Photo by Bo Harvey on Unsplash

Gun Violence 101: Gun Violence is a Problem

It should come as no surprise that America has a gun violence problem. The number of deaths in the United States caused by guns has been steadily rising for the last five years, and in 2019 there have been more mass shootings than there are days in the year. Gun violence and gun control are divisive issues that are increasingly partisan and are a hot topic in this year’s Democratic primary debates.

With all the attention that gun violence has in American politics (and, unfortunately, in American households), conversations about the intersectionality of gun violence are not nearly as prevalent as they should be. Conversations of mass shootings frequently dismiss the motivations of the shooter as something related to a mental health issue. Black men who are shot accidentally by police officers are treated as victims of a random tragedy. These conversations overlook the fact that, more often than not, gun violence is the result of a deeply rooted hatred of particular groups of people, particularly racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and women.

Intersectionality and Disproportionate Impacts

Gun violence in the United States is statistically linked to violence against women, particularly domestic violence. Women who are victims of domestic violence in the United States are 21 times more likely to be killed with a firearm than women in other similarly developed countries. Approximately 57% of domestic violence that led to the death of a female romantic partner involved use of a firearm, and women whose male partners own firearms are five times more likely to be killed.

There is also evidence that many mass shooters share a common hatred of women. Many mass shooters cite their rage toward women (usually stemming from rejection) as a motivating factor for their murderous rampages or have targeted specific women who rejected them. Many mass shooters also have a history of domestic violence, stalking, and other threatening and violent acts toward women. There have also been a number of mass shootings in locales frequented or solely attended by women, including a yoga studio in Florida and a Planned Parenthood. The history of guns being used to further violence against women, both on an intimate level and on a massive scale, indicates that gun violence is not indiscriminate.

A similar trend presents itself in the context of gun violence against the LGBTQ+ community. According to the FBI, sexual orientation is one of the three most common characteristics that sparks hate crimes, alongside race and religion. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have been targets of some of the largest mass shootings in the history of the United States, from the Upstairs Lounge shooting in the 1970s to the Pulse Nightclub shooting just a few years ago which resulted in almost 50 people being killed. LGBTQ+ people are frequently victims of intimate partner violence, which further increases their chances of a gun-related death. Gun violence also includes suicide, and the rates of suicide are higher within the LGBTQ+ community than they are within the general population.

Violence against transgender individuals is particularly high, and transgender women of color represent perhaps the most shocking and clear depiction of how gun violence is intersectional. Transgender women of color are disproportionately impacted by hate crimes; in May of this past year, three trans women of color were the victims of gun violence in one week. In the past, victims were often thought of as individual tragedies; only now is society starting to view their deaths as part of a larger systemic problem regarding hatred and gun violence in America.

This systemic problem has been a cause of death for racial and ethnic minorities in America for decades, but recently the violence seems to be ramping up. A recent mass shooting in Texas was committed by a white man who wanted to halt an “invasion” of Mexican immigrants into the United States. In the United States, African Americans are 10 times more likely to die from gun violence than white people. Black men are increasingly the victims of gun violence at the hands of police officers, who frequently receive very little punishment. Gun violence is also much more concentrated in poor urban areas in America, which (due to a number of troubling societal forces) are commonly racially segregated; this has a huge role to play in the fact that African Americans make up more than 50% of the number of people murdered with guns each year.

The discourse surrounding gun violence against racial and ethnic minorities is also troubling. Sometimes, the discourse involves blatant racist hypocrisy. When a shooting occurs in a predominantly white area, activists are praised; when people support the Black Lives Matter movement and fight to protect black Americans from gun violence, they are viewed as “extremists.” Other times, the discourse that should be occurring simply doesn’t happen. For example, Native Americans face similar violence at the hands of police officers, who have a 12% greater chance of being shot by law enforcement than African Americans do, but who do not receive the same media coverage.

Gun violence against religious minorities has also increased in recent years; most troublingly, this increase seems to be manifesting itself in the form of mass shootings. Perhaps most famously, a shooting occurred in a historic black church in Charleston; the killer was a white man. Similar shootings have occurred in synagogues in San Diego and in Pittsbugh, both the products of anti-Semitism. Gun violence against Muslims in the United States has been on the rise since 9/11 and since the election of Donald Trump, both of which added fuel to a hatred of Islam; the violence has ranged from holding families at gunpoint in a grocery store to firing shots into a mosque.

The Hard Conversation Lawmakers Don’t Want to Have

The most important thing to note about trends in gun violence is that gun violence is intersectional. The statistics do not lie. Gun violence negatively impacts individuals with one or more marginalized identities, and mass shootings are most often committed by those whose identities are in the majority; statistically, straight white Christian men.

This is the very reason why gun violence will continue to grow in the United States.  Although conversations are finally being had on a national level regarding the intersectionality of gun violence, the only individuals who are in a position to do anything to make positive systemic change are members of the federal government, who are (you guessed it) predominantly straight white Christian men.

I’m not going to argue that members of the federal government are intentionally allowing the continuation of gun violence against minorities, although one could make that argument and indeed some people have. What I will say is this: more often than not, those who are the strongest advocates against gun control are the very individuals who are the least likely to be victims of gun violence. This statistic evidences a severe disconnect in the political system, one that is actually killing thousands of marginalized people. Yet the majority, those who are safe from gun violence, are not ready to hear that they need to take a back seat on the topic and make room for the voices of people who are most likely to die as a result of gun violence.

It’s easier to say that a young black man who was shot by a police officer is the victim of a tragic mistake than it is to recognize systemic racism that runs rampant among American police. It’s easier to say that a woman who was shot by her domestic partner is in a better place now that she is out of an abusive relationship, and that nobody could have known it would happen to her, than it is to acknowledge the link between a domestic violence and gun violence. It’s easier to categorize a mass shooter as a mentally ill person suffering some sort of psychotic break than it is to recognize that said mass shooter likely had a deeply rooted hatred of certain classes of marginalized people.

It’s easier to write off each bout of gun violence as a one-time tragedy, and forget about it until then next one, than it is to address the ways that gun violence disproportionately kills women, racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Until members of government begin to have a personal stake in the game and are willing to have brutally honest conversations about the intersectionality of gun violence, gun violence will continue to kill the very Americans who do not have a voice in most discussions about gun control.