We fail to view gun violence through a racial equity lens

April 1, 2021
Boston Globe Letter to the Editor
David J. Harris & Katy Naples-Mitchell

Who counts when it comes to “mass shootings” and gun reform?

The March 24 editorial “A new window for gun reform” misconstrued the crisis of gun violence. In particular, we take issue with the statement that “the last mass shooting incident in a public place was in March 2020.”

Over the past year, if one defines a mass shooting as one in which there are multiple victims, there have been hundreds, more than in recent years, including at restaurants, gas stations, bowling alleys, and grocery stores. However, few have captured the national spotlight. Nearly 50 percent of these unprecedented yet unnoticed mass shootings have targeted Black people and communities of color. Evidently they don’t register when, as professor Charles Ogletree pointedly questioned more than 30 years ago, we “expect them to happen there.”

According to data released in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young Black men and teens are killed by guns at a rate 20 times their white counterparts. Black women and girls are also at highest risk: four times more likely to be killed than white women and girls. Stricter gun control laws won’t solve this public health crisis.

To “dramatically reduce gun violence in the United States,” we need a racial equity lens. Empirically supported public health solutions include community-led violence intervention and prevention, living-wage jobs and basic income payments, lead abatement, cleaning and greening neighborhoods, improving vacant lots and abandoned buildings, permanent community-based trauma services and mental health care, and direct investment in poor neighborhoods.

Yes, limit the availability of weapons of war. But to achieve lasting reductions, we need a community-led public health approach focused on the root causes of violence: white supremacy and systemic racism, toxic masculinity, untreated trauma, despair and mental illness, and economic precariousness.
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