 percent Black and Hispanic, many of whom live in poverty, but even hinting at such discussions can raise accusations of racism.
Americans say they do not want to stereotype when addressing violence in America. But they do not have a problem stereotyping when the violence is in foreign countries, where they insist it is the consequence of extremist political or religious ideologies. They easily stereotype Muslims and Arabs when violence occurs in the Middle East.
The violence in Highland Park and in many other locations — including the city of Uvalde, Texas, where a teenage gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in May — involved individuals who clearly had psychological problems. The issues of their race or motivation were marginalized and the focus put on gun ownership.
Most try to avoid pointing a finger at issues of poverty and racial anger as causes of the violence.
What about the responsibility that parents have for their children? Didn’t the parents of the Uvalde shooter recognize the factors that pushed their child to commit this horrendous crime? And what is their responsibility for his actions?
Had Uvalde been in any other foreign location, and not Texas, the issue would have been all about the religious upbringing of the shooter, his (or her) ideology and the environment in which they lived. These are issues pushed aside in the American gun control debate.
Uvalde was not unusual as school shootings go in America, unfortunately. It was the 27th shooting to take place in a school in the US in 2022. And it was the 212th mass shooting in any location across the country.
In Chicago, the homicide rate continues to climb. Last year was the deadliest for shootings in a quarter of a century, with 797 homicides, 25 more than in 2020 and 299 more than in 2019. There were 3,561 shooting incidents in 2021, 300 more than the previous year and 1,415 more than in 2019.
Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot insists the problem is gun control, although the city has the fourth-toughest gun ownership laws in the country, only behind New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore — all Democratic-controlled municipalities.
In one case from last year, 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a Hispanic child, was with a known gang member on Chicago’s West Side at 2:30 a.m. when police chased and then shot him dead. The debate focused on whether Toledo had a gun in his hand when the officer shot him, as police claimed, or if he had dropped it, as anti-police activists insisted. No one was asking why a 13-year-old was out of his home in the middle of the night, long after the curfew for minors, or what responsibility for his death should fall on the shoulders of his parents.
Whatever happens in the aftermath of the Highland Park shooting, the focus will not be on the alleged killer because he is not Middle Eastern. Police described the suspect as “a male, white, 18 to 20 years old.” Had he been Middle Eastern, the issue would not be guns or gun control, it would be race, racism and stereotyping. That is the real tragedy of America’s war on crime.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com.