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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Gun Control Is a Reproductive Justice Issue: Some Thoughts for Mother's Day

(crossposted at Marysia's RH Reality Check Diary )

It happened again last week in my neighborhood, just a few blocks from where my family lives. I didn't hear the shots or the screams this time, but other times, I have. This past week, it was in broad daylight. The toll was one dead, one wounded--both young Black men.

And not a word about their fates in the big media, though certainly there was among the distressed neighbors. Including the children who grow up here knowing every day what children shouldn't have to think about too much: that their lives could be cut short on purpose by someone else in an irrevocable instant. A sweet-faced young man my daughter grew up with died from a gunshot to the back of his head. He left a baby girl behind. As much as for him, we wept to see his overwhelmed parents, family, and friends at the funeral.

I could take you on a sad pilgrimage around my neighborhood and show you all the telephone poles, corners, stretches of sidewalk, and weedy vacant lots where fellow human beings, mostly young Black men, saw the last of this Earth because of gun violence. There is nothing left in these places to mark their premature and abrupt departures except for the sorrowful and outraged hearts of those who pass by and remember what happened there and there and there.

Every year in the United States, gun violence kills 30,000 human beings and injures another 70,000. Gun rights advocates like to say, "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." So why is it that I've never met anyone in my neighborhood who agrees with this statement? So many of these killings and woundings happen regularly in neighborhoods like mine, to low-income people of color, often Black and Brown young men.

In other words, it's not the same world most gun rights advocates inhabit. They tend to be majority-white and far more prosperous and able to pay for lobbyists. I am speaking of those who manufacture and profit from the gun trade, and the hunters who (in this country anyway) kill animals primarily for sport and not substinence.

In casting the gun issue as a matter of individual rights and responsibilities, the gun lobby only fuels the criminalization and scapegoating of impoverished people of color, especially young men. Framing the issue this way has an unmistakable implication: better-off white people must know how to handle their guns responsibly, and low-income people of color must not--why else would there be so many more gun crimes and deaths in *those* neighborhoods? *Those* people got what was coming to them, didn't they?

This framing of the gun issue prevents Americans from taking up the collective responsibilities we have too long failed: our collective responsibilities to structurally alleviate poverty, classism, and racism.

These include our collective responsibilities to challenge the patterns of underregulated or unregulated marketing and distribution which have allowed the gun industry to systematically insinuate its way into inner-city neighborhoods. Geoffrey Canada, a noted child welfare activist from the Black community, has spoken up about the gun industry's conscious strategies for moving into the inner-city once it had saturated and achieved the maximum profit it could from the "sportsmen's" market.

In the inner city, it's human beings who get hunted with guns now, and in most cases legal guns. 88% of guns used in crimes were bought quite legally from the rampantly unregulated sectors of the gun market. And US-made guns flood the international trafficking in small arms, which is responsibile for the high rate of gun violence in other beset places populated by poor human beings of color, like the favelas of Brazil.

Every single human being killed or hurt by gun violence made it onto this Earth in the first place because a woman carried him/her for nine months, birthed him/her, and in most cases raised him/her. And many victims of gun violence are, or were, parents themselves.

The right to raise our children in a safe, healthy environment is a core demand of reproductive justice. Not surprisingly, this demand arises from the very communities of color most devastated by gun violence. As well as an obvious pro every life concern, gun control is a reproductive justice issue.

Guns rights advocates are also the children of mothers, and many are parents themselves. Aside from the gun makers and those who hunt animals for sport, some honestly believe that the unregulated right of gun ownership is essential to protect themselves and their families.

What if they could see how much the lack of gun control undermines the ability of people in neighborhoods like mine to protect ourselves and our children? What if they could glimpse what we already have learned too often, the hard way: that guns constitute the falsest of hopes for personal security? That widescale disarmament is ultimately the best way to keep every mother's son or daughter, every parent, every human being safe and healthy as can be?


lavendersparkle said...

I just need to comment on your statement about the use of guns for hunting. I don't know the comparative proportions of users, but I do know that there are low income rural communities in the US where hunting provides a vital component of families' diets. One of the reasons for so little understanding between gun owners and supporters of gun control is because mutual misunderstanding of the role guns play in the others' lives.

Of course, it should be relatively easy to allow people to have the guns to feed their families and prohibit the gun which kill people. A hunting rifle is not very useful for urban crime; a semi-automatic hand gun is not the best thing for killing deer. Some types of guns could be prohibited or very tightly controlled without impeding the lives of people who need guns to kill animals.

