The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Ellis Henican during a Newsweek debate about gun control laws being racist. You can listen to the podcast here:
I’m for anything that has fewer of these military style weapons in the hands of civilians. Our current experiment of making America awash in guns at all times, at all places, for all people has been a disaster. I’m very slow about accusing people of racism. I’m for regulating those guns, and I don’t think I’m a racist, and I don’t think people who are supporting that are doing so out of some kind of a racial animus. Jeff is correct that there is more gun violence in the black community per capita, but those numbers are really interesting. For instance, states with the highest gun homicide rates are all the top five red states. Mississippi, my home state of Louisiana (a big gun place) Alabama, and Missouri. You have to go all the way up to number eight before you get to Illinois and New York, where I am right now. Where everybody’s hysterical about crime (I think is 32nd in the gun homicide rate). So, our stereotypes about this being a problem in urban areas, the numbers just don’t support it.
The courts don’t say that you can’t regulate the kinds of weapons that people have under the First Amendment. We’ve had court backing for all sorts of limitations on the sorts of weapons that people have. I mean, you can’t have a bazooka, you can’t have a hydrogen bomb, and for a period of years you couldn’t, have one of these assault weapons. So, there’s no conflict between the second amendment and the legislatures saying, “hey, there’s some kind of weapons that are just too crazy and too dangerous to put in the hands of civilians”. Let’s talk about how those guns end up in the hands illegally of citizens who use them for bad purposes. What happens in the vast majority cases is they are bought legally in states where they’re freely open to be sold. They come to my home state of Louisiana, they buy a whole bunch of guns in the Walmart, and then truck them up to other places where there are laws and sell them. So, while it’s illegal for them to end up there, the fact that guns are so readily available in so many parts of our country make it very difficult regulate those controls effectively state by state. My God, you’ve got so many guns, people are shooting each other all the time. We need get those guns out of those people’s hands. We shouldn’t make it easier, or more plentiful, or more powerful, or expand the people who can get it, or eliminate the background checks, or all the sensible gun safety regulations that I wish my gun lover friends would join me in.
Why don’t we talk about what we should be to be able to agree on. I mean, I’m never going to get you to agree that you shouldn’t have 50 guns in your house. But I hope I can get you to agree on a reasonable system of background checks, on a process where you have to show that you know how to use the gun in the same way we require a driver’s license, and some ability to safely operate the gun. We could stop thieving and interstate transporting by requiring smart guns where it only works if your fingerprint matches the actual gun, so if it’s stolen, it would just be a hunk of useless steel. We should at least be able to agree on those kind of basic safety measures. We’ve got a problem out there. And the absolutist, no-nothing-ever solutions are not serving us very well.
Ellis Henican is a New York Times-bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.