When we started the new site, we started off with a bang (I apologize in advance for this joke). My first piece was on gun control, and was one of the starkest, most-likely-to-piss-off-my-loved-ones posts I’d ever written. Over a year and I-don’t-even-know-how-many mass shootings later, I stand behind most of what I wrote. But I’ve also learned a lot in that time, and I would like to address my changing perspective.
I am very upfront about the fact that I am a middle-class white lady. And while I try to constantly educate myself about various issues and perspectives, I have inherent privilege that means that I overlook things. One of the things I have overlooked is the racial aspect of gun control, and the interplay between militarized police forces and unarmed civilians.
When I wrote my first post, I was legitimately not thinking about (and possibly not aware of, I can’t really remember) the way that gun control laws have historically disproportionately affected Black people, or even been passed with the express purpose of oppressing Black people and other people of color. Following the Civil War, Southern states passed “Black Codes” that ensured that Black people were unarmed. One of the first bans of open carry was signed into law by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, Patron Saint of Fox Newscasters, in response to the Black Panthers entering a Sacramento courthouse while armed. The next year, in 1968, the Gun Control Act was signed by Richard Nixon, Secret Patron Saint of Fox Newscasters. At the time, the NRA supported these laws, because White People Were Scared. (Kind of like how when the Black lawful gun owner Philando Castile was murdered by police, the NRA was suspiciously silent about the supposed natural rights of gun owners.)
Given the fact that pretty much every law, from prohibitions on weed to bans of “loitering,” are disproportionately enforced against Black people, there’s very good reason to believe that gun control laws will be equally disproportionately applied. And there are studies that back this up (that I am admittedly paraphrasing from an episode of Adam Ruins Everything). “Stand your Ground” laws are often not an acceptable excuse for Black defendants. An analysis of ten years of ATF stings focusing on gun crimes found that 91% of people arrested were people of color. Stop and frisk policies in NYC allowed cops to just assume they might find guns or drugs on Black men, and thus harass millions of citizens. Gun possession penalization also adds to our mass incarceration problem. And the fact that so many people of color are left with felony records further disadvantages communities of color when it comes to legally purchasing guns.
One of my off-the-cuff responses to someone saying that we need guns because we need the ability to overthrow a dictatorial government is to say, “Well, the government has tanks and nukes, so good luck with that insurrection.” And honestly, I still think I’m mostly right. The police forces in small towns have tanks, SWAT gear, and chemical weapons that aren’t actually allowed in upfront combat but are apparently totally cool to use on protestors. So we’re in a very different situation than that the Founders faced in the 1700s, where both the government and the rebellion had muskets that took 30 seconds to load and about a 30% chance to hit. We simply don’t have access to the same weapons and force that the government does, and it’s (in my opinion) kind of ridiculous to think that your Far Cry 5 Bunker O’ Whiteness and Guns is going to stand up against the force of even a medium-sized suburb.
That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s entirely fair to ask communities to disarm themselves when said militarized police are not doing the same. You’re probably not going to be able to take on a police tank with an AR-15, but you probably have a better chance of it than you would without a gun. And if you are a person of color living in a community with increased chance of police violence or civilian acts of hatred, it seems downright dangerous to ask people to disarm. I don’t necessarily think that the answer to this issue is, “Everyone keeps all their guns!” so much as it is, “Maybe we should ALL have fewer guns, including the police.”
As I said earlier, I do think that a lot of the things I said in my original post still stand. I sincerely believe that domestic abusers shouldn’t have access to guns, and that we need to close some of the loopholes that allow people like domestic abusers (or, y’know, white nationalists) to access guns. I really don’t think that it is a good thing that we have such easy access to weapons that are meant for the battlefield. But I also think that there are a lot of different things we also need to be doing. We need to de-militarize the police, so that they are ALSO not using their guns to kill people (namely people of color and mentally ill people). We need to stop treating the NRA as if it speaks for gun owners (it doesn’t) and start treating it as if it speaks for gun manufacturers (it does.) I think we need to have serious conversations about how “open carry” laws mean it is impossible to tell a “mass shooter” from a “responsible citizen.” We need to talk about how we can prevent necessary gun laws from having a disproportionate effect on communities of color, or being used as an excuse to harass men and women of color.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I’m always trying to learn more so that the answers that I come up with are better.
Signed: Feminist Fury
Featured image is a screenshot of a tweet by Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) reading “the “A” in “USA” stands for ArmaLite.“