One of its few moments of insight arrives during the comic’s discussion of gun violence. In particular, he subtly gets at a key trend: how much the messaging on gun regulation, on the whole, has changed in recent decades.
“Shooting up schools is a white kid’s game. I hated school, too. It never occurred to me — kill everybody in school? It’s f***ing crazy,” Chappelle says.
Decades ago, when Congress actually passed an assault weapons ban (that, notably, was allowed to expire in 2004), the broad concern was around guns in the hands of minorities — black Americans, specifically. Our modern Congress finds itself paralyzed now that we’re increasingly facing a different dimension of the issue: white people’s guns and the consequences of their contested rights to have them.
To no one’s surprise, the backlash against this vision of protection was swift. In 1967, in response to the Panthers’ activities, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, named after Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford and which repealed a California law that permitted people to carry loaded firearms in public.
How distant all that seems now.
Take, for instance, Missouri, where, in the past two decades, “an increasingly conservative and pro-gun legislature and citizenry had relaxed limitations governing practically every aspect of buying, owning, and carrying firearms in the state,” writes Jonathan M. Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, in his new book, “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland.”
It’s the difference between vanquishing the specter of black criminality — seen in gangs and the weapons associated with them — and protecting the property of white conservatives.
Or put another way, the hypocrisy around gun ownership in America is a broadcast of something indisputably fundamental: the country’s struggle to bolster a racial hierarchy.
There was a nod to this knotty history at the Democratic debate in September, when Cory Booker, New Jersey’s junior senator and a presidential candidate, mentioned how even though gun violence had long afflicted areas of the state, it was often ignored until it crept into other, presumably whiter neighborhoods.
“We’re never going to solve this crisis if we have to wait for it to personally affect us or our neighborhood or our community before we demand action,” Booker said.
Chappelle’s solution, though?
“Every able-bodied African American must register for a legal firearm. That’s the only way they’ll change the law,” he says.
Chappelle may be (half-)kidding, but in his gag is also a history that reveals more about the politics of gun regulation in America than the words of most politicians.
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