We Need to Start Talking About Gun Violence as a Feminist Issue

Feminism spans a pretty wide range of issues; everyone knows the old staples (reproductive choice, equal pay, childcare, women in STEM, etc.) but the movement has been growing, in recent years, in an effort to recognize how other issues (including economic issues and racial issues, to name a few) can be examined from a feminist lens.

Today, I want to draw your attention to the issue of gun violence.

First, victims of gun violence are disproportionately disadvantaged groups in the United States, particularly racial minorities and women.  That’s a pretty broad statement, so I’ll break it down into a couple of different issues, the first being police violence.  Across the United States, African-Americans are disproportionately the victims of shootings by police officers.  Take a look at this graph generated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

As feminists have rushed to embrace the #BlackLivesMatter movement, to stand in solidarity with the African-American community, several issues have stood out.  First, people cannot fully achieve their potential if they grow up in communities surrounded by fear.  Racial justice has even been framed in terms of reproductive justice, based on the simple argument that people have the right to have children without fear that they will die as a result of societal imbalances of power.  Second, while the media has drawn significant attention towards the killings of individuals such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the deaths of women of color, and especially trans women of color, tend not to get nearly as much attention.  This is a problem, because women of color are also harmed by racialized violence in the United States, and deserve justice as much as any other victims.

The other major disparity I wanted to highlight, however, is this: mass shootings disproportionately impact women. While opponents of gun control have rushed to once again blame mental illness-~-as they do every time the offender is a lone white shooter-~-and therefore perpetuate the problematic stigmatization of mental illness in the United States, the actual offender has, once again, cited being rejected by women as a motivator of this violence.  A culture of toxic masculinity continues to fuel retaliatory violence, particularly violence towards women, as men who have been socialized to believe that they are entitled to women’s attention and/or affection, romantically, sexually, or otherwise, lash out at innocent individuals.  Given our glorification of violence as masculine and powerful, we shouldn’t be surprised that individuals who believe they are being denied what is rightfully theirs seek to regain their sense of power through the use of violence-~-and our unwillingness to address these issues has had tragic results.

Even mass shootings aside, when you look you can find case after case after case after case after case (you get the point, this happens a lot) of women being physically attacked and even killed after refusing men’s advances.  And that trend doesn’t even take into account gun violence within domestic violence relationships, which I’d be mentioning here even if it weren’t domestic violence awareness month.  The reality is that guns are a major problem in the context of domestic violence relationships, so much so that victims of domestic violence are  up to twenty times more likely to be killed by a violent or controlling intimate partner if the abuser has access to a gun.  According to one study, in 2010 approximately three women per day were killed by their intimate partners in the United States, and the majority of those homicides were committed using a gun.

When you look at these trends of gun violence towards women, they are each shocking, but an international study noted that among high-income countries, the United States was home to 32% of the female population, but accounted for 84% of female homicides.  Read that statistic again, then tell me that gun violence is not a feminist issue.

Earlier this year, female politicians in the United States latched onto these issues to try to revamp their efforts to bring into effect new gun control legislation.  Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell are pushing for legislation that would get guns out of the hands of abusers in the form of the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act; Klobuchar also re-introduced legislation this year that would provide similar measure to limit or eliminate access to guns for those convicted of stalking or dating abuse.  Current law prevents those convicted of domestic abuse from possessing firearms, but it doesn’t address individuals who were previously convicted of abusing current or former “dating” partners.  This legislation follows a trend that has been growing at the state level, with over 30 new laws addressing intimate partner violence and gun access having been passed since 2008.   It is worth noting that additional laws also prohibit individuals who have been the subjects of domestic violence-related protective orders from possessing a firearm.

(It is unsurprising, but nevertheless worth noting, that the NRA opposes the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act, claiming that it casts too wide a net to reduce access to guns).

Part of the problem is that domestic violence laws are defined by state, meaning that the relationships qualifying as “domestic abuse” are subject to state-provided definitions.  For many individuals subject to intimate partner violence, this may mean that if they were abused by a partner with whom they did not live or to whom they were not married, the current provisions may not apply to prevent the abuser from accessing a weapon; the proposed legislation aims to change that, to protect more individuals.

The reality is that as long as we continue to ignore how gun violence is used, not on sporadic occasions for self-defense, but in order to uphold systems of power and privilege, we will never be able to meaningfully address how gun violence is enacted in the United States.  (And while we are on the subject, an incredibly small number of mentally ill persons perpetrate gun violence, so we need to stop pinning this issue on mental illness and actually talk about what is going on).  The fact that so many individuals are killed, and are killed as those who want to exercise power of them strike out to maintain their own social position, is horrifying.  It is a tragedy that we all need to speak out against, and one for which we should demand a remedy.

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~ by Randi Saunders on October 7, 2015.

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