Because it was written in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, the following piece frames the conversation of gun control around mass shootings in the United States. While mass shootings may be the most visible aspect of gun control in the white media, police brutality towards POC (especially black men and black trans women) and racist gun control legislation are even more pertinent, pressing issues of gun violence. People of color are far more likely to be a victim of gun violence than white students and the United States would not be having a gun control conversation right now if white people had historically amplified the voices of POC like they now amplify the predominately white, upper-middle class voices from Parkland. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner would be alive today if we had started the gun control conversation years earlier and put POC at the forefront.
We can easily imagine the situation: he (or she, or they) goes to the store and buys a semiautomatic assault rifle. He doesn’t need a license to buy this weapon of war – in the United States, semiautomatic rifles don’t require one. He buys his assault weapon for the modest sum of $1,000 without so much as a second glance from the cashier. (After all, at the very core of capitalism is the belief that money is more valuable than human life.) The gun company is thrilled to make the sale. The terrorist is thrilled to have the tool.
By now, we know what happens next. Within a few hours, we’ll be back at our computers, angrily tweeting “NEVER AGAIN” while knowing that a mass shooting probably will happen again without legal action. In just the first two months of 2018, there have been 164 casualties from U.S. mass shootings. If the American people do nothing about creating new political policy, we will return to our computers just a few weeks later to tweet “NEVER AGAIN” all over again. The cycle is relentless and unending. Thoughts and prayers don’t change anything.
“The US makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, but holds 31% of global mass shooters,” says CNN. America had 90 mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. This is five times more shootings than the country with the second highest amount of mass shootings over this time frame, the Philippines. (The following three most prolific countries are Russia (15), Yemen (11), and France (10)). Why has the United States had so many more mass shootings than every other country in the world?
Americans own more guns per 100 people than any other country. There are over 270 million guns privately owned guns in the United States, creating a near 1:1 ratio between civilian guns and civilian people. Compare this to India, a country of 1.3 billion people that ranks second worldwide for greatest number of total privately owned guns. Even though India has over 3x the United States’ population, India has only 0.17x of the US’s privately owned gun total. The sheer number of guns in America contributes to a national culture that normalizes weapons of war as recreational toys. But unlike other popular “recreational” tools, guns were invented for one purpose: To kill. Educational programs that raise awareness about the dangers of guns are one way to begin the necessary cultural shift away from firearms.
In the United States, it is legal to buy an automatic weapon, which continuously fires rounds as long as there is ammunition. In popular culture, we call these “machine guns”. (For reference, an automatic rifle is what the Las Vegas festival terrorist used just a few months ago from his hotel room window.) They are some of the only guns that the United States actually regulates. Automatic weapons are difficult to obtain and very costly, which is why most mass shooters opt for legal, easily-accessible semiautomatic weapons. A semiautomatic has greater control than its automatic counterpart because it limits the shooter to one shot at a time. However, these weapons can easily and cheaply be converted into automatic weapons with simple, legal, accessible modifications like the bump fire stock. Although both automatic and semiautomatic weapons are classified as “assault” weapons, most gun advocates prefer not to classify semiautomatic weapons as assault rifles in fear of creating stigma around the weapon. The AR-15, which the Parkland school terrorist used, was a semiautomatic rifle. An AR-15 can be legally purchased without a license nationwide.
It is illegal in most other countries, including Germany, Australia, and Britain*, to own an automatic rifle. Most countries also have incredibly strict restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, if they are even legal. Germany permits semiautomatic rifles only with very special authorization. Australia completely prohibits them. After a mass shooting in 1996, the government created a buy-back program that bought and destroyed over 600,000 automatic and semiautomatic weapons. By 2006, total firearm homicides had been cut nearly in half. Great Britain has no written laws about semiautomatic weapons but prohibited the sale of handguns after a 1996 school shooting; there have been no school shootings in the country since the policy was enacted. In the United States, semiautomatic assault weapons are permitted without a license in almost all jurisdictions.
*Regrettably, it is easiest to find statistics about Western nations. These specific nations are often cited by gun control activists because of their success.
The prodigious quantity of guns in the United States, coupled with incredibly liberal gun policy, helps to explain why there are so many needless mass shootings in the country. Granted, mass shootings are an incredibly complex problem with many contributing factors; a mere correlation between gun numbers, legislation, and shootings does not necessarily equate to causation. And yet extensive research supports that there is causation between these variables and that stricter gun legislation effectively lowers firearm deaths.
