We Need Comprehensive Gun Control, Not More Racial Profiling

June 20, 2016
Senator Chris Murphy on the floor of the Senate during his marathon 15-hour filibuster last week demanding that Congress pass a gun control bill in the wake of the Orlando shooting. (Photo Credit: C-SPAN)
Senator Chris Murphy on the floor of the Senate during his marathon 15-hour filibuster last week demanding that Congress pass a gun control bill in the wake of the Orlando shooting. (Photo Credit: C-SPAN)

Last week, freshman Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) ended a marathon fifteen hour filibuster demanding that Congress finally do something — anything — about the gun control issue. Just days prior, a gunman committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history when he stormed into the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida with a semiautomatic assault rifle, shooting and killing 49 victims and wounding 53 more before being killed by police. Most of the Orlando shooter’s victims that night — the twelfth of LGBT Pride Month — were Black and Brown LGBT clubgoers out for a night of drinks and dancing at Pulse’s weekly Latin night.

This was the 176th mass shooting in 2016 alone. To date, nearly 1,000 Americans have been wounded or killed in mass shootings, and the year is not yet half over. There are, quite simply, no words left to utter about this tragic, angering, inexcusable status quo except these: we need better gun control.

When Omar Mateen, Orlando shooter, attacked Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning, he did so with a legally purchased Sig Sauer MCX and Glock17 handgun. The rifle was first developed at the request of US military to accept a range of ammunition types, and its specialty is its built-in silencing technology. On June 12, Mateen used his MCX to fire a still unknown number of bullets at a rate of 24 rounds in 9 seconds.

As this gun enthusiast blog raves, “it really does look like SIG Sauer took the concept of the Honey Badger and ran with it all the way to the finish line. And then decided to make it available for sale to the civilian market and not just for military contracts.”

The MCX is, without a doubt, a weapon of war.

Common sense dictates that this gun — whose only purpose is to maximize the task of ending human lives as quickly and efficiently as possibly — does not belong on the civilian market.

For too long, this country has been paralyzed on the issue of gun control by the multimillion dollar lobbying efforts of Second Amendment groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA). Republicans and Democrats alike have been loathe to broach the topic of gun control. For decades, legislators  who were fearful of losing re-election bids if they even hinted at going up against the intensity of the gun rights lobby simply side-stepped the issue of gun control.

Their fear is based on the single-minded dedication of the NRA and their supporters. Yet, despite being perceived as the single most powerful lobbying group in Washington, the NRA represents the interests of a small minority of Americans.

Last night, John Oliver pointed out that the NRA boasts a membership of only 5 million, 3 million fewer folks than members who belong to Planet Fitness. However, they wield power because these 5 million NRA members are largely single-issue voters with the time and dedication to harass lawmakers into blocking any effort to regulate gun access, or even collect data about gun violence. They even blocked the confirmation vote for Surgeon General Vivek Murthy for daring to suggest that gun violence is a public health crisis that warrants further consideration.

Last week’s Democratic filibuster is the first signs of courage on gun control by any lawmaker in decades, and for that Senator Murphy and Senate Democrats deserve credit.

For far too long, legislators have failed to do anything to pass significant gun control, even though 70% of Americans (and nearly 80% of Asian Americans) support better gun sales regulation. In 2004, Congress quietly allowed the expiry of the federal assault weapons ban that would have made the MCX used by Omar Mateen to murder 49 people illegal for civilian purchase. In 2013, the Machin-Toomey bill — which would have required background checks on all gun sales and which was the most significant gun control proposals up for a vote in the last decade — was defeated despite a Democratically-held Senate. Oliver notes that last week and just days after the Orlando shooting, effort to repeal the Dickey amendment — which bans the CDC from using its budget to collect data on gun violence — was again defeated to zero public outcry.

But, just because Senate Democrats are finally showing bravery on gun control doesn’t mean that all of their proposed bills sit easily with me. Following Murphy’s filibuster, four gun control bills are scheduled for a vote in the Senate — according to Fox News (so take that with a grain of salt) none are expected to pass. While I support expansion of background checks for gun sales — the crux of a bill authored by Murphy — there is another bill under consideration that causes me concern. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has put forward a measure endorsed by the Justice Department to prevent suspects being investigated by the FBI from purchasing a gun.

