David A. Graham: The Second Amendment’s second-class citizens
The following summer, Yanez was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter by a jury of 12 men and women. His lawyers had argued, persuasively it seems, that the mere presence of a gun—even untouched, in the trousers of a man with a legal permit to carry it—was enough to exonerate the point-blank execution of an innocent black driver with a busted brake light.
It’s been four years now. The list of men and women killed by law enforcement seems to grow every month. So why can’t I stop thinking about Philando Castile?
Because I think few other chapters in the long epic of American police brutality so capture the hell into which we have all chosen to walk, arm in arm, under the banner of the Constitution. Castile was set up to die by a country that proclaimed his inviolable right to a gun, legally approved his right to carry, and then excused his killing by virtue of the fact that the object he’d been permitted to keep in his pocket could also be used as a precondition for his slaughter.
Castile was killed by a cop in a country where it is more dangerous for a black man to exercise his Second Amendment right than it is for a white man; that is undeniable. But he also died at the hands of a culture that, in celebrating widespread gun ownership, makes it all but inevitable that the United States has more armed police than similarly rich countries, more panicky officers, more adversarial police encounters, more officer shootings, and more civilian killings.
The morbid exceptionalism of American police violence cannot be explained by the amount of money the U.S. spends on police, or by the number of cops it employs. The U.S. spends less on police than the European Union does, as a share of GDP. Italy has more officers per capita than any state in the U.S., according to a comparison of FBI and Eurostat databases. Greece has more officers per person than Newark, New Jersey; Baltimore; and Chicago.
But none of those places shares our epidemic of police violence. American police kill about 1,000 people every year. Adjusted for population, that body count is five times higher than that in Sweden, 30 times higher than that in Germany, and 100 times higher than that in the United Kingdom.
Many differences between the U.S. and the European Union can partly explain these gaps, including our history of systemic racism and our porous social safety net. But without the mention of guns, no explanation for America’s record of police violence is complete.
Adam Serwer: The NRA’s catch-22 for black men shot by the police
Let’s begin with the simplest fact: Life is more dangerous in the presence of firearms—period. A 2013 study of U.S. states in the American Journal of Public Health found that for each percentage-point increase in gun ownership, the overall firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent, controlling for other factors. The correlation between gun availability and violent crime is statistically significant at every level of income. More money can spare Americans from the material and psychological ravages of poverty, but it does not buy an exception from the deadly social physics of guns.