In Japan, there is incredibly strict legislation regarding prospective and existing gun owners – perhaps the strictest in the world. Buying a gun is a rigorous four-month process that begins with a full-day training session and a written test. Upon completion of the session and test, one must apply for a required shooting range class – which, of course, requires a background check. Following this, the buyer is relentlessly drug-tested and assessed by a mental health official for competency to own a firearm. On a separate day, he, she, or they will be required to visit their local police station for a meticulous interrogation about why they want to buy a gun – with their answers recorded and permanently logged by the police. Throughout the purchasing process, police will make unannounced visits the prospective gun owner’s office and neighborhood to interview co-workers and friends. After one final meticulous background check, the candidate will be required to take another training session and another written exam. Only then will they be able to file for a license to purchase a shotgun or air rifle – and depending on what gun they apply to purchase, their license might still be denied. Once the candidate successfully purchases a gun, they will have to provide documentation to the authorities of the gun and ammo’s location in their house. (The gun and its ammo are not allowed to be stored in the same room and each must be secured in a locked container.) The gun owner’s house will be subject to unannounced yearly home inspections and they will be required to retake the shooting range class and exam every three years to renew their license.
In 2015, there were over 13,000 non-suicide gun deaths in the United States. In Japan, there was one.
Compare Japan’s policy to the American state of Missouri, which eliminated its permit requirement for purchasing firearms in 2007. Gun-related homicides increased by 25% following this legislation change.
In 2016, researchers reviewed 130 high-quality studies about gun violence and control conducted in 10 countries over the past 60 years, proving the concrete connection between gun control and gun-related deaths. Based on their evidence, the researchers concluded that “the simultaneous implementation of laws targeting multiple firearms restrictions is associated with reductions in firearm deaths. Laws restricting the purchase of (e.g., background checks) and access to (e.g., safer storage) firearms are also associated with lower rates of intimate partner homicides and firearm unintentional deaths in children, respectively.” They also concluded that it usually takes major legislation overhaul – not just one new law – to see significant change in firearms deaths. In short, their research definitively proved that gun control saves lives.
We salute the heroic survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School for their tireless effort to create political change in the wake of unfathomable pain and trauma. We similarly salute communities of color and movements like #BlackLivesMatter that have been speaking out about gun control for years, even though white people were not listening. They all have paved the way for us to break the cycle of “Never Again” and “Thoughts and Prayers” and finally protect and defend human lives from needless gun violence. For those ready to take action, we have compiled a list of tools to help you advocate for United States gun control.
[HOW TO SUPPORT GUN CONTROL]
1. Stop blaming acts of violent domestic terrorism on mental illness.
Not only does this further stigmatize mental illness, but it also removes the blame from the real issue, the United States’ excessively liberal gun policies. The stereotype that (white) shooters are mentally ill is also largely inaccurate. In a 2015 analysis, Michael Stone, a Columbia University psychiatrist who maintains a database of mass shooters, found that only 22% out of 235 terrorists in the database suffered from mental illness. Nearly one in five Americans suffer from mental illness each year – approximately 20% of all Americans. This is nearly identical to the percentage from Dr. Stone’s findings, suggesting that there is no correlation between mental illness and mass shooters.
The media often uses mental illness as a diversion tactic to shift blame away from the easy accessibility of guns in the United States. Recent cultural conversations about arming school administrators and the competency of the FBI have served this same purpose. The media perception of gun violence is what shapes our perception of its causation, so it is essential to focus on concrete facts rather than blind opinions.
It would be remiss not to mention how racial stereotypes play into the “mental illness” conversation. When covering acts of extreme violence, the predominately-white mass media often refers to the white perpetrator as mentally ill. The media humanizes the “mentally ill” perpetrator by mentioning his tortured childhood, his troubled adolescence, his unstable family and home life. A black person does not get this luxury – they are labeled a “thug” and completely stripped of their humanity, even when their “crime” is a non-violent. (For more on the criminalization of black Americans, we compel you to watch the documentary ‘13th‘ by Ava DuVernay.) Similarly, a brown person is labeled a “terrorist”, especially if they practice Islam. (Brown people are also widely stereotyped as rapists by the media, thanks in part to the man who calls himself President of the United States.)
So no, don’t blame mass shootings on mental illness. This language diverts the public from the real problem (gun accessibility and pervasiveness), perpetuates false stereotypes about mental illness, and reinforces the racist dehumanization of people of color. Call (white!) mass shooters what they really are: Terrorists.
There is a fair amount of viral fake news being spread from both sides about the accurate percentage of mass shootings or firearm homicides by persons with mental illness. Fact-check all viral posts on Twitter and Instagram.
2. Understand the root causes of gun violence and how gun violence disproportionately affects communities of color.
The root causes of gun violence include racism, poverty, alienation, oppression, and the militarization of the police. This puts communities of color on the front line of gun violence every single day. Cops’ racial prejudices have created a country-wide genocide of black men and trans women of color. The weapon of choice has always been a gun.
The most pressing charge of the modern gun control conversation is the dismantling of racism and annihilation of police brutality. Without addressing these issues, gun violence will continue to occur even if significant legislature pertaining to the buying and selling of guns is enacted. Contact your representatives to demand criminal justice reform and the demilitarization of the police. Support #BlackLivesMatter to raise awareness of police brutality and always remember the names of those murdered by police gun violence.