On paper, this bill sounds like common sense. We don’t want terrorists to legally purchase military-style weapons that they might then use to commit acts of terrorism against the American civilian populace.

This bill makes the (flawed) assumption, however, that merely being investigated by the FBI or the State Deoartment is sufficient just cause to render a person guilty of terrorism and to therefore deny them access to their constitutional rights. After all, we already do this, right? People under investigation by the FBI are not permitted to fly in commercial airplanes without strict scrutiny, if they are permitted to board at all. And, of course, only guilty people are suspicious, right?

Yet — and this is important — the federal government is not infallible when it comes to placing people under suspicion of terrorism. The ACLU reported in 2012 that the federal “No Fly” list included 21,000 people, including 500 Americans, who were denied their right to travel for seemingly arbitrary reasons and without any prior notice — today, the list has doubled in size. Stories abound of innocent people wrongfully placed on terrorist watch lists for dubious reasons — including this one posted last week by someone who was placed under suspicion for apparently daring to attend mosque and synonygogue services regularly, and who spent months attempting phone calls and emails to the FBI to clear their name.

Efforts to monitor potential terrorists and prevent terrorist crimes are obviously important. No one denies that. But, the FBI and the State Department also has a history of using questionable tactics for placing people under suspicion of criminal activity. Many times, the people who find themselves wrongfully targeted by the federal government tend to be people of colour whose racial identity has contributed to their “profiling” as potential suspects. The fact that people can be placed under suspicion without any form of due process protections compounds the risk of unjust, baseless profiling.

Racial profiling isn’t just limited to Muslims and Muslim Americans. Non-Muslim Asian Americans face a similar problem. Last year, I wrote about how the State Department has blacklisted numerous Asian American and Muslim employees from accepting certain positions on the grounds that they might commit acts of international espionage. Since the 1990’s, Chinese American civilian scientists have also found themselves wrongfully targeted as suspects of foreign espionage. In 1999, Taiwanese American scientist Dr. Wen Ho Lee was indicted on charges of stealing nuclear secrets for China. In 2015, Dr. Xiaoxing Xi and Dr. Sherry Chen were arrested and charged in separate cases as suspected spies. In virtually all cases, the charges were ultimately determined to be baseless, but not after the investigation ruined the professional careers of these and numerous other Asian Americans. Meanwhile, taken together, these examples strongly suggest that racial profiling plays a significant role in how the government places people under suspicion of crimes involving national security.

So: how exactly is a federal “No Buy” gun sales list going to do anything but selectively disenfranchise certain people of colour?

One can’t help but wonder if the Feinstein measure supporting a federal “No Buy” list is relatively popular among (predominantly White) Democrats and Republicans because neither they nor their (predominantly White) constituents really have to worry too much about being wrongfully placed on a federal watchlist based primarily on the colour of their skin.

A federal “No Buy” list is unlikely to do much to stop mass shootings. Omar Mateen was under investigation by the FBI at one point, but had been cleared by the FBI by the time he attacked Pulse nightclub. Furthermore, investigators increasingly suspect that terrorism had little to do with Mateen’s attack. Neither Dylann Roof, nor Adam Lanza, nor Jared Lee Loughner, nor Seung-Hui Cho, nor Wade Michael Page, nor most other mass shooters in recent memory found on FBI terrorist watchlists.

I applaud Senator Murphy’s filibuster. I applaud Democrats’ willingness to tackle gun control. But this so-called “No Buy” bill feels like yet another effort by legislators fearful of the NRA to pass a politically expedient, but ultimately distracting, bill that attempts to sell gun control by villainizing people of colour. Meanwhile, we fail to focus on the real issue: that it’s far too easy for people in this country to legally access weapons of mass destruction.

As a country, we need to find the courage to confront the gun rights lobby and actually pass comprehensive gun control legislation. We need to do something to stop America’s epidemic of gun violence. We need to halt the sale of military weapons to the civilian populace. We do not need legislated Islamophobia or other forms of racial profiling. We cannot continue to believe that the gun control issue is helped by measures that seek to absolve America’s guilty conscience over gun control with policies that reinforce the government’s policies of profiling that disproportionately target, harass and disenfranchise people of colour while doing little to stop the actual problem of gun violence.

We desperately need better gun control, in this country. But, we need gun control that applies common sense regulations to limit military-style gun sales for all Americans, not just non-White ones.

