Can a Comedian Solve America’s Gun Problem?

Like most folks, I really enjoy a good laugh. Comedians will quickly say that laughter will help you cope with even the most serious issues. I agree. It’s been several weeks since the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. News coverage was beginning to get spotty until other shootings happened in West Texas and Mobile, AL. Still there’s no real action that can be seen as a solution . . . unless you take Dave Chappelle seriously. More on Dave later.

Mass shootings always tend to dominate headlines and then slowly die down. The usual coverage tends to center around questions like “what motivated the shooter” and “are we going to see movement on gun control from Congress”. Then, finally, there’s an article about what each of us could do to stop mass shootings.

But what can we do? We continue to return to the see something, say something approach as a practical answer. We talk about background checks, banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines. We delve into conversations about mental illness and the stronghold the NRA’s lobby has on Washington, D. C. (a mental illness of its own, in my view). But we always land at the same place – what each of us can do. And that presents a separate problem.

For some, the individual response is more guns. We’ve heard it before – “the only way to stop a bad gun with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. We entertain the idea that a viable solution is arming teachers and the clergy if the shooting was in a school or a church. We talk about race relations in America if the victims are people of color. We see an increased number of guns in open carry states. We talk about mental health if the shooter had any history with a nexus to instability or trauma.

Since 2011, America’s political rhetoric has been stoking fear and, more recently, contributing to the actions of active shooters. The constant focus on immigration has certainly pitted us against each other. That fear is believed to have led to the actions of the El Paso shooter. In all fairness, that rhetoric doesn’t always lead to mass shootings. At times it seems like people simply call the police when they see people of color doing everyday things. Could that be the result of such divisive rhetoric? What’s interesting is whether those same people would say something when they observe their family, friends and neighbors involved in activity that threaten or jeopardize the safety of the public at large.

Let’s take a trip down the see something, say something road for a moment. A friend and former federal law enforcement colleague told me just this past weekend that parents collecting tickets at the gate of a Mobile, AL high school Friday night football game did just that. They saw (and heard) a teenager planning to get a gun and fire into the crowd watching the game. They told the police. The police didn’t think the teen was a danger. Five people are in critical condition and one dead.

I’m reminded of another time when I personally witnessed law enforcement officers’ failure to respond to a valid reported threat. The warning signs were there . . . and experienced special agents with Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), failed to respond. In that case, the threat was a white male over 50 years old and the intended targets were Hispanic workers gathered in a Home Depot parking lot hoping to be selected for work that day. ICE Office of Legal Counsel received a call from the 50-year-old living near the store. He told counsel that he’d continuously called the ICE office about illegal aliens at the Home Depot and not received any response from ICE. He went on to say that if ICE didn’t come out to the lot and disperse the workers he would take one of his guns and do it himself. Counsel’s office saw this as a clear threat and reported the information to Homeland Security Investigations special agents. Homeland Security Investigations special agents ignored the threat that day. It was late afternoon and, fortunately, the group of day workers left before shots were fired.

These two incidents indicate how apathy by law enforcement can contribute to mass shootings becoming the new norm in American society.

Guns, and the use of them, isn’t a new phenomenon in America. The debate over the proliferation of guns isn’t new either. What America really needs is a new response to mass shootings. But how do we do that?

First, each of us must be willing to say something even if we’re talking about family and friends. Second, when someone sees something and says something, law enforcement must be responsive. Finally, and this is where Dave Chappelle resurfaces, people of color have to take an active role in the debate on guns in America.

While it might seem odd that a former federal agent would ever consider a comedian’s joke as a realistic answer to the gun debate, simply put, it makes sense. I agree with him when he says that people of color, especially African Americans, have been the nation’s answer to a number of issues in the past. Why should this be different? It’s time African Americans stand up to our responsibility to actively address this issue.

Essentially, all Americans want an answer to gun violence. Any level of gun control has always been the problem. The NRA won’t budge, Congress won’t turn down lobby money and everyday Americans won’t give up their guns. Here’s what Chappelle says we should do – every African American that can get a permit for a gun should get a permit . . . and exercise your right to carry that gun. One can conclude that he also supports every African American living in an open carry state should begin to open carry. You’re an American, it’s your constitutional right.

And we all know what happens then. Here’s how America will respond. The fear of guns in the hands of people of color will strangle the country and spark change. America will respond in the same fashion as they have with immigration. The current windfall of legislation and executive orders seeking measurable change in the immigration arena is a response to the browning of America. When the country’s population of color begins to arm itself in lockstep with the current majority population, we will see an onslaught of legislation, executive orders and enforcement measures to mitigate the resulting fear. America will not stand for an armed minority-majority.

Thank you, Dave Chappelle.

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