Revisiting an Old Topic

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.

Gun Control is a Feminist Issue

Guns make domestic violence situations inherently worse.

Guns inherently endanger women.

Stricter gun laws that restrict the access that domestic abusers have to guns will simply, and clearly, save women’s lives.

It makes sense that I’m going to christen our new site with the post that I am the most certain is going to piss of specific members of my family and my friends. Might as well start strong, and worry about getting dropped from the Christmas card list later. So here goes:

Gun control is a feminist issue, and if you care about women’s issues, you have to care about decreasing the number of guns we have access to in this country, the ease with which we can purchase guns, and the value we place on guns as a culture.

So. It might help to establish my gun bona fides. I’m not exactly the stereotypical East-coast liberal who has never touched a gun, let alone owned one. I grew up on a ranch with plenty of guns. I’ve carried guns; I’ve shot guns; I’ve gone hunting. I’ve slept with an (unloaded) shotgun under my bed, because the sound you can make cocking a double barrel is usually terrifying enough that any intruder who isn’t too insane or dedicated to care will probably find a different house to rob.

My problem is not the existence of guns in general, or the use of guns for hunting, or even the safe and responsible use of guns for defense. My problem is literally everything else, and it kinda blows my mind that so many of my friends and family, who are otherwise sane, caring, thoughtful people, don’t have the same problems that I do.

First, let’s go over a few statistics.

  • The United States has about 5% of the world’s population, and about 35-50% of the civilian-owned guns in the entire world.
  • We have about 88 guns for every 100 people in the United States. The country with the next highest gun inundation is Yemen (which is kinda sorta undergoing constant military strife) where there are 54.8 guns per 100 people. We have more guns per person than a country that is frequently described with the adjective “war torn.”
  • About 100,000 people are shot in the United States each year. About 30,000 are killed by guns in the US each year, with about two thirds of that number coming from accidents and suicides.
  • US citizens are about 25 times more likely to be killed by guns than citizens in any other quote-unquote “civilized” country.
  • Between 1994 and 2015, there was a 71% increase in the total number of handguns owned, from 65 million to 111 million.
  • There was a 38% increase in total gun ownership over the same period.
  • 400,000 guns are stolen in the United States each year.
  • The total cost of treating gunshot victims, if we include both hospital costs and lost wages, is likely $45 billion annually.
  • There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings in the US since Sandy Hook, defining a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are shot at.

But Elle, you might say, all of these statistics are scary and whatnot, but where does the “feminist issue” part come in? Besides, of course, how some of the people who got killed in these mass shootings were girls and women, which should be reason enough?

I’m so glad you asked.

  • Perpetrators of domestic violence are responsible for roughly 54% of all mass shootings between 2009 and 2016.
  • At least 53% of women who were killed by guns in 2011 were killed by a current or former intimate partner.
  • Having a gun in the household increases the risk of a domestic abuser killing their partner by 500%.
  • In states where background checks are required, 38% fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.

But there are still loopholes and problems.

Many laws that address the ownership of guns by domestic abusers focus on protecting spouses and children, even though many more women are killed by dating partners than by spouses.

In 35 states, local laws do not prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or under the restrictions of a protection order from owning guns.

In all but sixteen states, background checks are not required for all handgun sales, and are only required for licensed sellers. In all other instances, a domestic abuser can easily purchase guns form a gun show or online. 1 in 4 people who seek to illegally purchase a gun despite federal restrictions have a domestic violence background.

41 states do not require domestic abusers to relinquish the guns that they own.

In a study of women staying in California domestic violence shelters, over one third of them had been threatened or harmed with a gun wielded by their partner.

I am truly, heartily sick of the gun debate as it exists in this country. We keep playing a shell game with different causes of gun violence—mental illness, access to guns, culture, violent video games, song lyrics—and the end result is that we don’t do anything to address any of the possible causes. Mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, but I would still love to see us actually pour funding into mental illness treatment and cultural de-stigmatization.

We have a culture that valorizes violence, especially gun violence, and we should address that. (Maybe by creating fewer bizarre remakes of uber-violent vigilante films with Bruce Willis.)  We can and should address domestic violence with prevention and bystander intervention programs. But in the meantime, we can also fucking address gun control. None of these things have to be mutually freaking exclusive.

And in fact, better gun control could potentially be really, really easy. All we have to do is treat guns the same way we treat cars and cold medicine. Chris Ladd of Forbes writes,

Our habit of imposing complicated and confusing restrictions on weapons by type and shape is largely theater, designed to create a sensation of progress while avoiding the fundamental problem. Instead, we should adopt a simpler, more powerful solution. Register every gun and every gun sale. Require gun owners to obtain a license. Make liability insurance a requirement for every gun owner, tracked to every gun. Require proof of insurance for every sale. Track sales of ammunition, just like we track the sale of Sudafed. Make these gun and ammunition registries available to law enforcement. It is a simple, constitutional approach that preserves the right of responsible adults to own as many weapons as they want, so long as they can demonstrate responsible, safe ownership.

Registration and insurance would not stop every crime, just like they fail to stop every automobile death. They would, however, begin to bring down gun deaths almost immediately. Faced with registration and insurance costs, declines in casual gun ownership would accelerate. It would become very expensive to maintain a gun-nut arsenal of dozens of weapons. Insurance costs would power the spread of trigger locks, gun safes and other safety protections. Registries would empower police to enforce gun laws. Liability suits and criminal actions against irresponsible gun owners would severely constrain criminals’ access to weapons. Instead of waiting for the ATF to crack down on illegal sellers, lawyers representing murder victims would quickly bankrupt today’s crop of amateur gun smugglers. Liability risks on sellers and insurers would make it more difficult for the obviously mentally ill to build an arsenal.

Personal freedom, constrained by personal responsibility, with limits imposed by markets rather than government. It’s an approach to gun control that any Republican should love, right?

The rest of Ladd’s article is worth reading, especially since it addresses the 2nd Amendment argument that honestly makes me too tired to think about. I’ll let you take that one up with him. Instead, I’ll focus, again, on the feminist side of things.

Guns make domestic violence situations inherently worse.

Guns inherently endanger women.

Stricter gun laws that restrict the access that domestic abusers have to guns will simply, and clearly, save women’s lives.

The end.

Welcome to the new site, everyone. We’re not pulling punches.

Signed: Feminist Fury.


Photo source: Robert Freiberger, CC BY 2.0