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  • pzed

    Yes, let’s ban assault weapons. No argument. But see here:
    https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-8

    Assault weapons (in the rifles category) really don’t kill that many people compared to handguns. And really, so what if you banned assault weapons… Omar would just have bought more handguns instead. It’s not hard to shoot people when they’re stuffed into a bathroom stall. Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to kill 49 people, but is 15-25 dead people that much better? So then let’s ban handguns. I’m fine with that too, but I’d think the US would dissolve into civil war before giving up handguns.

    You also seem to want to attribute nothing from the attack to his religion or background. Now maybe he didn’t have any deep ties to ISIS groups, but as I’ve said in earlier discussions, Muslim immigrants (and sometimes their kids) from regions with large numbers of extremists probably don’t see the LGBT community in the most positive light. Omar’s own father said, “God will punish those involved in homosexuality,” saying it’s, “not an issue that humans should deal with.” And his dad has been tied to Islamic extremists himself.

    So who do you care for more – the LGBT community or Muslims?

    You tried to tie Chinese/Taiwanese Americans to this to say we’re all in the same boat. Well, the difference here is that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them of anything serious. There was maybe some smoke in these cases, but no flame. On the other hand, we have these ISIS directed or inspired attacks where the perpetrator is killed during the crime. These are not comparable cases. It’s actually even worse than that. If the FBI were more inclined to take a closer look at Muslims reported to them on multiple occasions, then there’s a small chance this would never have happened. But they weren’t. They were probably thinking – “It’s not politically correct to have any suspicion about his guy despite what our sources tell us. We should give him the benefit of the doubt and let him go on his merry way.”

  • trer24

    I feel with gun control, some thought has to given to how it can be used as a tool to disempower POC. For example, here in California the Black Panthers marched into the State Capito in Sacramento,, openly carrying, to protest the Mulford Act which was written in response to Black Panthers protecting their own communities in Oakland from the police. They patrolled their own communities and were armed. Malcolm X is in a famous photo carrying a gun and looking out the window to protect his family. I agree with your assessment of racial profiling but until we’ve reached the point where POC also feel they are equally protected by the government, being armed maybe the only equalizer against tyranny…as history has shown.

  • I totally understand and agree about this fear and self-defense concern for POC. My opinion starts with a focus on supporting a reimplementation of the federal assault weapons ban, however because I believe those weapons have been used far more by the State to kill POC than as weapons to protect us from the State. I also am probably more energized by the fight to start treating gun violence as a public health epidemic, rather than as a political football. In general, I support strict gun control, but am mostly interested in finding a way to end gun violence rather than to take away guns. I haven’t seen. Way for this country to balance gun deaths against the Second Amendment, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to strike a balance.

    Sort of related, another example for you along the lines of what you’ve presented is the Cornell ’69 takeover. Really important example of the Black community using armament without violence and for self-defense to advocate for equal treatment.

  • Hello, I ran across this site when reading about the dog thing, but I am an Asian American make living in a sort of rural area that works in the firearm retail industry (and kind of the last person people expect to see), and I have to interject my corrections on some of the statements made in your article. You state that the Orlando shooter used a “weapon of war” which is kind of off, the real one would have been a select fire operation . The difference is that “automatic” and single shot is significant and not accessible by normal citizens. However as I’ve brought this up in the last week in various places it’s been told to me that it’s just splitting hairs and I’ve come to agree.
    The true problem we have currently is that we are unable to “un-invent” the gun and the mechanisms that cause them to work. They’re actually very simple. People talk about banning magazines but what is a magazine? It’s a box, made of 4 plastic and 1 metal spring pieces or similar. It’s too easy to make. The comparison to nuclear weapons and how we are unable to Un-invent that tech either isn’t quite the same due to how controlled the nature of radioactive material is versus a 3D printer or plastic injection molding.
    Did you know, it’s not illegal to create your own gun? You have to follow current laws for what it is legally defined as, for example, a rifle (16″ barrel, overall length of 26″, NOT automatic, etc), but you can mill or dremel your own receiver (legal part that defines a gun, usually serialized) barrel, small parts and so on. One guy even carved a receiver for an AR-15 out of wood. The knowledge isn’t high tech, and it’s pretty widespread. I learned it in a day, and 2/3 of mine are put together from modular component parts.