Of course, the real problem isn't that tighter gun control would impact legitimate gun use. The real issue is that some people make an awful lot of money from selling guns which are more likely to be used to kill people than animals and these people are willing to use some of that money to protect their business.

Kevin said...

I am a brown skinned immigrant member of the gun culture.

From reading your post, I suspect that you have never handled a gun for a safe and responsible purpose, including that of defending yourself and your family. You seem to have accepted anti-gun propaganda as fact. I was once like you, when I first came to this country. I blindly swallowed all the anti-gun propaganda in the media, before doing my own independent research and coming to the opposite conclusion.

Thus, it is not surprising that you do not know that historically, gun control laws first targeted people of color who could not be trusted to own guns:

The Racist Roots of Gun ControlA Liberal Democrat's LamentWhen the NRA and the gun lobby works hard as it has in recent years to guarantee gun rights to EVERYONE, the biggest beneficiaries are the traditionally marginalized - minorities, women and the poor, who regain their right to own and carry guns free of discriminating laws and legal practices. Minorities, women and the poor can now protect themselves with guns in their homes in the San Francisco housing projects - thanks to the gun lobby. They can compulsorily obtain licenses to carry concealed handguns regardless of the favor and discretion of the sheriff in 40 states of the Union - thanks to the gun lobby.

Refuse to be a victim. Learn how to use and own a gun like a responsible citizen.

Marysia said...


what you say makes a lot of sense. a lot of gun control advocates in the US do make this distinction.

however, it's very few people in the US--even among the poor--who absolutely have to eat meat in order to live, let alone hunt and kill the animals themselves.

Marysia said...


How many times have you left a comment like this on a pro gun control blog post?

If you are a Brown-skinned immigrant who advocates gun 'rights"--well, there is still a well-documented and enduring racial divide on the issue of gun control. lots of prosperous whitle folks behind gun "rights," lots of poorer Black and Brown people behind gun control.

now people in the same ethnic group don't all necessarily agree about what best serves the group--but somehow i doubt that all the Black and Brown people who want more gun control are oblivious to history and to their own personal safety.

As a matter of fact, i grew up in a home that had a lot of guns in it. so kindly please don't leap to any conclusions about my "ignorance" or "blind swallowing of gun control propaganda"--let alone my supposed kowtowing before racist history!

the big problem with gun control laws historically targeted at minorities is that they were historically targeted at minorities and not everyone--not that they were gun control laws.

as for history, Geoffrey Canada's Fist Stick Knife Gun, directly addresses the profit-driven disregard of the gun industry for people of color.

The ability to carry and conceal a handgun is just a recipe for more, not fewer, gun deaths. There are many forms of effective self-defense far less likely to end up in bloodshed--and anyway, guns don't do anything to alleviate the atmosphere of violence in neighborhoods like mine. they just escalate the level of terror and grief.

Kevin said...

Marysia, while you may have grown up in a home that contained guns, that doesn't actually say a whole lot. Did you, I repeat: "ever handle a gun for a safe and responsible purpose, including that of defending yourself and your family"? There are plenty of people who have observed guns from a distance.

Most gun advocates are actually self defense activists. The big problem with racist gun control laws is not that they target some people, although that is certainly obnoxious. The big problem is that the people who are targeted are left defenseless against violence by unorganized criminals or organized thuggery and oppression.

Marysia said...

Kevin, no, I did not "observe guns at a distance"--I can still see in my mind's eye after 30, 40 years that closet shelf full of guns.

My late father did not have rifles for self-defense, but because he liked to go out in the country and target shoot. he ate meat and fished but i can't ever remember him hunting.

he did communicate that guns are a very serious responsibility. verbally, and in deed, he put the guns on a very high shelf out of the children's reach, completely unloaded, & kept absolutely no ammunition in our home.

so i can see the point you are trying to make, about responsible gun use.

and even about self-defense. i like other gun control advocate self-defense, too, i think we just disagree about whether, say, concealed handguns actually increase or decrease personal safety.

in a future post on this blog i hope to address nonviolent & minimally violent self-defense strategies. even if you feel you must conceal a gun to be safe, there are many, many other possibilities before it comes down to pulling out that gun.

Edward Von Bear said...

So, which part of the Constitution do you wish to keep, and which to shred? If you hate the 2nd Amendemnt, that's fine, but do you also want to get rid of the 1st Amendment that allows you and Al Sharpton to speak? What about the 12th through 16th?

