2013, following the trend set in the latter half of last year, has been the year of the glock. Everybody, and their mama, is talking about gun violence and gun control laws. Guns, guns, guns. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve been hearing about gun violence in two extremely different contexts. On the one hand, there are the isolated, mass shootings like the Colorado theater and Sandy Hook school incidents. And on the other hand, there are the shootings in inner cities, mostly communities of color. I want to clarify now that I am talking about the latter. I do not think that the deaths of shooting victims in either kind of shooting are more important than the other. I am simply choosing to talk about the one that I have more experience with and knowledge about.
I’m obviously not the only person who understands gun violence to be an issue about families and gender. I had to check Mitt Romney a few months ago about his comments about unwed mothers contributing to gun violence. I disagreed with him for a lot of reasons, the main one being that most of the perpetrators of gun violence are not single mothers, or mothers at all. Shooters are usually men. We make violence sexy to men. We package and sell violence, and guns, to men. And we do this on an even larger scale to young men; and on a disproportionately larger scale to men of color. Violence is a part of how we gender our society.
Not only does this packaging of violence give us the sexy, hyper-masculine men of our Western dreams, it also helps us disproportionately target, criminalize, police, and continue to dominate communities of color. This is where we see a difference between numbers and exceptions. When we think about the death of the 15-year-old girl who performed at the inauguration, we think of someone who didn’t belong on the receiving or giving end of a bullet. But who does? I think about that 15-year-old girl and then I think about Number 500, the Westside man who was shot and became the 500th person to be murdered in Chicago in 2012. Or I think about Tony Dunn, my loved one, who I’m sure has a number assigned to him as well. Poor, uneducated men of color are the face of “the shooter.” And when they are shot we are allowed to look away, add a tally mark, and continue to report on how people like them kill folks who get to have names and not numbers.
When we do this, we also ignore the very real and obviously dangerous socioeconomic factors such as failing schools, failing healthcare, failing justice system, and failing resources that contribute to gun violence in these communities. The cycle of violence in these communities–which is on an overall decrease by the way–is no different than the cycle that perpetuates domestic or sexual violence. Gun violence is the result of a very complex combination of social and interpersonal issues, and not always the result of gangs and thugs, as we see in this case where a Chicago sex worker shot her client.
And at the heart of the issue, everyone shot or shooting is someone’s son/daughter or mother/father or sister/brother or cousin. It is as much about families as it is about communities. It is about personal identity and political manifestations of such. It is absolutely gendered, and it is as much of an issue for us as feminists as it is for anyone.