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Gun-toters in La-La Land

BY Laura S. Washington

Obama touts his community organizing on Chicago's streets. He might recognize the blood of blacks and Latinos running in those streets

The conservative answer to America’s crime plague is to put more guns on the streets. If that’s not counterintuitive, I don’t know what is.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 rejection of Washington, D.C.’s gun ban is an antediluvian retreat into la-la land. Its decision to strike down the 32-year-old law has put America’s cities in jeopardy, and that should be anathema to progressives everywhere. Still, the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), is playing a telling game of hot potato.

The court rejected D.C.’s strict gun law by a 5-4 vote. In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin (Big Tony) Scalia wrote that the U.S. Second Amendment does not permit “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.” In other words, to keep America safe, we have to extend the right to bear arms from the military to pops having a beer on the couch in the living room.

Gun advocates are gleeful at the prospect of putting us in the crosshairs. The gun lovers want a firearm under every bed, in every drawer, in every holster in the nation.

“This is a very frightening decision for America,” Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said after the court’s decision. He’s dead-on.

America is the most heavily armed nation in the world. U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms – 90 guns for every 100 citizens, according to a 2007 survey by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies.

In 2005, more than 10,000 homicides – almost 68 percent of all murders – were firearm-related, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

That’s not enough slaughter for the People of the Gun. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into ensuring that our national Weapon of Mass Destruction is as accessible as a pack of gum.

The 217-year-old Second Amendment declares that “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.” I am no Constitutional scholar, but that spare passage does not read like an explicit embrace of individual gun ownership to me.

Many others agree. So listen for the “ching, ching,” sweet sound of cash as both sides of the debate scramble to file a flurry of legal challenges that will tie up the courts for years.

Scalia added that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings.”

What a relief. Just don’t stop at your local Mickey D’s for a Big Mac or run to the post office or the Safeway down the street. Then you’re on your own.

The People of the Gun don’t have to live in the cities that are desperate to stay safe. The mothers of Chicago’s Englewood, Miami’s Overtown and D.C.’s Anacostia are losing their boys and girls by the dozens to guns that are peddled at countless gun shows and gun shops outside city limits.

No matter. It’s just black folks. Nearly half of people murdered in the United States in 2005 were African Americans. While blacks make up about 13 percent of the nation’s population, they make up 49 percent of all murder victims, according to a recent U.S. Justice Department report. Guns are the weapon of choice.

Back to Obama’ s hot potato. While I don’t expect much from the NRA, we should expect more from the Big O. I expect more than his pathetic pandering in the name of protecting his presidential prospects.

Obama boasts about his stint as a community organizer on Chicago’s mean streets. So he might recognize the blood of black and Latino children running in those streets. He’s not too busy pandering to know that every single day, dozens of shootings fell urbanites across America.

Yet he essentially agreed with the Supreme Court.

“I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms,” he said soon after the ruling, “but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view.”

It’s a classic election year dodge.

Laura S. Washington, an In These Times contributing editor, is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago.

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