On June 12, when Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American, stepped into a gay club on Latin night armed with an assault rifle and homophobia, and murdered 49 people during Pride month -- a month created to celebrate a community that has historically been persecuted by a greater, straighter world -- his actions reflected the worst of America: how deadly hate can be if armed with a gun.
But Mateen’s heinous actions are a story that should be familiar to American memory. By now, we have seen continuously how, when armed, hate can assault the most vulnerable populations of America. That night, Mateen was Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old domestic terrorist armed with white supremacy and a handgun, who murdered nine African-Americans at a black church founded by a former slave in Charleston, South Carolina. He was John Russell Houser, a known misogynist and anti-Semite, who shot and killed two people with a handgun at a movie written by a Jewish woman. He was Elliott Rodgers, who killed six people with two knives and several handguns because he believed that his whiteness granted him the right to have sex with “mentally wrong” girls who chose to date, in his words, “ugly black filth.”
These mass shootings are uniquely American because the acts -- and perpetrators -- are emboldened and built by intersections of hate that are deeply rooted in American history. Should we really be surprised that in a country constructed on the enslavement of black people, the violent persecution and submission of LGBT Americans, and the suppression of women rights, mass shootings -- hate crimes -- occur premised on these forms of oppression? Through this lens, gun violence and mass shootings are not singular issues, but intersectional, as gun violence directly targets, threatens and harms the livelihoods of women, LGBT Americans, people of color, indigenous people and many others. American gun violence so often manifests in systems of racism, patriarchy, white supremacy and queerphobia that it should be combatted as such
"These mass shootings are uniquely American because the acts -- and perpetrators -- are built and emboldened by intersections of hate that are deeply rooted in American history."
In 2010, it was recorded that over 52 percent of female homicide victims were killed by guns at the hands of men. And, according to a study released by the Violence Policy Center, every 19 hours a Black woman is killed in an act of domestic violence -- the most common weapon of choice being a gun. While pro-gun advocates continue to argue that guns should act as self-defense against domestic violence, for every woman who does use a gun in self-defense, 83 others are murdered at the hands of intimate acquaintances by the very weapons that supposedly protect them.
What and who will protect women from gun violence then? It certainly won’t be the 35 states that currently allow for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic crimes and restraining orders to buy guns, and it won’t be the 41 states that do not require domestic abusers to relinquish their existing guns. And, unfortunately, this country at large doesn’t seem interested in protecting women either: federal law does not prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses or abusive dating partners from buying guns -- despite the fact that dating partners are disproportionately more likely to kill women than married partners.
Trans women -- and especially trans women of color -- aren’t safe either. In 2015, it was reported that homicides of transgender women and gender nonconforming people reached a historic high at 22. 19 of those killed were Black or Latina women, and 10 of the victims were murdered by guns. This number, 22, may not accurately reflect the full scope of hate crimes committed against trans people in the United States. While a federal hate crime law requires the collection of data for violence against trans people, some don’t believe it is being enacted correctly because of local officials misgendering transgender individuals. Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality said that “a lot of jurisdictions report zeroes, even in places where we know there are hate crimes.”
It becomes increasingly clear that hate crimes and violent extremism enacted by guns in America are not entirely divorced from America’s history of anti-black racism. Shortly after the mass shooting in Charleston, the Center for American Progress revealed research showing that between 2010 and 2014 roughly 43,000 hate crimes were committed in the United States involving the “use of or threat of a gun.” Sadly, it is not surprising that in 2015, the FBI reported that among all racial groups, African-Americans are most likely to be targeted by a hate crime -- roughly two times more likely than any other racial group and 10 times more likely than white people. While gun violence is the second leading cause of death for children in America, in 2010 it was reported that 45 percent of all child gun deaths were "black children and teens" (even though black children make up only 15 percent of all children.)
So, should it surprise us that while African-Americans become disproportionately more likely to be gun homicide victims and targets of hate crime, that they are also, conversely, half as likely as white-Americans to own guns? This statistic summons an often ignored history where the Second Amendment -- and guns -- have historically enacted as a method for white America to exert dominance over people of color and other oppressed minorities. The right to bear arms has only been afforded to an America that was white, male and straight -- and denied to those who would upend this power structure.
When slavery was a tortuous reality for African-Americans, they were denied the right to have weapons without white supervision. And even after slavery was “over,” in the 1900s, gun control measures (such as the 1911 Sullivan and the 1967 Mulford Act) were passed because the ultimate intention -- though implicit -- was to disarm people of color and Jewish immigrants who realized that they too had the right to bear arms. The fear of black people threatening white supremacy is apparent through the death of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old who was gunned down for playing with a toy gun and the survival of Dylann Roof, who is currently waiting for his trial in state court.
As aptly proven by the Senate’s decision to vote down gun policy measures last Monday, the degree to which America will endure mass shootings -- which have targeted LGBT Americans, Black-Americans, women, children -- without any sensible gun policy proves that gun violence and control is an intersectional issue that must be combatted in solidarity with the communities it has historically killed and persecuted.
For the bigots like Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof, Elliott Rodgers and countless others who have taken their hate and given it a weapon, a gun represents “a symbol of their ability to correct people and perpetuate their idea of what America means.”
For them, this means an America without black people, LGBT people, people of color, indigenous people, and women. Refusing to reign in weapons of hate, and control gun violence is an act of violence towards us all. This is not only an LGBT issue, it is a feminist, indigenous and black issue. So, we must ask ourselves: does it not make sense that we control (and someday end) a gun culture which gives voices of hate and extremism a physical and deadly means to carry out their ideology?