Gun Violence and Marginalized Communities: How Is It Different?

We live in a country where gun violence is shockingly normalized. Award-winning author Michelle Roehm McCann tackles the topic of gun violence through a community and national lens in this excerpt from her new book, Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety.

We live in a country where gun violence is shockingly normalized. Award-winning author Michelle Roehm McCann tackles the topic of gun violence through a community and national lens in her new book, Enough is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, Oct. 2019; Gr 7 Up). In this excerpt, the author discusses gun violence in black communities, dismantling the fallacy of "black on black crime" and touching upon police brutality and systemic racism. The second portion discusses gun violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community and the rise in hate crimes since Trump's election.

Gun Violence in Black Communities

Black communities have been fighting gun violence for decades, and while their goals are the same as those of every other community—less gun violence—they have additional concerns that are particular to what is happening in black neighborhoods.

They are less focused on school shootings (which are uncommon in black neighborhoods) and more concerned about the “structural violence” and police shootings that happen daily in their neighborhoods. They are also frustrated by the lack of media attention for gun violence in black communities versus in white communities.

You might have noticed that whenever white children are killed in school shootings, the news media is all over it. But the sad truth is that guns kill ten times more black children than white children in America. Worst of all, African Americans between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine are eighteen times more likely to be killed by a gun than their white peers. These deaths are not happening because of angry school shooters. They are happening because of drugs, crime, and other issues related to poverty and systemic racism.

Police violence is another gun issue that impacts black communities more heavily than white communities. Increased media coverage of the many fatal shootings of unarmed black men and boys, along with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, have finally brought much-needed attention to this issue. According to the Washington Post, of the nearly 3,300 deadly shootings by police from January 2015 through April 2018, one-third were against African Americans, even though they make up just 12 percent of the US population. According to The Counted, a project run by The Guardian newspaper to record all police killings in the US, in 2015, black males aged fifteen to thirty-four were nine times more likely to be killed by police officers than young white men.

Although the media tends to focus on white shootings, black and white student activists are starting to work together. Bria Smith, a black student activist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, talked about this change in the movement. She began “In my community, it’s easier to get a gun than it is to find a parking spot.” She was frustrated with all the media attention on the Parkland survivors. “So many people giving media coverage to a couple students, I felt really salty.” Then she met Parkland activist David Hogg at a gun violence event. She remembered, “I thought he was another white boy. [But] he asked me a question that no other person has asked me. He asked, ‘What do you need? We can get it for you.’ And I thought, Whoa. Maybe I do need to speak up about that.”

The Parkland kids joined with students of color for a national speaking tour aimed at registering young voters for the 2018 midterm elections. Together, they are working to create a more powerful gun safety movement. Their overall goal is the same: to make everyone safer, in all neighborhoods. As young activist Nza-Ari Khepra explained, “Gun violence is not just one race’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue.”

Gun Violence in LGBTQ+ Communities

Gun reform priorities are also different for the LGBTQ+ community. Violence against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise. In 2017, one year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the number of LGBTQ+ people killed because of their sexual orientation rose 86 percent. The actual number is likely higher because the report didn’t count any mass shootings, like the massacre at the Pulse nightclub.

Gun violence is the number one cause of death for LGBTQ+ victims of hate crimes, responsible for 52 percent of murders.

Why the increased violence against the LGBTQ+ community after Trump’s election? Many believe that the attitude at the top sets the tone for the rest of the country. Beverly Tillery, director of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, said, “It [Trump’s presidency] has given an opening for people to feel like they can commit acts of hate-based violence without much repercussion.”

Another alarming increase is the number of gun suicides in the LGBTQ+ community. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a national survey on teen suicide. The results they found were shocking: 40 percent of LGBTQ+ high school students were seriously considering suicide, 34.9 percent were planning to do it, and 24.9 percent had already attempted suicide in the previous year. By comparison, 14.8 percent of heterosexual teens had seriously considered suicide, 11.9 percent had planned suicide, and 6.3 percent had attempted suicide.

From reading chapter 2, you know how much access to guns increases a teen’s ability to successfully kill themselves. Since LGBTQ+ teens are at higher risk for suicide attempts, guns make that risk much, much deadlier. Cameron Price, a high school junior and member of Gays Against Guns Los Angeles, said, “I really want to get guns out of the hands of us and out of the hands of people who want to harm us. I am someone who has attempted suicide because of homophobia, and if I had a gun I wouldn’t be here today.”

The Pulse nightclub shooting spurred many in the LGBTQ+ community into action. Survivor Brandon Wolf cofounded the Dru Project, which promotes gay-straight alliances and gives scholarships to LGBTQ+ youth. An activist for LGBTQ+ rights and gun safety, Brandon has summed up the intersectionality of these two issues:

The two movements really are uniquely intertwined, because if we create a world where everyone is safer, if we create a world where only the right people have their hands on weapons, then we create a world where LGBTQ people are safer.

Photo by Karen DeWitz

Michelle Roehm McCann has worked as a children’s book editor and art director for more than 20 years, and written and compiled several award-winning children’s books of her own. Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety will be published on October 8, 2019, from Simon Pulse/Beyond Words.

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