Gun Control

D.C. Prosecutions Highlight the Connection Between Gun Control and Racial Disparities

Why do progressives who worry about unequal justice support policies that are bound to make that problem worse?

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An anti-gun initiative in Washington, D.C., that was backed by Mayor Muriel Bowser is attracting criticism because it has focused on predominantly black parts of the city. The controversy over the program, which prosecutes residents for violating the federal ban on firearm possession by people with felony records, illustrates the tension between two major items on the progressive agenda: strengthening gun control and reducing racial disparities in law enforcement. Those goals are hard to reconcile because enforcing firearm laws has a disproportionate impact on African Americans.

Originally that was by design. Modern gun control laws have their roots in Southern states' efforts to disarm freedmen, depriving them of a constitutional right that Chief Justice Roger Taney, author of the Supreme Court's infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, warned black people would enjoy if they were recognized as citizens.

More recently, fear of armed black men has driven white politicians to support new gun restrictions. California's Mulford Act, a 1967 law backed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan (and the National Rifle Association), responded to the rise of the Black Panthers by banning the open carrying of loaded firearms. According to The Saturday Night Speciala 1973 book by investigative journalist Robert Sherrill, the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, passed at a time when politicians were alarmed by urban riots, aimed to "shut off weapons access to blacks, and since [legislators] probably associated cheap guns with ghetto blacks and thought cheapness was peculiarly the characteristic of imported military surplus and the mail-order traffic, they decided to cut off these sources while leaving over-the-counter purchases open to the affluent."

That law included prohibitions on gun sales to and purchases by several broad classes of people, including anyone who had been convicted of "a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year," meaning almost all felonies. The current federal ban, which applies to possession as well as sales and purchases, carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

On the face of it, the D.C. Code, which also prohibits gun possession by people who have been convicted of felonies, is even more severe, prescribing the same maximum penalty along with a mandatory minimum of one year. If the felony was violent, the maximum penalty is 15 years and the mandatory minimum is three years. But according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the average federal sentence for "felon in possession of a firearm offenders" is 64 months. Some of those defendants got enhanced penalties under the Armed Career Criminal Act, which applies to offenders with three prior convictions. But even excluding those defendants, the average sentence was nearly five years.

The decision to charge defendants in federal court, which in D.C. is made by Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, therefore exposes them to "harsher penalties compared to similar convictions in local court," The Washington Post notes. So when it turns out that black defendants are especially likely to be charged in federal court, progressives tend to get upset.

Bowser, who is herself African American, presumably was not driven by racial animus when she backed the D.C. initiative, which aims to reduce gun crimes by disarming and locking up people thought likely to commit them. But the racially disproportionate results were predictable, since one-third of African-American men have felony records (compared to 8 percent of the general population) and police and prosecutors were apt to concentrate on high-crime, predominantly black neighborhoods.

That is what happened, as federal prosecutors recently acknowledged. Instead of targeting illegal gun owners throughout the city, as originally advertised, the program has focused entirely on three police districts that overlap with Ward 5, which is 64 percent black; Ward 7 (92 percent black); and Ward 8 (89 percent black). By comparison, blacks represent 44 percent of the District's total population.

The program "exclusively—and now we know, by design—targets District residents of color via specific police districts," D.C. Council Member Charles Allen complained in a press release. "It is one more policy defaulting to harsh penalties on Black residents whose neighborhoods have historically been underinvested in and overpoliced. We must end this policy. It is taking us in the wrong direction."

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, an elected official who enforces the D.C. Code, was likewise appalled by the "discriminatory application" of federal gun charges. According to the Post, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said "he was unaware the initiative was being implemented in only certain parts of the District."

Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney, "criticized the program as implemented, saying he began a review when he took over the office in May and ended the program's geographic focus last week." While denying that the program is racially discriminatory, Sherwin said the "most equitable" approach would to make prosecutorial decisions based on each defendant's criminal history, including prior gun charges and convictions for violent crimes, rather than the neighborhood where he happened to be arrested. The program, Sherwin said, should be "designed to charge the most violent offenders with the most significant federal charges."

