Sarah Sophie Flicker: Why the Gun-Control Debate Is Inextricably Linked to the Rest of the Political Landscape Right Now

Gun control, women’s reproductive rights, climate change, criminal justice reform—these issues are all related

Matt Bernstein

Last week, just two days after a mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58, the House of Representatives passed a 20-week abortion ban. The bill passed by 237 votes to 189, split almost exactly between Democrats opposed to and Republicans in favor of the bill. The next day, the GOP published a blog post stating that they felt impelled to take action, compromising women’s bodily autonomy, because of the shooting itself.

As we mourn the lives lost in Las Vegas this week,” they wrote, “we are reminded just how precious life is. This message weighed heavily on the hearts of House Republicans as we spoke of the potential of life—especially lives cut short through abortion.” Then, on Friday, President Trump rescinded the Affordable Care Act mandate covering birth control, allowing employers to take a religious exemption. (It must be said, that exemption will also save the employers money.)

Of course, these issues—gun control, women’s reproductive rights, climate change, criminal justice reform—are all related, just not in the way the congressional Republicans would lead us to believe. Last week alone, the GOP initiated a war on women’s reproductive health; there was a mass shooting; the Trump administration proposed a third iteration of its ban on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries; the same administration failed to respond to the crisis in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria; Congress failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, costing nine million children their health insurance; and then, a report by the New York Times finally dragged decades of sexual harassment accusations against Harvey Weinstein into the light.

So much of this is connected to controlling women. So one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is toxic masculinity and the ways in which it intersects with all these issues, including privilege and entitlement. There’s something super messy and chaotic and entitled—something quite stereotypically masculine—about pushing policies out because you want to, because you can, and letting people scramble to deal with the fallout. The whole culture surrounding violence and guns is stereotypically masculine. After the shooting in Sandy Hook in 2012, during which the gunman, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster rifle, the brand continued an ad campaign focused on getting your “man card” back. When we talk about violence, and when we talk about mass shootings, there’s almost inevitably some connection between the perpetrator and some form of domestic violence. Stephen Paddock, the shooter in Las Vegas, verbally abused his girlfriend in public.

On the other hand, there’s something so stereotypically female about being thoughtful and intentional, because women are so often talked over and shut down and told they’re wrong. We women have earned some of our best qualities because we have had to overcome this silencing and being shouted over.

This also puts us in an excellent position to be the drivers of daring discussions about all these things. You don’t even need to know the statistics; you just have to come from a place where you’re lacking judgment and willing to listen and to tell your personal story. The other day, I took a Juno (though I try to take the subway, for the most part), and I started talking to my driver. I told him I am an organizer at the Women’s March, which led to us discussing the way the Women’s March was discussed in the press—as largely peaceful—versus the way a Black Lives Matter protest is often framed. (This also holds true for the way we discuss mass shooters: If they’re white, they have mental health issues or they’re a lone wolf; and if they’re a person of color, it’s terrorism or “inner-city crime” or “black-on-black crime.”) He also told me he was a gun owner and had been member of the National Rifle Association for his whole life, but he stopped his membership 10 years ago because he felt they had become too extreme and too hateful. I told him I would rather just not have any guns because, statistically, we’re all safer that way. We had the loveliest conversation and reached a real middle ground. I got to point out things he didn’t know and he pointed out things to me that I didn’t know. That’s the path forward.

The NRA is losing membership constantly—members like this Juno driver—because of these extreme views. Most people agree on common-sense gun control, including many gun owners. The issue becomes, then, if we were ever to implement these laws, who would they be used in ways that aren’t based in race and class? When we start talking about laws around gun control, what we fail to realize is how these laws will inadvertently be used against people of color and low-income people. The NRA often only comes out in support of gun owners who are white men. Did they come out in support of Philando Castile, who was a licensed gun owner and had every right to be carrying his gun? No; after Castile was killed last summer, the NRA said it would “have more to say once all the facts are known”—and then, the next month, its spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, tweeted that Castile was not actually carrying his gun legally, because he also had marijuana in his car.

And the gun issue is endemic to so many other issues. John McCain, for example, has been relatively outspoken about healthcare—but over the course of his career, he has received the most NRA funding of any congressional leader in office right now, and he will not say anything about gun control in relation to Las Vegas. The GOP is trying to weave DACA into some sort of border protection, which is racist and will inevitably put Dreamers’ families in danger. The election of Donald Trump rubber-stamped toxic masculinity and violence and aggression and sexism and racism and xenophobia, focusing its messaging on this voting block everybody has loved to talk about since the election—this white, middle-to-lower-middle-class middle America, this one group of people in this country who feel like they are losing status. Focus on this group has been explained as “economic anxiety” when the reality is, it has everything to do with race. This is also why we have seen the emergence of white nationalist groups and the events in Charlottesville. The NRA panders to that same group, both in terms of its advertisements and its campaign funding, which means many recipients of its money in government refuse to speak out.

When we start seeing the connections between all these issues and all these communities, we realize a big part of the solution is electing real progressives and more women and more people of color, both locally and federally. If we want to do something about gun control, if we want to get anywhere close to the idea of impeachment, if we want to protect women’s rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive justice, we have to vote these people out. Impeachment, after all, takes congressional approval, and we cannot even do it right now, because we simply do not have the numbers.

But if there’s any good to come out of this election, it’s that people are finally starting to see the ways in which all these issues intersect, and how when you push for one, you have to push for all of them. We are going to have to keep pushing forever—that’s just the truth of it. We will have to keep holding our representatives accountable. And if there’s any lesson learned in the past year, it’s that we have the power to do that, and we know how to do it now.

Regardless of whether Trump is impeached—I, certainly, hope he does not last four years—the way we live will have changed because of this moment. Our liberation is bound in each other’s; no one exists in a silo. Every single one of these issues is connected to the next. We have to uplift and hear the people who are living through these things, because the people closest to the pain are the people closest to the solution (as my dear Linda Sarsour always says). Moments like this are either the lighthouse and the way forward, or the beginning of the end—and it’s up to us.

Meet the women who made history with the Women’s March on Washington: