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“The Disarm Hate Act Would Help Prevent Hate-Motivated Gun Violence”
On August 26, 2023, an individual who authorities have described as hate motivated drove to a Dollar General store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida, to target Black people. Armed with an AR-15-style rifle emblazoned with swastikas, a Glock handgun, and wearing a bulletproof tactical vest, the individual fatally shot three Black people while shouting racial slurs. Manifestos the shooter left behind have led the Department of Justice to investigate the shooting as a hate crime and prompted the Jacksonville sheriff to say, “Plainly put, this shooting was racially motivated and he hated Black people.” Horrific acts of violence such as this have become all too common, as weak gun laws and easily accessible firearms allow hate-motivated individuals to terrorize entire communities, resulting in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation’s history. From an LGBTQI+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, to a Walmart frequented by Hispanic shoppers in El Paso, Texas, firearms have become a favorite tool of hate-motivated offenders looking to harm, intimidate, and psychologically damage individuals and communities based on their identities. With the best available data showing significant increases in the numbers of hate crime incidents across all group categories,* policymakers can no longer wait to act.
To respond to the growing tide of violent hate crimes and prevent these tragedies before they happen, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) and Maxwell Frost (D-FL) reintroduced the Disarm Hate Act on September 13, 2023. The Disarm Hate Act would prohibit individuals convicted of violent misdemeanor hate crimes from purchasing, possessing, or accessing firearms, helping prevent acts of hate-motivated gun violence.
By the numbers: Hate crimes in the United States
- While likely an extreme undercount, the most recently available FBI data show that law enforcement reported 10,840 hate crime incidents in 2021. This is the highest number of hate crimes ever reported to the FBI in a single year, with an average of 30 hate crimes reported per day.
- From 2020 to 2021, reported hate crimes increased by an estimated 11.6 percent, marking the fourth year in a row this number has trended up. Of the incidents reported, 64.5 percent of victims were targeted because of their race, ethnicity, or ancestry; 15.9 percent were targeted because of their sexual orientation; and 14.1 percent were targeted because of their religion.
- Additional figures from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest the actual number of hate crimes committed in 2021 could be as high as 375,395, with an average of 1,027 hate crime victimizations per day.**
- Hate crimes are uniquely devastating for victims and communities. Because hate crimes target individuals or communities on the basis of perceived or actual characteristics, these crimes often result in deep psychological distress for both the victim and members of the group that was targeted.
Risk factors and circumstances surrounding hate-motivated individuals’ access to guns
- Firearms play an integral role in the identities and missions of hate-motivated individuals and white supremacist extremist organizations, often as the tool through which power can be asserted.
- Research indicates that people who commit hate crimes often continue or escalate their behavior, moving from relatively minor crimes and acts of hate to more serious and violent conduct. This tendency to escalate violence makes these individuals’ access to firearms uniquely dangerous.
- Hate-motivated offenders have used guns to commit some of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
- Even when hate-motivated offenders do not fire guns, they consistently use them to threaten, intimidate, and humiliate their victims. Research suggests that more than 10,300 hate crimes involving the use or threatened use of a firearm take place in the United States every year, averaging more than 28 gun-related hate crimes per day.
The Disarm Hate Act: A policy recommendation
- In at least 28 states, individuals convicted of a violent misdemeanor hate crime are still able to buy guns.
- Current hate crime laws often fail to prevent bias-fueled tragedies before they occur. The Disarm Hate Act would address this shortcoming by proactively preventing individuals with prior violent hate crime misdemeanors from legally accessing firearms
Policymakers and courts have continually upheld laws that prevent individuals from accessing firearms when they have an elevated propensity for violence. Given the seriousness of hate crimes and their unique tendency to escalate, legislation barring individuals convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from accessing guns would be particularly effective in preventing hate-motivated gun violence before it happens.
- The Disarm Hate Act is a reasonable step toward addressing hate-motivated gun violence because individuals with a demonstrated and higher risk of violence toward marginalized communities should not be able to purchase deadly weapons legally.
The United States is experiencing an enormous increase in hate-motivated violence that shows no signs of stopping. Policymakers must act now and pass the Disarm Hate Act to protect all communities and individuals from hate-motivated gun violence.
* According to the FBI, a hate crime is a crime committed on the basis of a victim’s perceived or actual race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or disability.
** Comparison of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data shows that from 2015 to 2019, the total number of incidents reported by law enforcement to the FBI UCR Program were only 3 percent of the number of hate crimes reported through the NCVS. Assuming the FBI UCR Program captures, on average, only 3 percent of all victimizations each year and based on its reporting of 10,840 hate crime incidents in 2021, the author estimates that as many as 375,395 hate crimes occurred in 2021. However, it is important to note that the FBI’s “Supplemental Hate Crime Statistics, 2021” report acknowledges that there has been a “purposeful initiated effort” to capture hate crime victimizations more accurately. While the data are not presently available to verify this claim, it is likely that the latest UCR report captures a larger percentage of NCVS victimizations. Therefore, the author’s estimate is likely an upper-bound estimate of the total number of victimizations that occurred in 2021.