Yesterday, I read Juan Williams in the WSJ, Race and the Gun Debate. Williams is looking at where the gun problem is in the United States. He notes, “Gun-related violence and murders are concentrated among blacks and Latinos in big cities. Murders with guns are the No. 1 cause of death for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34.”
There are probably as many or more guns per capita or even per household where I live in not-quite-suburban Ohio than in the city neighborhoods where, “In 2009, for example, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 54% of all murders committed, overwhelmingly with guns, are murders of black people.” I find discomfort in looking at race like this. There are black people where I live, though most of the black families who have lived here for generations are so integrated and intermarried in the white community, only the callow think of them in terms of race. Those who move out here are something else and can bring city problems with them. This is a very white area and the incident of gun violence of last year put the whole community in shock. Therefore, people here rarely talk about banning guns as anything society needs to think or worry about.
Williams’ assertions are supported by “Gun Deaths Shaped by Race in America” in the Washington Post last week. That defines gun violence by the statistics that show that blacks are shot by others and whites shoot themselves. That piece seems to play with the data and implies a virtual holocaust of white suicide; the author is obviously pro-gun control. However, I link to it because the first visual makes Juan William’s point so dramatically.
Mid-essay, Williams shifts focus to the real problem of black America, which is out-of-wedlock births.
Almost 50 years ago, when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, the national out-of-wedlock birthrate was 7%. Today it is over 40%. According to the CDC, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for white children was just 2% in the 1960s. Today it is 30%. Among black children, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has skyrocketed from 20% in the 1960s to a heartbreaking 72% today. The Hispanic out-of-wedlock rate, which has been measured for a much shorter period, was below 40% in 1990 and stands at more than 50% as of the 2010 census.
Williams thinks that for white America, the gun debate is about what he dismissively calls abstractions. He wants gun control, but not because he is unaware that guns are merely a symptom of the real problems of black America. He seems to suggest the president knows this, too. Guns are a symptom of what is wrong, not really the problem. Maybe as with a cold virus, people figure the illness will be gone if the symptoms are lessened. It’s really like taking analgesics for cancer. The proposed solution amounts to wishful thinking, that making guns illegal will remove them from the neighborhoods that are so sorely troubled.
The root problem is familial; it is a problem of males without fathers. That problem manifests itself in the concomitant problem of out-of-wedlock pregnancy among women. That was what Daniel Moynihan saw when the problem was far smaller. In his book, Coming Apart , Charles Murray says those problems are growing among whites, but that it is strictly a class problem. Recall, Murray doesn’t touch race in that book. Juan Williams doesn’t go into it, but I’ll bet for blacks this is a problem of class, as well. If minorities are less likely to be middle class and less likely to live in peaceable neighborhoods, their family structure, or lack of it, is the problem and it is a compounding problem. It has an effect on many aspects of national life, including the problem of government spending. Do you suppose it has anything to do with problems like this?
In a sense, the defense of marriage should be inarguable based on the statistics about family structure and the poverty rate. That marriage, that intact families, can be a matter of life or death also seems evident. What we can do to change, to improve that problem, I am still open to suggestions.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?