The Real Social Debates Behind the Dylann Roof Execution: Race and Gun Control

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Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who killed nine black people and injured one during a Bible study in June 2015, received a death sentence this month for his crimes. The Jan. 10 verdict made Roof the first American to be sentenced to death for hate crimes, among other federal charges. But however symbolic, sentencing Roof to death is only putting a band-aid over the more complex issues which led him to act in the first place, and his execution will only increase the number of families mourning a death. Two societal problems nurtured Roof’s crimes: racism, because it gave him a reason to kill, and loose gun control laws, which gave him the means to carry out the murders. What is the point of executing him when the societal problems behind his actions cannot be solved because they have not been properly addressed for the past fifty years?

Some proponents of capital punishment see Roof’s sentence as a victory for society over hate and discrimination. However, some of his victims’ families felt that it was a hollow victory, because it cannot bring back the people who were killed. In a similar way, his death would not do anything to reverse the discrimination that exists in the country and is a superficial solution to a deeper problem.

Racism or any kind of discrimination is rooted in American culture, like it or not. Despite the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement and greater inclusiveness efforts, racism is still present within American society. It helped President Trump get elected in the most recent national election, as he targeted Hispanic and Muslim communities. A report issued by the FBI in 2015 found that 5,818 hate crimes (or discrimination incidents) were committed during 2015. Hate crimes are defined as “[a] criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” The report stated that 59.2 percent involved race or ethnicity, 19.7 percent were related to religion; 17.7 percent targeted people of specific sexual orientations and the remaining were divided among attacks on those with different gender identities and those with disabilities. This does not mean that a specific group was responsible for this, but that there will always be ways to discriminate against other people.

Hate crimes go beyond insulting a person; they harm a person psychologically and physically. Roof’s hate crime stands out as one of the deadliest in the contemporary United States.

Another problem related to Roof’s crimes is gun control. The Second Amendment of the Constitution states that the right of people to keep and bear arms cannot be infringed upon, but this seems outdated, as the United States is in a period of relative peace, and is an independent country (contrary to the time when the founding fathers signed the Constitution). The modern United States is the most powerful country in the world. In the years to come, the US should not worry about a war with another country (unless it is surpassed by another country as the new hegemon, or a future administration creates a war environment). On the other hand, if there is a need for bearing arms in the most powerful country in the world because of security fears, then it is not the greatest country in the world.

The Second Amendment gave Roof the right to bear arms, and governmental inefficiency allowed him to buy a gun. A failed background check allowed a gun shop to sell him the weapon. To purchase a gun, a person must wait three days for the FBI to gather enough evidence to allow blocking the purchase of a gun. However, the FBI could not find enough evidence to block Roof’s purchase, as the police department that arrested him did not answer the FBI’s inquiries about Roof’s detention. Once the three-day moratorium expired without any notification from the FBI, he was able to purchase a gun.

My solution to the racial problem is cliché, but we must value people for who they are and not because of their ethnicities or races or religions. The most important thing that I have learned while living in California is that our differences are small compared to our similarities. On gun control, I would suggest better communication among government agencies and more suspicion from gun retailers if the FBI does not have a final say in a gun purchase; they should block the purchase instead of allowing it to continue. Killing Roof will not kill the deep-rooted problems in this society, but his case is another wake-up call for us.

Sebastian Suarez is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at ssuarez1@uci.edu.

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