    Now I sound pretty red, and I kind of am, but am willing to entertain gun control ideas if they work well. How does gun control advocates want to approach this?
    Expanded background checks might help if departments talked to each other, certainly with a no fly or terrorist list, but like you said that diminishes due process. I propose Federal basics class and a proficiency test to absolutely teach safety for a good public health standard to prevent accidents and negligence but this still leaves the problem of people who do pass and still want to harm others. The Orlando shooter likely would have passed a basics and proficiency class, and then shot up the club, still not s good solution.
    Limitations on magazines, he would have just reloaded more often, it takes only takes a second to do.
    Banning assault weapons, like another poster has stated he might have resorted to do a ‘New York Reload’ where you just have multiple firearms instead, dropping one as you get another, can be even done with revolvers or shotguns.
    Full ban of firearms? A bit unrealistic, and very costly. If I’m gonna give them up, I’ll want what I paid for them back, and the rest of the owners would too. There’s no money for this to begin with, and I don’t think many people would cooperate. Currently there’s no registry so it’s their word against the people’s of who owns what and where, much less unserialized or handmade parts.
    Ok I’ve written too much and it’s 4 AM but I am open to discussion and questions about industry if need be.

  • Skeet Duran

    The bulk of handgun deaths in your chart can be attributed to high-capacity semiautomatic weapons as well along with the high-capacity semiautomatic rifles and should be banned if the bill proposal is passed. Glock handguns with rapid fire of 10 rounds or more are in the high-capacity semiautomatic category, like the handguns used by the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho that killed 32 people.

    The top list for total numbers of injuries and fatalities from mass shootings in the U.S. have used high-capacity semiautomatic glock handguns. Keep in mind, it’s these short guns that are easier for the criminals to hide in their backpacks.

    Pro-gun pundits love to deflect the blame by saying how cars and knifes kill more people, well cars and knifes have their other more practical uses in daily lives for civilians. High-capacity semiautomatic weapons don’t have any other practical uses other than killing innocent civilians, or just hobbies to the gun enthusiasts and fetishers. Uses for hunting, should require hunting licenses and background checks. For use to prevent against state police and government takeovers? Look at my post above to the other poster.

    You, similar to Trump want to ban all Muslims from entering the country, yet when a legitimate legislative proposal to ban potential terrorists from obtaining semiautomated weapons, your stance sounds like you don’t support the terrorists getting that ban, similar to hypocrite Trump who said he will do nothing in regards to gun controlling the terrorists.

  • Skeet Duran

    Good point, but that’s not the only option of defense for POC. There’s another legit alternative solution legally to protect POC, by having more POC get into law enforcements and legally carry semiautomatic weapons to protect their own people. Having Asian cops protecting Asian neighborhoods are a lot better and more trustworthy than having Asian gangs protecting Asian neighborhoods and Asian malls, likewise Muslim cops protecting Muslim neighborhoods are better than ISIS terrorist-wannabes protecting Muslim neighborhoods.

    The threat of government takeover is hyperbole exagerated by the pro-gun lovers and right wing nationalists manufactured to cause fear-mongering so they can continue to keep their guns. In reality, that threat is being manufactured, mobilized, and engaged in provocateur behaviors by the ever growing white militiamen led by Cliff Bundy. These organized militiamen took over Native American lands and reservations, took over federal buildings and public lands, tried to turn them into their own private properties. These militiamen are looking for an uprise if Hillary Clinton wins the election and the Dems are in office for too long, they tried to weaken the government by taking over those federal buildings that have many minority workers doing administrative work. Cliff Bundy and his agent provocateur militiamen will force the national security military to respond with action, so they can accuse the government of a takeover. The militiamen should be disarmed as they are more of a dangerous threat than the government.

    Here’s a graph that shows Hate crimes involving guns
    https://www.thetrace.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Screen-Shot-2016-06-13-at-12.15.08-AM.png

  • Skeet Duran

    Bombs and explosives are easy to make too, but we don’t see manufactures mass producing to sell to the public. Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada are first world countries just like the U.S., if semiautomatic high-capacity weapons and bombs are so easy to make, why do these countries rarely have mass shootings or mass killings? The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 first world countries. Mexico on the other hand, has loosely gun control resulting in high gun related homicide deaths.