While a ban on gun possession by "violent offenders" might make sense, assuming their crimes were recent enough to suggest they still pose a threat to public safety, both the federal and D.C. laws sweep much more broadly than that. People convicted of violent crimes long ago—a youthful bar fight, say—can still be prosecuted for felonies if they keep guns for self-defense. And people convicted of nonviolent felonies, including drug offenses, also lose their Second Amendment rights.

Keeping in mind that one-third of black males in the United States have felony records, this policy permanently deprives 7 million African-American men of the constitutional right to armed self-defense—a right that is especially important in neighborhoods like the ones federal prosecutors have been targeting in D.C.—even when they pose no plausible danger to the general public. Within the District, we are talking about something like 150,000 black men who, should police catch them with a firearm, could be sent to prison for a year if they are prosecuted in D.C. court or five years if if they are prosecuted in federal court.

Is every one of these men a menace to public safety? Sherwin implicitly concedes that the vast majority are not. But the distinction between the unauthorized gun owners who should go to federal prison and the unauthorized gun owners who should not rests entirely in his hands. D.C. residents who illegally arm themselves for self-protection just have to put their faith in his ability to identify "the most violent offenders."

This is what gun control looks like in practice. When the New York Police Department tried to reduce violent crime by stopping pedestrians, questioning them, and patting them down for weapons, the overwhelming majority of the people subjected to such treatment were black or Hispanic. And when they were frisked, which happened about half the time, police almost never found guns and rarely discovered weapons of any kind. That track record contradicted the pretense that the pat-downs were based on the "reasonable suspicion" that the Supreme Court says the Fourth Amendment requires. But according to Michael Bloomberg, a leading gun control advocate who was New York's mayor when these stops skyrocketed, the whole point was not to find guns but to deter young men from carrying them to begin with.

Given these realities, it is more than a little puzzling that people who are concerned about racial disparities, potentially deadly police encounters, and the life obstacles created by felony records would advocate new gun controls and stronger enforcement of existing restrictions. If you worry about those problems, why support policies that are bound to make them worse?

NEXT: Cops Use Pictures of Adult Women To Trick Men Into Meeting for Sex, Arrest Them as Child Predators

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57 responses to “D.C. Prosecutions Highlight the Connection Between Gun Control and Racial Disparities

  1. Are crime statistics being racist AGAIN!
    MATH IS WHITE SUPREMACY!

      1. That was….

        Well, I was going to say “brilliant”. But no. That is clearly the wrong world.

        It was something, that’s for sure.

        I love a professor of being woke who comes on a show to explain why math is racist and has no idea how to even begin the discussion when asked “How is math racist?”

        And the leaps – “people used math to count slaves” and “people used statistics to claim that white people are smarter than black people”. It was too incoherent for a 9 year old to believe. Yet we have people in charge of education who fall for that nonsense?

        1. That it’s obviously stupid is the point. It’s like Big Brother insisting you see 5 fingers when 4 are being held up: It isn’t that the number of fingers is important, it’s that you be loyal enough to believe utter stupidity if told to.

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          2. Loyalty has nothing to do with it. As Vaclav Havel said of the greengrocer who puts a “Workers of the World Unite” sign in his window, the translation is: “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient.”

    1. Tryell resists arrest and pulls a gun on the police, who shoot him eleventy-five times. How many days will proggie white people riot under the guise of giving a fuck about black people?

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  2. Because they don’t actually care about ‘unequal justice’.

    DUH!

    1. “Why do progressives who worry about unequal justice support policies that are bound to make that problem worse?”

      Because if you can sell yourself as the solution to a problem that you make *worse*, you can make that sale *forever*.

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  3. Gee, who could have ever seen this coming?

    Oh, everybody who paid attention during stop and frisk?

  4. This is a no-brainer. Guns kill, amirite? Black lives matter more, amirite? This program focuses on removing black-life-killing guns. Let the damn honkeys get killed by their guns, this will Save Black Lives.

