Race relations and guns a deadly mix in America
The latest killing of police officers again underlines the need for rational debate on gun control and better trust between citizens and law enforcement agencies
It says something about mass shootings in the United States that President Barack Obama has observed that the reporting on them and his comments have become routine. That was well before the multiple eruptions of the hyperactive social volcanoes of gun violence and racial tension over the past two weeks or so, the latest victims being three policemen and the former marine who killed them in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was later shot dead by police. Earlier, one African-American and then another were shot dead in street encounters with police in Baton Rouge and St Paul, Minnesota. Two days later, amid a wave of protest marches against police killings, a lone black sniper picked off 11 policemen assigned to watch over the march in Dallas, Texas, killing five of them. In negotiations with the police before he, too, was killed, the shooter cited his anger over police killings. In the latest tragedy, the killer’s motivation remains unclear.
As Americans turned once again to their president for answers, he strove not to further inflame the anger on either side, acknowledging that the prevalence of gun ownership in some poor neighbourhoods was a factor in tension between police and people they are supposed to protect. He said there was no justification for violence against law enforcement . . . “[Such acts] right no wrongs. They advance no causes.”
His indictment of firearms in poor relations between police and African-Americans plays into the debate he has led on gun ownership, one of the most divisive issues of his presidency. The country has enough of them for everyone to have one or easily get one, including military assault weapons. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution. But the gun lobby’s narrative of defence of right over wrong, good over evil and the law over lawlessness is flawed, as we are reminded by the latest shootings. The horror is compounded by a perception of growing risk that this kind of violence will manifest itself across the nation’s cities from north to south, and east to west.
It would be wrong to say America has made no progress at all in race relations, with African-Americans under 40 less likely to see racism as an obstacle to advancement, according to a survey. Meaningful progress has to overcome mistrust in the police and the courts that are supposed to protect citizens. That would leave one less reason for white or black Americans to own guns. Meanwhile, the anti-gun lobby can only press on with the campaign for at least some controls on military assault weapons and online sales, including background checks on buyers, which a few states have already adopted.