Regular reporting and commentary from the inner rings of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Primary interests: Cleveland/NEOhio regional public affairs; African American politics, commerce, culture and society; public education; national and international affairs; Cavaliers∫Browns.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Serendipity: Guns, Culture and Race
I chanced upon two unexpected
places in the last 24 hours: one in the flesh and the other virtual. Together
they offer a glimpse into America in the Age of Obama.
Just a Hobby, or Preparing for the Unthinkable?
I returned last night from a
business trip to southwest Ohio. It was the first time I had been in that part
of the state for a while and it left me with some fresh impressions. One was
how metropolitan Columbus has expanded. It’s one thing to read about population
growth in central Ohio. It’s quite another thing to see the evidence of it.
A deeper impression was made
by a stop at Cabela’s, the large outdoor retailer that has just opened a shop
in Delaware County’s Polaris Center, just north of Columbus. We had been
surprised to notice the store as we stopped for gas on our way downstate. Turns
out the Michigan retailer had just opened its first store within the week.
Hunting, fishing, and camping
aficionados are Cabela’s prime market. To these eyes camouflage attire was more
prevalent among Cabela patrons than Ohio State insignia.
It was sobering to see the
steady stream of customers heading towards the weapons area. As I waited while
my law enforcement friend shopped, my eyes wandered over some of the merchandise
displays. Especially fascinating was the looping video that showed a wounded
fowl decoy luring affiliated prey into easy range.
I felt to some degree as if I
had slipped into an alien world. I left with an overwhelming sense of how
difficult it will be to enact substantial gun reform in this country any time
I happen to agree with gun
rights advocates who argue that creating a safer America depends on changing
I believe that the Second
Amendment reference to the right of the people to bear arms has been hijacked
by conservatives and the Supreme Court in just the same way the Fourteenth
Amendment was once undermined to justify segregation and Jim Crow laws. Despite
correlation between high fire-death rates and high levels of gun ownership,
“…income, development, and culture appear to drive gun-crime rates more than
simple gun availability.”
Amendment reads, from beginning to end: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to
the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear
Arms, shall not be infringed.” Strict constructionists have a duty to ask
themselves why — if the right to bear arms is absolute — the first part of the
Amendment is even there.
violent strains of American society may run even deeper than its racist ones,
and we know how tenacious the latter are. [See the next post.] Since these strains
go hand in hand even now, securing a fuller understanding the Second Amendment
may be even more of a long-term battle than the painful and still ongoing struggle
to create a more equitable society.
Many of my
learned black friends see this arming of America as an inchoate step in the
formation of a rogue Militia that will emerge as a last line of defense
against the browning of America.
• • •
In the meantime,
in checking my online New York Times account, I happened across a letter to the
editor from a Cleveland State law professor, Lolita Buckner Inniss.
She was commenting on a guest op-ed column by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Shopping While Black: Racism in Everyday Life”.
Coates’ column was prompted by an event occurring at his Manhattan neighborhood
deli, where the Oscar winning actor Forest Whitaker was stopped and frisked
last month by an employee on suspicion of shop-lifting. As Coates noted,
“Whitaker had stolen nothing. On the contrary, he’d been robbed.”
Coates himself was recently called “the single best writer on the subject
of race in the United States” whose work is defined by a distinct blend of
eloquence, authenticity, and nuance.” [See more on Coates here.]
contains this passage, which certainly applies in spades to Cleveland:
York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining,
blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a
wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the
past 20 years. …
much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is
given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of
America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the
“middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only
half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were
never meant to be part of the American story. … It is worth considering the
messaging here. It says to black kids: ‘Don’t leave home. They don’t want you
around.’ It is messaging propagated by moral people.”
ago, in the midst of great civil unrest, the Kerner Commission
found that “[O]ur nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one
white--separate and unequal.”
The United States
used to be described as a melting pot. In recent years, the prevailing
construct has become something more akin to a tossed salad. When we consider
the ingredients of our violent culture, our love of guns, and our unsolved
racial issues, we may actually be more of a witches’ brew.
a visiting professor of women’s studies at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY.
National Advisory Commission On Civil Disorders. See summary of report here. For a
quick overview, go