    Many studies have shown the 8 states with some legislated bills of strict gun control have lower rates of gun related homicide deaths, conversely states with the highest gun related homicide deaths have the loosest to no gun control policies.

    The proposal and legislate of banning high-capacity weapons is a good first step in the right direction, and start with the ones on the watch-list and no-fly list. The key for an effective gun ban is to tie up all the loopholes so the manufacturers and the criminals cannot manipulate to get around the loopholes.

    A full scale ban is unconstitutional, but keep in mind that freedom to carry is just like freedom of speech are both come with a price and that is the price of responsibility, or else the abusers will take full advantage of the loose freedom.

  • pzed

    Did I say I was pro guns? Did I say I want terrorists with guns? In fact I said I was in favor of banning them. All of them. From everyone. I don’t really care what the constitution says. I don’t think it’s likely to happen, but I’m for it. However, I think the assault weapon ban is mostly symbolic rather than functional because they kill so few people compared to handguns. But hell, please ban it. Especially from terror suspects. Really especially from Muslim terror suspects who have been reported multiple times. You’ll save maybe a few 10s of people a year if you consider that a number of those killings probably still would have happened with handguns as a substitute.

    Did I say I wanted to ban all Muslims? I only wanted to highlight the fact that Jenn seems to think being Muslim has nothing to do with what happened, when it’s pretty clear there’s a connection. It’s hard to take any of you seriously when you point only to guns and not also to his religion as factors. He called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS, and you pretend it never happened.

  • Guest

    “I haven’t seen. Way”

    I think you meant to write” I haven’t seen a way” instead of what you’ve written above.
    Jenn made a mistake? WHAAAAT? : )

  • Guest

    Good article, Jen.

    As Ive mentioned before the NRA and the gun lobbyists NEED chaos and dead bodies in order for them to continue making money and strict gun control laws would prevent them from doing that. As long as it isn’t their families of friends that end up in the line of fire what do they care?

  • Skeet Duran

    I think the assault weapon ban is mostly symbolic rather than functional because they kill so few people compared to handguns.

    Handguns are assault weapons. The NRA website defines Assault Weapon as “Any weapon used in an assault”. https://www.nraila.org/about/glossary/
    Which includes knives, baseball bats, or handguns.

    The State bans are functional and effective, the assault weapon bans are already implemented in 8 states. With gun homicide rates dropped/reduced lower than the other 42 states. State bans have Assault Weapons Law, and high-capacity handguns are banned. Both handguns and rifles must meet the 15 rounds or lower threshold, handguns and rifles with rapid fire higher than 15 rounds are not legal to purchase in those 8 states.

    At the Federal level, they can’t implement the same ban as the states because the 1994 AWB from Bill Clinton was written in stone that Assault Weapons ban only applies to fully-automatic machine guns or military-style weapons, so that tramples any chance of banning all of the current semiautomatic weapons in circulation. Which means even the rifles on your chart cannot be banned under the expired AWB.

    That’s why anti-gun lobbyists should not reenact the old failed bills, they should propose new measures that are similar as the states bans and implement those same measures to the Federal level. Their goal should be to ban at least 70% of the guns, leaving just enough guns for home protections to be constitutional.

    In fact I said I was in favor of banning them. All of them. From everyone. I don’t really care what the constitution says.

    What about home invasions by 2 or more robbers, how can homeowners fend? At least have some single-shot guns in the house.

  • pzed

    I’m curious if the recent news in Europe has managed to budge your viewpoint on mass immigration from Muslim countries with a high percentage of extremists.

    With France – well, let’s ban big trucks. Can’t have dangerous big trucks around for any crazed truck driver to commit mass murder.

    Or Germany – let’s ban axes. No, I mean bombs. Except I mean guns. But what I really mean is machetes. All in the past week and half. That’s not even considering the mass groping/raping that started the year off.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/27/world/europe/germany-attacks-terrorism-anxiety.html

    Brexit’s starting to look pretty prescient, and Rotherham (where the Pakistani child sex grooming gangs operated for years because the police didn’t want to appear racist) voted to leave 68% to the stay’s 32%.

    My guess is that none of this has caused you to bat an eyelash towards reconsidering. My guess is that you’d sacrifice just about the entire industrialized world on the altar of open borders. And again, no I’m not voting for Trump even if I’m using his words.

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