Although the details are still coming in, it is clear that nine people were killed at the historic African American Emanuel AME church in South Caroline – a church that has deep ties to the civil rights movement. A suspect, reportedly identified as 21 year old white male Dylann Storm Roof, is in police custody. News reports allege that Mr. Roof made racist remarks during the shooting, and that a picture on facebook shows Mr. Roof wearing flags from apartheid-era Rhodesia and South Africa, and posing near a Confederate flag. Within hours, the calls for more gun control began. Racism and gun control are the problems here – more gun control is not the solution.
This instance of mass murder is beyond tragic, and my heart goes out to the families of the victims. I don’t know of sufficient words to express that sympathy, as nothing can undo the harm that has been inflicted. I would say more on that point, but I lack the words.
As an African American (who has experienced racism throughout my life with no signs of it ending), I find this crime particularly troubling. Acts of violence that target victims based upon their skin color (or other such trait) are attacks that demonstrate that everyone of that skin color has a target on their back, purely by virtue of having been born with skin of that color. It concerns me that my children could find themselves victims of such an attack at any time. While the country is a better place than it was 50 years ago, we still have a long way to go. I know with certainty that there are people who would harm or kill me because I’m an African American, and many more who would (and do) discriminate in more subtle ways. At the same time, the risk of such an attack is not that high for me personally as I go about my day. I know I am far more likely to die in a car accident. While I hope that I never face a racist attacker, I am glad to have a pistol in my holster for self defense should I find myself facing such an attack. I see that as being no different than having a fire extinguisher at home, despite the fact that I don’t expect to have a house fire tomorrow.
The church that was the scene of yesterday’s terrible crime is no stranger to racially motivated violence:
Born within the violence of America’s racist past, “Mother Emanuel,” the longest-standing African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the South and one of the oldest in the country, was an early-19th-century center for the black struggle. Since 1816, the church has witnessed its members hanged for resisting slavery, its first sanctuary burned to the ground by a white mob, its gatherings banned by official laws. . .
As to how the murders yesterday unfolded we have this information, according to news reports:
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Pinckney, told MSNBC that a survivor told her the gunman reloaded five times during the attack despite pleas for him to stop. “He just said, ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country,” Johnson said.
The same basic statement, that the shooter stopped and reloaded five times, and that there was time for the victims to plead for him to stop, is echoed in many news articles. It tells us a lot about how this tragedy could have ended differently. In this case, just as in other mass murders, there was time for the victims to understand what was happening, and for some of them to try and stop the killer. Here, at least according to the initial news reports, words were used to try and stop him. The killer was not amenable to reason, which is not surprising as most mass murderers do not desist upon request. While we will never know with certainty what could have been, the great many cases of successful armed self defense tell us that armed citizens can and do stop would-be murderers. I think it is quite likely that an armed citizen or two would have been able to stop the killer before he took nine lives, especially given all the time he had to talk and reload between killings, had there been such an armed citizen present.
The early gun control laws were enacted to disarm African Americans after the end of slavery. While some African Americans were able to arm themselves for self defense, gun control laws continued to leave many defenseless for decades. Even in more recent years, modern gun bans have disproportionately affected African Americans and other minorities.
Beyond their racist beginnings, gun control laws simply do not work to stop gun-related crime. Even with the strictest gun control, criminals who want a gun will get one or use another tool just as effectively to cause harm. Gun control leaves victims defenseless, and even in cases where neither the victim nor attacker have a gun, results in the attacker generally having the advantage.
Against that backdrop, what I cannot begin to understand how so many of my fellow African Americans support gun control (especially those who personally benefit from armed security). Given the history of police and government turning a blind eye to violence against minorities (and also directly committing that violence), clamoring for gun control is beyond irrational. What is needed is more guns in the hands of potential victims of racially motivated violence.
Yesterday’s tragic murders follow in a long line of wrongs committed against the people who call Mother Emmanuel their spiritual home, and against human decency as a whole. Until and unless there is a dramatic change in human nature such humans no longer harm each other (which is unrealistic), passing gun control laws will not stop killing such as these. The only viable solution to a human bent on mass murder is another armed human with the right tool to physically stop the would-be murderer before it is too late. For that reason, I encourage everyone (especially those who may be targeted by hate-filled killers) to arm themselves for self defense.
Note: The suspect named in this case is presumed innocent of all charges, as our legal system is built upon the principle that all defendants are innocent until and unless proven guilty. That important principle should be respected, especially in the most terrible of cases, such as this very case.