    Ipso Quo Muckey Fu! It’s fucking genius!

  5. D.C. arresting folks for felony firearms violations doesn’t really matter, because they just turn them loose.

    For example, 11 year old Davon McNeal was killed in the crossfire from a gang shootout back in July. Three of the men arrested for his murder were convicted felons, and had new firearms felony charges against them, but were all out of jail pending trial when they killed him.

  6. Black people also supported drug laws that disproportionately targeted them for decades. Many still do. None take responsibility.

    I’m starting to wonder if “Black Lives Matter” is some form of irony or satire.

  7. See, this is how you play the game. Instead of trying to defend or attack policies based on logic or reason or facts or statistics, just call your opponents racists. Forget all the bullshit about the Second Amendment – just dismiss the gun-grabbers as racists and cancel the fuckers.

    1. You mean like Donna Brazile?

      1. “Lord, what a stench!”

  8. “But the racially disproportionate results were predictable, since one-third of African-American men have felony records (compared to 8 percent of the general population) and police and prosecutors were apt to concentrate on high-crime, predominantly black neighborhoods.”

    Well the only way to cut through this Gordian knot is to just take guns away from everybody, right? Only way to reduce gun violence and not run afoul of discrimination, it seems.

    1. That is literally what the gun-grabbers believe.

  9. In defense of looting.

    When she finished it, back in April, she wrote that “a new energy of resistance is building across the country.” Now, as protests and riots continue to grip cities, she stakes out a provocative position: that looting is a powerful tool to bring about real, lasting change in society. The rioters who smash windows and take items from stores, she claims, are engaging in a powerful tactic that questions the justice of “law and order,” and the distribution of property and wealth in an unequal society.

    1. “Here, allow me to distribute some of my evilly hoarded copper and lead to you.”

    2. Somehow I think that this is an opinion that does not apply to one’s own pile of property and wealth.

      Since the rest of us are not given to taking by force, we won’t be showing up at her home to take all her stuff and burn the remains. But should the woke mob come to her neighborhood, I think she’d be singing a different tune.

    3. Ya know …. at some point, a society becomes so fucked that Burn Loot Murder are the only means available to get society’s attention … except it only gets that way if society is so fucked that you get the wrong kind of attention. Consider Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, one year before the invasion of Poland. Lots of people right now like to protest that Jews were easy victims because they had no guns. It is bullshit. They were victims no matter what they did, because society was already so fucked that nothing mattered.

      And we are not there. Blacks are the target of racism, but nothing like Kristallnacht against Jews. Society is not yet so fucked that there are no other means to get society’s attention. If Burn Loot Murder was instead Stand Sit Stay as practiced in the 1950s and 1960s, they’d get far more sympathy than Burn Loot Murder now. The actual police tactics would backfire, just as they did back then. They wouldn’t have near-civil war in the streets, Trump and Bernie would be laughed off the stage, and they’d get much better results a whole lot sooner.

      1. This kind of concern trolling is racist. (At least, it was until Joe Biden’s handlers started noticing that Burn Loot Murder was winning votes for Trump.)

      2. Ya know …. at some point, a society becomes so fucked that Burn Loot Murder are the only means available to get society’s attention … except it only gets that way if society is so fucked that you get the wrong kind of attention. Consider Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, one year before the invasion of Poland.

        I’m trying to figure out why you bring up Kristallnacht as an example. It was the Government doing the rioting and looting, not the Jews. It wasn’t an example of Jews trying to get attention.

  10. I’ll repeat what I wrote in the Roundup thread about Project Exile, a prior time the Feds tried this tactic:

    “It wasn’t [deprioritized because of] a lack of effectiveness. We are going to have to stop automatically giving cries of, “But that’s racist!”, a heckler’s absolute veto in public policy.

    Violent crime in DC, where the bodies are found, where the assault complaints are most frequently logged, is a SE DC and NE DC thing, right? That they are also majority African American is nice, but irrelevant to the goal of getting deadly weapons out of the hands of felons.

