The Collision of Causes
When Omar Mateen walked into Pulse in the early Sunday morning hours of June 12, killing forty-nine people in a matter of minutes, he brought together two causes in one evil act. These two causes, of course, are LGBT rights and gun control. If two causes ever needed to be united, these two are the ones.
A few days after this tragic shooting, the Human Rights Campaign held a special meeting and adopted gun reform as a new major strategic initiative (as did the Boards of CAMP Rehoboth and Equality Delaware). There are three specific aspects of gun reform they will seek. They include expanding background checks, limiting access to assault weapons, and tightening controls on the availability of guns by those on terror watch lists or those with a history of domestic violence.
Equality California has quickly formed a new campaign which unites these two causes. It is called the “Safe and Equal” campaign. Rick Zbur, the Executive Director of Equality California, stated, “Ending gun violence is also an LGBT issue because LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence.” The objectives of this campaign are to prohibit ownership of assault weapons and large capacity magazines, closing gun show loopholes for background checks and strengthening background checks and waiting periods.
Another voice speaking out in favor of uniting these two causes is that of George Takei, an actor, activist, and in many ways our social conscience. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Takei approaches the topic with an eye on the U.S. Constitution juxtaposing the First and Second Amendments. In the First Amendment, he notes, those gathered at Pulse were exercising their fundamental Constitutional rights to free assembly and association.
“With our most basic freedoms under direct assault,” Takei notes, “it becomes both fair and imperative for us to ask, ‘What will be done to safeguard our right to associate and assemble?’ Just as a fundamental right to vote can be stripped away by even the threat of violence, so too can a whole community grow silent out of fear…The answer to this question ought to be both resounding and clear, but it quickly grows muddled because another freedom—the right to bear arms—is implicated. That is to say, the asserted right of citizens to own, purchase, and sell semi-automatic firearms runs headlong into our right to participate in civil society without undue fear of being targeted or killed. We appear to face a choice, because one freedom seemingly cannot be protected without limiting the other.”
So what balance can we draw between the First and Second Amendments? Where do the scales balance between individual rights and the security and safety of the general population—in this case, the LGBT population? In other words, where do your personal rights end and the rights of the populace begin? I have a much different rendering of the Second Amendment than does the National Rifle Association.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791, has created an incredible conundrum for our nation. If you parse this Amendment carefully, you can land on either side of the debate. The NRA, of course, falls on the side of the phrase, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Today, this means that any weapon developed by ingenious inventors will end up underneath someone’s bed in America.
We are not, of course, the same nation that we were in 1791. The Founding Fathers could never have imagined the advances in weaponry and technology. I like to focus on the first portion of the Amendment, “A well regulated Militia.” We do, indeed, have a very well regulated Militia with our United States Armed Forces. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine forces have all done quite well in protecting our nation from invasion and internal upheaval. If we have our well regulated Militia, then why does every home across our nation have to be stocked with rifles, handguns, and all sorts of weapons of mass destruction? (My apologies to Arlo Guthrie.)
At this point, I must make note of the fact that being LGBT does not necessarily mean that you are pro-gun control. The two do not necessarily go hand in hand. There are many in our LGBT community who are avid gun owners, and many who may even be life members in the NRA! We cannot assume that these two camps are exclusive of each other. That said, I still make the claim that the LGBT community is well positioned to have a tremendous impact on the conversation, if not the cause, for reasonable and rational gun control laws.
I am saddened to see that gun companies are becoming oh so profitable by focusing their line of weaponry on assault rifles, rather than handguns. Sales of handguns have declined, but sales of assault rifles have increased at such a pace that it has literally rescued several gun manufacturers from closing their doors. Sig Sauer changed its marketing strategy and began to focus on selling assault rifles to the public. They went from 130 employees in 2004 to over 1,000 today. The story at Smith & Wesson is much the same.
Friends, this is definitely a call to action! We must work together in this collision of causes. Let’s get the LGBT community, with all its organizational and communication networks in place, to support reasonable and rational gun control.
As George Takei states, “Like it or not, this history and this obligation have been thrust upon us, and we must now rise to its challenge. For if there is one group in this country with more will, more experience, and more tenacity than the NRA, it is the LGBT community. You don’t want to mess with us.