Gun control laws in the United States, although well-intentioned, disproportionately affect marginalized communities. In an ideal world, where vulnerable communities are no longer terrorized by police and violent bigots, firearms would be unnecessary for self-defense, but unfortunately, that is not the case. The reality of the situation is that police don’t protect people, so they have to protect themselves.
The first gun control laws in the US were to secure white supremacy. David Babat, from the University of Rhode Island writes, “The first selectively restrictive gun control legislation was enacted in the pre-Revolution South and primarily aimed at keeping free Blacks from owning firearms and maintaining a white monopoly on power.” In the 1960s, the National Rifle Association (NRA), now a notorious advocate for firearm de-regulation, actually fought for stricter gun control laws when the Black Panthers legally openly carried in California. The NRA, along with then-Governor Ronald Reagan, worked to pass the Mulford Act, a CA state bill prohibiting the open carry of loaded firearms. Compare this action to Reagan’s 1983 remarks to the NRA, in which he says “We will never disarm any American who seeks to protect his or her family from fear and harm.” This statement directly contradicts his work twenty years prior in passing the Mulford Act, which it seems had the sole purpose of disarming the Black Panthers. White people, comfortable in their supremacy, were disconcerted by armed Black people turning the tables. This clearly shows how gun control legislation was used to target the Black community, to prevent them from protecting themselves against institutions of white supremacy. The result of years of firearms legislation dedicated to taking power out of the hands of vulnerable populations, especially the Black community, is state-sanctioned murder. There have been too many innocent people, trans people of color specifically, killed by police shootings.
In order for this to change, a few different steps could be taken. However, disarmament of the people without the disarmament of the police will create no movement forward whatsoever, and will only do more harm than good. People who don’t advocate for disarmament of state institutions as a first step are, knowingly or not, promoting police brutality. Brian Barry writes, “Institutions are obviously key to the realization of social justice. They also have the crucial feature that they can (to varying degrees) be changed simply by passing a law. Of course, there may be great political difficulties in changing the law so that the resulting institutions will implement social justice. The policing institution is one that is deeply tied to the concept of justice in modern society. Especially in the US, the idea of police armed with nonlethal weapons is unthinkable. Any law attempting to prevent police from possessing firearms would undoubtedly face severe backlash. Barry is correct in saying that changing certain institutions will require the overcoming of enormous obstacles.
Presently, figures who wield power are in a position to exert their will over people who cannot fight back. The ones who try are beat relentlessly by the US legal system. For example, take the case of Marissa Alexander, a Black woman. “Alexander used a gun that she was licensed to own and fired a single warning shot into the air to ward off her abusive husband, who admitted in a subsequent deposition to having abused every woman he had ever been partnered with (except for one).” The jury charged Alexander with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and she was sentenced to 20 years. Marissa Alexander’s case perfectly exemplifies the United States’ attitude towards people, especially women, of color who arm themselves and show no hesitation to protect themselves from their oppressors. Malcolm X’s quote, “We are not nonviolent with anyone who is violent with us.” espouses the philosophy of many left-wing firearm advocates, and the mentality of gun-owners who don’t have a majority identity. These words from Malcolm X prove the necessity of self-defense for members of vulnerable communities. Under no circumstances should the people be disarmed before the police.
A possible alternative would be complete disarmament of both parties. However, this solution would face massive backlash from all sides. 65% percent of US citizens believe that the Constitution ensures the right to own a gun (CNN). Due to the high amount of people who support the right to possess and wield firearms in the United States, this plan of action would not go over well with the US populace, and would most likely require the use of force, rendering irrelevant whatever legal moves that were made to put through the disarmament policy. Therefore, the complete disarming of both the state and the people, while being an optimal solution, is unfortunately very, very unlikely to occur due to its difficulty to implement and enforce.
The solution that is most likely to protect people of color and the LGBTQ+ community is to leave US firearm policy where it is currently. In addition, people with violent histories, especially abusers, should be barred from becoming police officers, or holding positions of judicial authority. Of course, the most ideal scenario would be the abolishment of the police, but that is an unrealistic goal to pursue in this political environment, due to the massive tension surrounding US legislative bodies. To get back to the topic at hand, people with violent histories should not be defined as those with felony convictions. Certain felonies (drug possession, other drug charges, etc.) are in and of themselves nonviolent, and depending on the case, some convictions are a result of the United States’ flawed criminal justice system. Recall the case of Marissa Alexander, a Black woman who was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for firing a warning shot in self-defense. Now, Alexander is a felon for protecting herself, a tragic failing of the US justice system. People with felony convictions for crimes of desperation shouldn’t be barred from buying and owning a firearm if they want to. Someone who sold illegal drugs to feed their family, without committing any violent acts, should not be prevented from having a gun.
However, other felonies are most definitely perpetrated in violence. Rapists and abusers should not be allowed to possess firearms. A violent history should be defined as the act of a violent crime with no provable justification. If people with violent histories are barred from firearm possession, it would be a step forward in preventing the murders of people with vulnerable identities. To go another step further, people with violent histories should be barred from positions of judicial power, as well as law enforcement work. The National Center for Women and Policing cites two studies finding that 40% of police families are victims of domestic violence, a staggering number compared to 10% in the general population. A great number of police-perpetrated killings could be reduced if these people who are violent in their private life are removed from positions of power. A mass movement of people of color, especially women of color, purchasing firearms and learning how to use them would almost certainly become a deterrent to individuals with violent prejudice. The removal of violent bigots from the law enforcement sphere as well as the encouragement of firearm training and usage for women, especially Black women, of color, as well as LGBTQ+ people of color would make these communities much more dangerous targets. To these communities who have long been terrorized by police, Malcolm X’s words have never been clearer: “We are not nonviolent with anyone who is violent with us.”
The unabashedly racist origins of gun control laws still affect vulnerable communities today, allowing violent people, especially the police, to murder them with impunity. While a variety of possible solutions exist, the only one that is viable while providing the safest outcome for people historically targeted by police is the removal of abusive individuals from their positions of power while promoting self-defense among vulnerable communities.
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