3. Contact your representatives and demand transformative gun control legislation.
Resistbot, a service that allows you to contact your representatives via SMS, makes it easier than ever to demand action from your state reps. Resistbot will find out the name of your Congressional representative and deliver your message to him, her, or them in under two minutes. This is an especially groundbreaking tool for people who suffer from social anxiety and are uncomfortable calling their representative on the phone. Just text “RESIST” to 50409.
In your message, urge your representatives to make gun control a priority. From there, you can demand a number of gun reforms, like Universal Background Checks (a common sense reform that many Republican lawmakers support) and a ban on automatic and semiautomatic weapons. It is just as helpful to demand legislation addressing the root causes of gun violence, such as police militarization. For additional inspiration, consider the students’ demands in this transcript from last week’s CNN Town Hall between Stoneman survivors, lawmakers, and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Not all states have the same existing gun laws. This handy tool from Everytown for Gun Safety can help you figure out what policies are already in place in your state.
4. Participate in an upcoming march or walkout for gun control.
Women’s March organizers have organized the #ENOUGH National School Walkout for Wednesday, March 14. They ask students, teachers, administrators, and parents to walk out of school at 10 AM for 17 minutes.
On March 24, survivors of the Parkland shooting are planning to protest in Washington, DC. called March For Our Lives. Solidarity marches will be taking place nationwide. In the March For Our Lives mission statement, it reads that “the mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address […] gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”
Finally, on April 20, the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine shooting, The Network for Public Education has organized a National School Walkout to let legislators know that students and teachers demand gun reform. Many colleges and universities have sent out letters to accepted students letting them know that they will not be penalized by the college for peacefully protesting for gun control, even if they accepted are reprimanded by their high schools.
To get further involved, work with peers or volunteer with a local organization to organize additional events in your area. Students can talk to their school administrators about creating awareness on campus for gun control.
5. Divest from organizations with ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Vote with your dollars. In an aggressively capitalist nation, this is one of the most efficient ways to communicate with legislators and get policy enacted. Be sure to write or tweet organizations with ties to the NRA and let them know that you will not be buying more of their product or service. When possible, completely divest from these organizations and refuse to contribute to their pool of blood money.
As of February 25, the following organizations have refused to cut ties with the NRA following the recent Florida mass shooting. We have bolded the organizations that we believe are most relevant to MODERN GIRLS readers.
- Bass Pro Shops
- Hyatt Regency (Dallas)
- Lockton Affinity
- Omni Hotels
- Vinesse Wines
In the wake of the Florida mass shooting, several organizations have cut ties with the NRA. We will not be naming or celebrating them because they should never have had ties to the NRA in the first place.
6. Donate and volunteer with organizations leading the fight for gun reform.
Not everybody has the means to donate to non-profit organizations, but if you do, we urge you to donate to gun violence prevention work. For those without the means to donate, many of these organizations also provide opportunities to volunteer.
Gun reform organizations work to shift American gun culture, change public policy, and hold politicians and organizations accountable for allowing mass shootings (and other gun-related violence) to happen. The motive of all of these organizations is the same: Stop mass shootings. Stop needless gun violence. Never again.
Here are a few organizations that are worth your consideration:
Conceived of as the counterweight to the National Rifle Association (NRA), this organization advocates for more background checks on prospective gun owners and tougher, harsher gun-trafficking laws. Everytown also has a unique focus on the role of guns in domestic violence. Their website is an exceptional resource for learning about different gun issues in America. Everytown offers the most extensive list of resources for fighting the gun epidemic on the internet.
Check out this fascinating fact sheet of gun violence statistics in America.
The Brady Campaign advocates for the United States government to enforce existing gun laws that are often ignored. Lawyers from the Brady Campaign assist the families of shooting victims in suing the responsible gun companies. Like Everytown, The Brady Campaign also advocates for new legislative policy. They also focus on creating cultural shifts in America around the social norms of guns.
For over two decades, WAGV has taken charge to educate “the public, policymakers and the media about the human, financial and public health consequences of gun violence”. They also work directly with survivors of gun violence to conquer PTSD, heal, and reclaim their lives. WAGV’s work has helped to pass legislation in California to ban assault weapons.
WAGV has a wonderful resource about how to address the press when they blame gun violence on mental health or otherwise shift the conversation of gun violence away from gun control legislation.
Not unlike how Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was created to reduce the amount of drunk driving, this organization was created to demand action from legislators and reduce mass shootings and gun violence. While Moms Demand Action isn’t the most radical gun control organization (they describe themselves as “supporters of the 2nd amendment” in their mission statement), they do advocate for new and stronger gun laws to fight the American gun violence epidemic.
Words and research by Megan Schaller