Chicago’s new police superintendant, Garry McCarthy, made remarks that angered gun rights advocates earlier this month, when he referred to federal gun laws as “government-sponsored racism.” He was speaking at St. Sabrina, a liberal black church on Chicago’s South Side, in a neighborhood that has struggled with gun violence for years. The pastor is passionately in favor of limiting gun rights. So it’s clear that McCarthy was preaching to the choir when he said:
“So here’s what I want to tell you. See, let’s see if we can make a connection here. Slavery. Segregation. Black codes. Jim Crow. What did they all have in common? Anybody getting scared? Government sponsored racism. I told you I wasn’t afraid [of race]. I told you I wasn’t afraid.
“Now I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of the African American history in this country, and tell me if I’m crazy: Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our black and brown children.”
He added that in the debate over gun laws, there needs to be “a recognition of who’s paying the price for gun manufacturers being rich and living in gated communities.”
As the Sun Times and the Huffington Post point out, the response to McCarthy’s speech was swift and vitriolic. Writing on the Illinois State Rifle Association’s website, Richard Pearson said, “After several minutes of gratuitous self-promotion, McCarthy launched into a racially charged tirade in which he accused the NRA and law-abiding gun owners of participating in a government-sponsored program to kill black people. Like most of you, we believe an assertion such as McCarthy’s is too nutty to dignify with a response.”
McCarthy provided a more measured statement late last week, saying that “strong gun laws against illegal firearms are critical in order to maintain public safety and private rights.” He did not mention Pearson’s comments or the larger controversy.
McCarthy’s words, which he certainly could have thought out better, nevertheless represent his overall sentiment that gun laws need to be tightened. Given his history in Newark, he probably has many stories that support this assertion. He should – have spoken more thoughtfully, before asserting that federal gun laws are “government-sponsored racism,” which regardless of his true feelings, is a much more complicated issue that should not be tackled in a sound-byte by Chicago’s new police superintendant. But it’s also easy to understand why he ignored the responses that gun rights advocates threw his way.