And as an aside, did I read you correctly? Do you wish to seize other peoples' property and redistribute it? It sure sounded like it.

XBradTC said...

The biggest problem with your proposed solution is that it doesn't work. Take a look at places with the most draconian gun control laws, for example, Washington, DC, and Chicago. They have unusually high rates of murder, most especially in the black community.

As for your position that we have a collective responsibility to parts of the community, that implies a collective entitlement to the fruits of others by a different segment of society. And I would argue that in many ways, this forfeiture of personal, individual responsibility by that segment of society is in many ways the true root cause of much of the violence you (and I) deplore.

Marysia said...

Edward Von Bear,

Who said anything about shredding the Constitution?

One of the best and most remarkable features of the Constitution is that now as well as historically, the Constitution has permitted and encouraged multiple interpretations of the rights enshrined in it. Debate and dialogue is possible to sift out exactly what social progress means for an issue or social problem.

I don't think that the Second Amendment forbids, for example, the industry-level regulation of the gun industry and its marketing and distribution practices that encourage its lucrative flooding of inner cities with guns.

Any more than the Constitution forbids the industry-level policies that have gone after the tobacco industry as a matter of public health and safety--and that have made tobacco use increasingly unthinkable in a way that it definitely was not back in the day when I was a kid.

These strategies, along with strategies for encouraging nonviolent behavior and conflict resolution on a wide scale in *all* communities--not the inner cities alone--are the best hope for widescale disarmament.

Gun violence is a public health and safety issue, too. And the Constitution needs to look out for the right to life, the necessary foundation for the rights of liberty and pursuing happiness, doesn't it?

As for seizing and redistributing resources: I do believe this country (like any other) has an inescapable responsibility to ensure that everyone living in it has a basic minimum of food, clothing, shelter, and health care, as well opportunities to work living wage jobs.

At present Americans suffer and die needlessly because of structural injustices that shut them out of these basic needs--which is inexcusable in this wealthy, wealthy country.

But as someone from the white working classes, I don't think it's people from the white working classes, or any other, who are most responsible for this state of siege against the most vulnerable.

It's the rich who hoard resources to themselves while, for example, really gaunt homeless people pick through the dumpster below my apartment in search of food scraps. Now, I am personally responsible to take whatever I have lying around in my pantry downstairs and offer it. I am personally responsible to direct the hungry folks to the nearest food pantry. I am personally responsible to grow vegetables for the food pantry.

But I do not have enough resources at my disposal to singlehandedly, or almost singlehandedly, transform society so that the structural causes of homelessness and hunger are alleviated. it's a transformation to achieve through persuasion and democratic means.

Marysia said...


These big-city gun control laws do serve a purpose. They made it easier to prosecute people for weapons offenses, and that does have a deterrent effect.

It's not these laws that are at fault. Things would be even rose without them.

The biggest problem is the fact that the gun industry and its lobby undermine efforts to regulate the marketing and distribution practices which keep the guns coming in such numbers.

Collective responsibility is not the enemy of individual responsibility. In fact, there are far fewer barriers to the exercise of individual responsibility when structural injustices are addressed.

yes, people in neighborhoods like mine have the individual responsibility to behave nonviolently and constructively towards one another.

But I really don't think it can be reduced to a matter of individual responsibility. Communities like mine are full of people who live very responsible lives and are amazingly resourceful and resilient and fruitful in doing so. They do help with the problem of gun violence, to be sure.

But the problem isn't going to substantially go away until something can be done to rein in the gun industry's practices, which are made possible in part because of its enormous financial and political clout--

and in part by a massive indifference, hostility. and lack of knowledge--not always conscious or unintentional, but still harmful--regarding the lives of people who live in communities like mine.

Especially towards young black men, who are ruthlessly criminalized and degraded. My baby grandson is a very young black man, and already I have had to defend him against those corrosive stereotypes. Which in some cases cause such despair in their targets that they almost become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Now I'm going to be a grandma tiger for my grandson again and again against these stereoetypes whenever the need arises--but the fact that this is likely going to happen again, and again, and again, and even from people who don't mean to be racists--that I think says something about this not just being an individual responsibility...

Marysia said...

ps for Edwards Von Bear:

Al Sharpton? Someone who spends that many thousands of dollars per year on hair care is immensely suspect as a spokesperson for the downtrodden. And there are many in the black community--leftist people--who would agree.