“‘Gun Control’ means using two hands in my land…”
Every time the topic of gun control breaches the surface in the news cycle (i.e. every time there is a mass shooting in America, so about every few weeks), I cannot help but think of Posdnous’s line from De La Soul’s classic Stakes Is High. Even the Long Island hip-hop group, usually typecast as the Black hippies of rap who are just about having fun, can’t escape the reality of gun violence in their neighborhoods. It’s a testament to both reality of life in certain neighborhoods and the real efficacy of “gun control” legislation whether just proposed or actually passed.
Last year was a fairly quiet year for mass shootings, thanks to the pandemic that pretty much shut down the world. It almost gave me hope that there would actually be less gun violence overall. Sadly, 2021 has shown that all the people who wanted to do harm were only hindered by the COVID restrictions, and once those restrictions were lifted, it was back to business as usual. It is only April, yet we’ve had over 130 mass shootings in 2021. That is more than one shooting a day. It is as if the violence was knotted up in a tangled hose, and then 2021 came about and sprayed the back up all over the nation. Of these shootings, though, the ones that get the national headlines are the ones where an AR-15 or any “assault rifle” is used. Usually, those mass shootings are perpetrated by a white man. This triggers a call for stricter gun laws, a highlight on America’s longstanding problems of radicalized white supremacists/chauvinists, and a coddling of the perpetrator as if he is a “lone wolf” who needs intense mental health support. The problem with the latter argument of the three is that when you have more than three “lone wolves,” that is pretty much a pack, and that is a problem.
The Sandy Hook tragedy showed us all that the government has no intention of doing anything significant to quell gun violence in the United States. You would think that someone murdering 27 people, including 20 school children, would spur action in legislature. Instead, all we got was a lot of fiery words from congress, hyperbolic rhetoric about Obama “taking our guns,” and grotesque rumors about how the whole thing was a hoax. This year, the talk of gun control came from another mass shooting, where a white man targeted Asian businesses and murdered 6 Asian women and 2 customers. Though he is in jail, he was of course excused for his actions by a racist sheriff. Full legislation has been batted around since, but in the meantime, President Joe Biden took executive action in curtailing the sale of “gun kits.” This will help reduce very little violence, as most mass shootings are done with already-purchased guns, and usually they are legally purchased.
Both the right and the left are right and wrong about gun control. The right keeps bringing up mental health as a way to coddle white perpetrators of gun violence. If I were a white man, I would be insulted at the way the NRA and GOP infantilize me to push their agenda and keep their lobbyists happy. The thing is, they are partially right. Mental health is a serious issue that goes unchecked, and if people had better access to mental health treatment, perhaps the urge to murder when frustrated would subside. The only problem is that the party that keeps using the mental health excuse also refuses to provide decent health care to the public.
The left keeps talking about how gun control laws need to be stricter. Assault style weapons need to be banned again. Background checks need to be more stringent. The problem with this idea is that background checks ARE stringent, but there are too many loopholes. Also, the definition of an “assault rifle” differs from state to state. No one actually agrees on what an assault weapon is, and technically, any weapon used to assault people is an assault weapon. Blindly banning things without being able to unequivocally define what it is you want to ban is not a way forward. It leads to laws like New York’s SAFE Act, whose intention was good, but it seemed to be patched together overnight without any consultation from any professionals or experts.
The truth is that gun violence in the United States will not be reduced with a sweeping gun law or by focusing on unfunded mental health. If we want gun violence to go down, then we need to build up schools. We need to re-institute vocational career programs. We need to fund renovations for urban homes. We need to build more places to get food in food deserts. Money needs to go into making a robust transit system in every city in America. Health care needs to be low cost/free, and it needs to include mental health. Visiting health care clinics needs to be encouraged by employers with no consequence to the employee. These things will make gun violence go down. Because people will have no need to pick up a gun if their needs are being met.
What the anti-gun crew seems to want us to forget is that most gun laws came into play because of a desire to disarm people of color. There was no real anti-gun lobby when they were used to slaughter nameless thousands of Indigenous people in the name of “manifest destiny,” but the post-Civil War Black Codes explicitly forbade newly emancipated Black citizens from having firearms in some states. There was barely any fuss over the murders of Chinese immigrants and residents in Los Angeles in the 1871 Chinese Massacre. Red Summer was only one score of summers that saw angry white mobs make any excuse to punish Black communities for their audacity existing and being happy. The National Firearms Act of 1934 curtailed the sale and possession of automatic machine guns, and that was in response to heightened mafia violence. This was back when Italian people were just barely in the fraternity of whiteness, and the violence of a few bled out to harm those already in the White Club. Finally the emergence of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s put white America on edge. They too entered a public legislative building with weapons in hand, though they didn’t break in and storm it. They would also have a rifle on their shoulders as they stood and observed police as they stopped Black drivers for whatever traffic offense of which they could think. The Panthers had little to no intention of using their rifles. They were simply exercising their Second Amendment rights as American citizens, and they were quick to point that fact out. Reagan couldn’t stand this and helped enact a swath of restrictive gun laws in California, supported by the NRA.
I will take this time to unequivocally state that I am not a fan of firearms. I don’t like guns. When I lived in rural Upstate NY, I felt a bullet whiz past my friend’s and my head while we were playing outside. The hunter claimed he saw a deer and flippantly said “sorry” while smiling. The older I get and the more I learn about Fulton County, I can’t help thinking the only “buck” he saw was me. Then when we moved to Baltimore, I heard a lot of background gunfire every once in a while, but it very much hit home (or rather barely missed home) when friends and I were getting out of a club that got shut down for fighting. As we tried to figure out the best way to get home, the fight came outside with a loud crack and a bullet whizzing past my friend’s ear, and us ducking amongst the cars to get out of the area. Because of these two instances, I have a healthy disdain for guns.
Also because of these two instances, I very much want to know how to use and take care of different types of firearm. I need not know how to control a weapon that is so easily accessible and Constitutionally protected. I have no desire to discharge a weapon beyond whatever practice I need to attain a license and be proficient. However, if the time comes where I need to use one to protect myself, I want to know what I am doing. I am not the only one, either. Black gun ownership surged 58% in the last year. Among the reasons for this surge are the fundamental need to keep their families safe and the emergence of white nationalists to the public eye, both in regular life and in facets of government. Black American distrust of government has a long history and is well-justified. 100 years after Red Summer, and we still don’t feel safe. I will be damned if I sit by and let someone try to swiftly take my autonomy away from me. Red Summer and the Capitol Storming are only a few instances where it would have been good to have a firearm ready. Even Martin Luther King, Jr., the go-to patron of peace for white folks who like to brow-beat Black anger at injustice, had armed guards. In the beginning, he had his own weapon. So long as the Second Amendment stands, I need to know how to protect myself by any necessary means, because as much as Americans like to flout the Second Amendment like it’s a verse of holy scripture, January 6th and incidents before and after it show that they glossed over the “well-regulated militia” part of it. We need to look past the barrel of the physical gun to stop the violence. Until then, I will protect myself within the letter of the law.
About Chris Thompson
(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes and regularly posts on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon. Chris is also a regular contributor for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com.