We Can’t Use Gun Control as an Excuse to be Racist?

gun violence

by Sanjana Lakshmi

Yesterday, the Democratic Party’s “sit-in”—purportedly for stricter gun control measures in the wake of the Orlando shooting—ended after 25 hours. During the past few days, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with people applauding the Democratic Party for this show of civil disobedience. The sit-in was an attempt to force Republicans to allow a vote on a bill that would restrict the ability of “suspected terrorists” to legally buy guns. The No Fly List is one of the secret government watch lists that is included in this bill. 

However, according to the ACLU, the No Fly List is essentially an arbitrary list of people—often, those with “Muslim” or “Middle-Eastern” sounding names are blacklisted, and there is no fair process to overturn the inclusion of an innocent name on these lists.

As of June 14, 2016, there have been 1,000 mass shootings during the past 1,260 days in the United States. It is common knowledge that the United States has a gun problem—this country has seen an enormous amount of deaths and injuries due to gun violence, and from 1966 to 2012, nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings have occurred in the United States. And yet arguments still continue about whether or not the United States needs to put comprehensive gun control measures in place. Arguments still continue about the importance of the Second Amendment, without regard to the lives of innocent people who are lost to gun violence every day.

It’s important to note, this “sit-in” by the Democratic Party, and the bill that they are supporting through this sit-in will not solve the problem. People are stigmatized as potential terrorists due to things like their names, criticizing the United States’ foreign policy, or even sending money to a family in the Middle East. This is not an attempt towards comprehensive gun control measures—this is support of a bill that is rooted in anti-Muslim sentiment and the Islamophobic “War on Terror.” The proposal has been called the “no fly, no buy” list because it would prevent those who end up on government watch lists from purchasing firearms in the United States.

[Read Related: After Orlando: Where Does Safety Exist for LGBTQ People of Color]

The Democratic Party is being celebrated for their efforts in terms of this sit-in. It is important to recognize, however, that a vote on—and a pass of—this bill would not do anything to reduce gun violence in the United States. Instead, it would increase discrimination and government surveillance of already marginalized groups of people and facilitate discrimination and racism, particularly against Muslims and brown people in general.

Neither the No Fly List nor any government watch lists contain the names of people like Dylann Roof, a white man who killed nine innocent black church-goers last year. None of these lists contain the names of people like Elliot Rodger, who went on a killing spree against women in 2014. None of these watchlists acknowledge the fact that gun violence is not a Muslim problem; it is not a “brown people” problem. It goes far deeper than this surface-level, discriminatory rhetoric. The fact that this bill that Democrats are so ardently supporting with their sit-in, which targets people of color, is not something that can be argued against. For example, the city of Dearborn, Michigan has the second highest number of watchlisted individuals than any other United States city—and Dearborn holds one of the largest communities of Arab-Americans in the country.

Historically, terrorism watch lists have targeted people and communities of color. People like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have all been under surveillance by the FBI on lists like these. Rather than targeting dangerous people, these lists have a history of targeting either innocent people, those who criticize the United States government, or those fighting for liberation. The Democratic Party does not deserve to be applauded for furthering racist and discriminatory measures. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that a vote for—and a potential passing of—this bill would do anything to improve the gun violence situation in the United States.

Elected officials have not “sat in” against the war in Iraq, they have not “sat in” against police brutality across the country. They have not shown solidarity with vulnerable communities, and this sit-in is no exception to that rule. Gun control legislation cannot be used as another excuse to criminalize already marginalized communities. It needs to be addressed adequately, and it cannot disproportionately affect people of color for arbitrary reasons.

sanjanaSanjana Lakshmi is an undergraduate student who wants to change the world, originally from the Bay Area and now studying political science and legal studies at Northwestern University. She dreams of one-day dismantling capitalism, along with, patriarchy and structural racism, and obviously she can’t to this single-handedly, so please join her. But, in the meantime, she hopes to help her community in any way she can. Lakshmi is particularly passionate about gender justice but cares about all kinds of human rights issues as well. She also enjoys Indian food, falafel, mint chocolate chip ice cream, hiking, hanging out with her dog and her family, and sleeping.

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