By Joey Saunders
At Pulse, a gay Orlando nightclub, 49 persons were killed and 53 were injured by a lone gunman, the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
Within a week, HRC President Chad Hunter Griffin issued this statement: “Forty-nine members of our community were murdered on Sunday morning because of a toxic combination of two things: a deranged, unstable individual who had been conditioned to hate LGBTQ people, and easy access to military-style guns. It is imperative that we address both issues in order to mitigate safety risk to our community. As a society, we must hold accountable lawmakers, religious leaders and other public officials who put a target on the backs of LGBTQ people through hateful rhetoric and legislation, because they are complicit in the violence fueled by their words and actions. The safety of the LGBTQ community depends on our ability to end both the hatred toward our community and the epidemic of gun violence that has spiraled out of control.”
Since then, 50 high-profile, mostly LGBT organizations, including GLAAD, Trevor Project, and Gay Men’s Health Crisis, have signed a pledge supporting gun-control legislation.
Specifically, the pledge asks that Congress take action to prevent the legal sale of guns to people convicted of hate crimes as well as known and suspected terrorists. It also calls for background checks on all gun sales.
Research shows that the majority of Americans support most proposed gun control legislation. According to Pew Research Center, 85 percent favor background checks for private and gun show sales, 58 percent favor a ban on semi-automatic weapons (like the infamous AR-15), 55 percent favor a ban on assault-style weapons, 54 percent favor a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, 53 percent favor a ban on the online sale of ammunition, and 67 percent favor setting up a federal database that tracks all gun sales.
But gun advocates, like GOP Senator Ted Cruz, continue to stress a belief that now, more than ever, Americans need more guns, not fewer. In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, Cruz told Breitbart News, “You don’t get rid of the bad guys by getting rid of our guns. You get rid of the bad guys by using our guns.” Research does not support this assertion.
In fact, for every one time a civilian has successfully used a gun in self defense, 34 innocent people were killed; 36, if you count accidental deaths. The vast majority of data from over a 100 reputable studies, both worldwide and in the United States, underlines the fact that the more gun ownership there is in a given area, the more gun deaths there will be.
More guns equal more deaths.
A particularly insightful study by Harvard Injury Control Research Center has shown that, much more than mental health, gun access is one of the leading factors associated with higher homicide rates. Greater gun access means more gun deaths, the study found, especially for women. More access equals more deaths.
Still, gun advocates often shift the blame from gun access to the mentally ill. According to Pew, 80 percent of the public feel that those with mental illnesses should be barred from purchasing firearms. After analyzing 21 studies from 1990 to 2010, researchers concluded that persons with mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence.
The LGBTQ community, especially trans people, is similarly vulnerable to violence. According to an HRC report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has seen an uptick in LGB-biased hate crimes despite — or, perhaps, because of — increasing public support for gay rights. The HRC, citing a recent Associated Press investigation, adds that hate crimes are also dramatically under-reported, especially those involving gender identity. FBI data also shows that LGBT people are more likely to be hate-crime targets than any other minority group.
So why, if there is so much evidence and public support for increased gun control, are laws not being passed?
You probably already have a pretty good idea. The NRA began in 1934 as more sporting club than political lobbying powerhouse. In its infancy, the NRA favored some gun restrictions until, in response to rising crime, a 1968 law called The Gun Control Act was passed.
Some NRA members feared this was the tip of a slick slope that would ultimately result in the ratification of the Second Amendment and a government seizure of all firearms. These members put Harlon Carter in charge; Carter reformed the NRA into a stalwart gun lobby group. Today this small but powerful association uses its relatively massive budget (over $243 million) to influence politics and public opinion. While the public appears to be edging further and further from the NRA’s ideals, many conservative politicians rely on the NRA for sizable campaign donations.
One such politician, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, received $60,550 from the NRA, more than any other member of Congress.
Author and Duke University political scientist Kristin Goss tells Vox.com that another obstacle of gun control is passion. She explains that while people are more passionate about tangible things, reducing gun violence is a more abstract notion than the physical loss of one’s possessions. Therefore, gun owners and advocates tend to be more inflammable than their opponents, tend to show up more regularly to vote, and tend to protest more vigorously and consistently.
Goss does point out that things appear to be changing, but only locally. Some blue states, like Oregon and Washington, have managed to pass laws requiring background checks for all gun sales; in some red states, however, gun laws are getting looser.
On a recent episode of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” panelists brought up the successes other countries have had with gun reform. Australia is often used as an example because, prior to strict gun laws implemented in 1996, the country was plagued by mass shootings as the US is.
Emily Miller, author and former Deputy Press Secretary to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, dismissed these successes, arguing that widespread reform wouldn’t work in America. She echoed statements Senator Cruz made, pointing out that the San Bernardino shooting took place in California, a state that boasts some of the nation’s strictest gun regulations.
Due to inconsistent gun laws, however, guns can be legally purchased in states with lax laws and transported across state lines with such ease that routes from Southern states to New York have earned the nickname “The Iron Pipeline.”
Inconsistent gun laws contribute to easy access which, as mentioned above, always increases gun deaths.
That being said, most gun deaths are not homicides. Most gun deaths are suicides.
Due to hate speech, systemic and religious oppression, bullying, straight-washing, hate-motivated violence, and myriad other difficulties that queer persons face just because they live in a heteronormative society, suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBT youth. According to the Center for Disease Control, LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide and a quarter of young trans persons report that they have attempted suicide. Easier access to a gun translates to a higher suicide success rate.
One of over 200 nationwide anti-LGBT bills that organizations like the HRC is in the midst of fighting is HB2, known more colloquially as Charlotte, N. C.’s “Bathroom Bill.” The bill makes it illegal for a trans person to use a restroom that does not correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” North Carolina’s Republican governor Pat McCrory defended his decision to sign the bill into law, but added that he has been under tremendous pressure to overturn the bill because of business boycotts and gay-rights advocacy groups such as the HRC, which McCrory says is “more powerful than the NRA.” He made this proclamation before the Orlando shootings, giving it the slightest air of prophecy, but how true is it?
According to federal tax filings, if you add its foundation’s revenue to its previously mentioned budget, the NRA packs a financial punch of $356.1 million compared to the HRC’s $51.2 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA’s political spending is 7.5 times that of the HRC. For outside spending like political initiatives, TV ads, and other promotional materials, the NRA spends around $350 for every $1 the HRC spends. So, the NRA is clearly wealthier, but does that translate to “power?”
The NRA also has more magazine subscribers and social media followers than the HRC. While the gay marriage victory last June was momentous, the HRC has been fighting to pass federal anti-discrimination laws since 1980 with little success. In nearly every conceivable category, the HRC is an underdog. Except one: public opinion.
Most Americans support stricter gun laws, and Pew Research finds 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage while only 37 percent oppose it. Polls suggest that nearly 75 percent of Americans support passing anti-discrimination laws such as ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA has been introduced in almost every Congress on a national level since 1994 and, despite public support, it has died each time.
So why, if most Americans support gun control and anti-discrimination legislation, do such laws never pass? Because not all Americans vote — about 60 percent for presidential elections and just 40 percent for midterms — and because many who do vote, vote for politicians who value private money over public opinion.