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Democrats Need to Address the Mass Shootings and Racist Violence that the Black Community Fears

By: Terrance Woodbury

Just this past May, a white supremacist, fueled by political extremism from the right, drove 200 miles to a Black shopping area in Buffalo with an assault weapon, killing ten Black innocents. 

The Buffalo supermarket shooting, and the Uvalde elementary school massacre just ten days later are horrifying examples of how significant gun-control measures are long overdue. And with rising levels of racist rhetoric combined with the easy access to military-style firearms, the fear of gun violence is especially prescient for Black Americans.   

In HIT’s latest BlackTrack poll, a monthly survey tracking the political attitudes of Black voters, “gun violence” was rated as the second biggest issue facing the U.S., only a few points behind “inflation.” It was also the top issue for Black voters over 50 and Black women. 

To address this ongoing crisis, Black voters overwhelmingly support sweeping gun-control measures to keep deadly firearms away from white supremacists and domestic terrorists. This includes strong approvals for a ban on assault weapons (81%), a ban on high-capacity ammunition (83%), and universal background checks (94%). Black voters’ support for these reforms even outpaces the majority support these measures enjoy among the general population. 

Furthermore, the latest survey showed that 63% of Black voters believe violence against Black Americans is increasing- and according to our data, “access to firearms” is among the top factors to blame. 

Our HIT focus groups similarly demonstrate Black voters’ fears of racial violence being inflicted upon them and their communities. As one Black man mentioned in a focus group just before the Buffalo shooting, “If one person’s spreading negativity on social media, especially if they’re racist, it’s going to trigger down for them to go attack innocent people.” Less than two weeks later, this man’s fear became reality. 

In solving this issue, the GOP has proved itself to be dangerously out of touch with the general public’s views, especially Black voters. Republicans have used everything in their power to block progress on an assault weapon ban and universal background checks, as well as down-play high-profile acts of white supremacist-fueled domestic terrorism. 

In contrast to the GOP, President Biden and Senate Democrats helped negotiate gun-control legislation in June which extended background checks and strengthened red flag laws to keep firearms away from terrorists. The vast majority of Republicans voted against this bill. 

Still, Democrats must continue highlighting this disconnect as a strategic and moral imperative. 

Our data shows this recent progress is simply not enough for Black voters- and especially not enough for the Black woman in one of our focus groups, who, even a year before the Buffalo supermarket shooting, told us she was afraid of going to get groceries because she feared mistreatment and violence based on her race. 

Hence, even though Biden’s progress on gun-control should be lauded, there is still far more to be done. Democrats need to call for a ban on assault weapons and clarify that gun control will be a central issue in their platform indefinitely. 

Furthermore, they need to continue to invest in programs that combat domestic terrorism and sound the alarm on GOP extremist rhetoric. That means not being afraid to call out people like Rep. Elise Stefanik and others in the GOP for promoting white nationalist rhetoric and re-doubling their efforts to prosecute domestic terrorists, from the Buffalo shooter to the perpetrators of the January 6th insurrection. 

Democrats cannot pass up the opportunity to address our nation’s mass shooting epidemic and the rising levels of racist violence the Black community fears. To protect Black lives and communities everywhere, they must continue to push for more progressive gun-control reforms.  

Terrance Woodbury is a founding partner at HIT Strategies, a public opinion research firm targeting young people and communities of color.