    Aside, I’m surprised it’s only a median of 5 years federal imprisonment. It was 8.5 years with good behavior and cooperation, back in the day. Moreover, the feds, anecdotally, liked sending those convicted of such crimes to detention centers/prisons far away from the cities these criminals were caught in. Accordingly, it became known that to catch one of these cases meant not seeing your boo, or your kids, for much of that decade. And that often led to amazing cooperation from the suspected weapon possessor.

    It’s true though. It did scoop up a lot more African Americans than their proportion of the population would otherwise indicate.

    1. We are going to have to stop automatically giving cries of, “But that’s racist!”, a heckler’s absolute veto in public policy.

      I pretty much interpret it as “I don’t have a real argument!” unless they can back it up pretty fast with some real evidence.

      “Racist” is like “fascist”. It means “Person whose policies or platform I disagree with”.

  11. Good job referencing the explicitly racist roots of gun control.

    1. Referencing the explicitly racist roots of gun control is racist!

      Q.E.D. MutherFcker. Q.E.D.

      Oh, and they switched sides since then. Now the racists are all on the other side.

      Q.E.D. #2.

      I can play this all day. I have a PhD in Proggie Studies. You probably aren’t even non-binary.

      1. I’m trinary, biotch.

  12. Is every one of these men a menace to public safety?

    Probably not. Is Muriel Bowser a menace to public safety?

  13. Mayor Muriel Bowser is a racist.
    Cancel her. The recall starts tomorrow.

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  15. ATF Form 4473 = Literacy test

    Background check fee = Poll tax

    GCA 1968 ban on inexpensive guns = disarming low-income households.

    Misdemeanor offenses which make one a prohibited possessor are those which black males are far more likely to have been convicted of than white males.

    Gun control, racist? Nahh . . . .

  16. I think a progressive would say that gun sales cause people to become criminals, so banning gun sales should actually reduce disparities. It’s a valid (but unsound) argument.

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  18. Instead of targeting illegal gun owners throughout the city, as originally advertised, the program has focused entirely on three police districts that overlap with Ward 5, which is 64 percent black; Ward 7 (92 percent black); and Ward 8 (89 percent black).

    And would those be the wards with the worst rates of gun violence? (The last time I heard about gun violence in upper Nortwest was when Carl Rowan shot that white boy who was swimming in his pool.)

  19. Per the Washington Post’s homicide database, there have been 129 homicides in the District so far in 2020: 57 in Southeast, 36 in Northeast, 30 in Northwest, and 4 in Southwest.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/local/homicides/#

    1. I’d like to see how that compares when you look at it on a per capita basis. There’s hardly any Southwest DC, and Northwest has a very large park.

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  21. Notionally, I’d figure the reason blacks were disproportionately punished for gun violations was because Democrat Cities are the locations where these gun control laws are passed. And there’s a disproportionate number of blacks in Cities. But the fact they’re explicitly targeting black neighborhoods on top of that? How revolting can this get?

    1. Maybe cause that’s where all the murder, death, kill occurs. Duh

  22. The solution is simple.

    In addition to other punishment make the gun possession ban for felons temporary, say For 10 years of felony free life.

    if the dipshit turns his life around, great. If not fuck him.

  23. Who the fuck cares about niggers getting arrested. I, a black man, wish more would be arrested. I have nothing to fear. The NIGGERS do.

    1. There was a black guy behind bars yelling, “I’m going on vacation, IIIIII’m goin on vacation.

      To which the jailer replied, “ The judge said you’re going to the can-coon.

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  25. Today’s term “Progressives” is entirely about governing and therefore “progressive” governing = authoritarian tyranny.

    Only when ALL people STOP “believing” (i.e. thinking) they are autonomous humans and are instead machines driven by authoritarian tyrant commands will “progressive” governing ever NOT be a self-defeating cause.

  26. Because Progressives want everybody equally oppressed by a totalitarian government, not equally able to defend themselves and their society.

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