It goes without saying that any Democratic presidential candidate will be better on gun control than any Republican. But as we often note in the context of healthcare, better than does not mean good. So I have to admit I’m a little disappointed in Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent remarks on gun violence (full disclosure–I’ve supported Sanders’ campaign financially; boldface mine):
Two days after a white man walked into a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people, the Vermont senator and presidential candidate took a cautious approach on gun control Friday when speaking with reporters after an event in Las Vegas.
“I think the people of Vermont understand that guns in Vermont are different than guns in Chicago or guns in Los Angeles,” Sanders said, telling the assembled journalists that he thinks “it is wrong” when people are “in some cases suicidal and in some cases homicidal” are “still being able to purchase guns.”
Sanders, saying his home state of Vermont has “zero gun control,” acknowledged that different parts of the country have different outlooks on guns.
“I think we need to have as serious conversation about that,” Sanders said. “I think rural America needs to understand what urban America feels. Urban America needs to understand the culture of rural America. But I think together we have got to go forward to make certain that people who should not be having these weapons do not have them.”
It’s worth noting Sanders has always been a solid vote on gun control, even though that doesn’t go over well in his state; in my opinion, he has called for stronger measures than Clinton has. But they have both used the rhetoric Sanders did. If you don’t understand why that rhetoric is problematic, allow me to translate:
Dear White people, I know you would never behave irresponsibly with your guns, but, in urban areas (evil cities full of those people), good people–whites and the ‘good’ blacks and browns–are threatened by guns. So we have to do something to help them.
It’s better than the Republican answer (e.g., pastors and school teachers should gun up–even though teachers are union thugs. Or something).
Here’s the problem with Clinton’s and Sander’s rhetoric: racist murderer Dylann Roof is from Lexington County, South Carolina–which has a non-urban population density (less than 1,000 people/square mile). Urban areas do have problems with guns–guns that are usually bought in non-urban areas (cities, such as D.C., often have strict gun control). In light of recent events, it’s worth noting that South Carolina is a ‘crime gun’ exporter.
There is a gun culture problem–a largely white one, as gun control policies are, for the most part in the U.S., driven by whites, not minorities. And gun ownership isn’t just a cultural ‘way of life’ (e.g., hunting), it’s also motivated by fear of black and brown people.
If we’re going to have ‘serious conversations’, then gun control–and the role racism plays in those policies–needs to be discussed, not swept under the rug.