March 15, 2022 Blog

Gun Violence in the Black Community: Myths and Facts

Black people in the United States bear the brunt of the gun violence epidemic. Here are just a few facts to highlight the disproportionate impact gun violence takes on Black communities: 

  • Each day on average, 30 Black Americans are killed by guns and more than 110 experience non-fatal injuries. 
  • Black Americans experience 10 times the gun homicides of white Americans. 
  • Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to be shot and killed by police as white Americans.
  • Black Americans experience 18 times the gun assault injuries of white Americans.
  • 68 percent of Black Americans or someone they care for has experienced gun violence.

This disparity is the result of centuries of oppression and disinvestment. Gun homicides, assaults, and police shootings all occur at a disproportionate rate in historically underfunded communities. This underfunding is the result of past racist policymaking and perpetuates long-standing racial inequities. 

Disproportionate rates of gun violence have also been exploited by the gun lobby and other bad actors who have pushed dangerous myths to spread fear and to advance a pro-gun agenda rather than invest in proven solutions like community violence intervention and victim support. Two of these myths are particularly pernicious. 

Myth 1: “Black-on-Black Crime

The racist myth of so-called “Black-on-Black crime,” suggests that there is a rampant crime problem within Black communities. It perpetuates the myth that intraracial violence is specific to the Black community and that Black people are inherently violent—a myth that has been used to justify the mistreatment of Black people in the United States for centuries. 

The suggestion that Black people are predisposed to violence dates as far back as 1896 when it was included in the first nationwide report on racial crime data. That report did not go unnoticed or unchallenged, as Jameelah Nasheed points out in this column: “[In response to that report, W.E.B.] Du Bois made two points that we’re still grappling with more than 120 years later: the different ways in which Black and white Americans are treated by our justice system, and the relationship between crime and the threat of poverty due to systemic racism.”

Data shows a clear connection between poverty and violent crime. And in the United States, poverty is inextricably linked to anti-Black racism and white supremacy. Because of centuries of racist policymaking and disinvestment, more Black people than white people live in poverty in the United States, but research has shown that Black and white people in poverty commit crimes at the same rate. In general, white people commit crimes against other white people at about the same rate as Black people do against other Black people. Despite the facts, no one ever decries the “white-on-white crime” problem.   

The Black-on-Black crime myth is not just inaccurate, it is harmful. Beyond perpetuating anti-Black racism, it is used as a tool to dismiss or distract from calls for justice from the Black community. It is especially common in the aftermath of police shootings of Black people and in response to the rallying cry that Black lives matter. In this context, the myth serves to not only discredit the calls for justice and shift blame to the Black community, but also, at its worst, to justify police violence. As Jameelah Nasheed writes, “To call the fallacy of Black-on-Black crime anything other than anti-Black racism is an injustice in itself.” Read her full column on the Black on Black crime myth here.

Myth 2: Guns Make you Safer

The gun lobby claims that having a gun will make you safer. This myth isn’t unique to the Black community, but in recent years it has been used by militia and other gun groups to specifically target Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. These groups suggest that Black people must be armed to protect themselves because they can’t trust law enforcement and/or because they must be ready to defend themselves against racially-motivated violence. But the truth is, having a firearm actually increases an individual’s risk of injury or death. Defensive gun use is rare when compared with harmful gun use. It is far more likely that a firearm will be used in a suicide or unintentional shooting or that it will be stolen than that it will be effectively used for self defense. If more guns meant more safety, the United States would be the safest place in the world. 

The good news is we know what works to prevent gun violence. For decades, Black leaders, community members, and local officials have been driving effective solutions to gun violence like violence interruption programs that engage people with lived experience to mediate conflicts and mentor young people who are most likely to be victims of perpetrators of gun violence. These programs need data and sustained funding to continue and expand their reach. 

— Kristen Ellingboe is Communications Manager at the Alliance