By Hilary O. Shelton
Special to Frost Illustrated
Courtesy of the Fort Wayne NAACP
All-too easy access to guns and the resulting gun violence are a major problem in the United States today. This is especially true in communities of color. In the first 100 days since the horrors of the Sandy Hook mass shooting on December 14, 2012, more than 3,000 Americans were killed by guns. Based on data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, shooting deaths will likely rise to 33,000 in 2015 and surpass the number of traffic fatalities, which are predicted to be around 32,000 that year. The leading cause of death among African American teens, ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun-related homicide. African American children and teens were less than 15 percent of the total child population in 2008 and 2009 but accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun deaths. Black males ages 15-19 were eight times as likely as white males of the same age and two-and-a-half times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun related homicide in 2009.
Given the disproportionate damage gun violence is having on our communities, the NAACP has advocated for a number of sane, sensible laws which will do a lot to eliminate the damage caused by gun violence. We are pleased to support several proposals which will be considered by the U.S. Senate as soon as the week of April 8, 2013, when the Senators return to Washington from their two-week in-state work period. Specifically, the Senate will consider measures to:
• Require universal background checks on all gun sales: To date, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has prevented nearly 1.8 million criminals and other prohibited purchasers from buying guns; yet currently as many as 40 percent of all guns are sold to individuals without the benefit of a background check due to a loophole in the law;
• Ban military-style semi automatic assault guns: Assault weapons are military-style weapons of war, made for offensive military battlefields. They are weapons of choice for gangs, drug dealers, police murderers and mass killers and have no place in civilized society.
• Ban high capacity ammunition clips: High capacity ammunition clips allow shooters to shoot as many as 100 bullets before stopping to reload. In the cases of numerous mass shootings, killers were stopped only when they were forced to pause to reload their weapons ; and
• Enact tough new criminal penalties for straw purchasers and gun traffickers: Some straw purchases are small: A person buys one or two guns for a convicted criminal, or someone with a history of mental illness or domestic abuse, who would never get through a background check. Other purchases are larger: Gun traffickers recruit buyers with clean records to assemble arsenals to sell on the black market or transfer to drug cartels. Under current law, there is no specific statute that makes it illegal to act as a straw purchaser of any size of firearms.
The NAACP strongly supports safe, sane and sensible efforts to curb the plague of gun violence which is causing such pain to our men, women, children, families, neighborhoods and communities. We strongly urge all Members of Congress to support these crucial life-saving proposals.
Hilary O. Shelton is director of the Washington Bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
This article originally appeared in our April 10, 2013 issue.