Notes From A Queer Engineer: What’s the Most Effective Gun Control Strategy?

Notes From A Queer Engineer_Rory Midhani_640Header by Rory Midhani

It’s been four days since news broke of the devastating Pulse shooting in Orlando, and our community mourns. I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves. The chosen family open thread and safe space is still going strong. There’s also a lot of QTPOC-specific support going on in The Speakeasy on Facebook.

For personal reasons, I often find engaging with social media after mass shootings to be too overwhelming. I want to show up for the victims, I want to amplify Latinx and Black voices, I want to bear witness to and hold space for queer and trans grief and rage. But I don’t want to hear all the details about how scary the shooting was. I don’t want to see photos of panic, of carnage, of bodies lashed to stretchers and paraded in front of red and blue police lights. I don’t want to see the shooter’s face, or speculate about his sexuality, or debate what role religion played in all this. And it’s okay that other people do want or need some of those things. I just can’t.

I don’t want to take away from our remembrance of the victims, celebrating their lives and grieving their loss— that’s super important and should be absolutely central right now. But as an aside, one thing I’ve personally found comfort in is thinking strategically about what we can do to keep this from happening again. So if anyone else finds strength in that, I want to hold space for that. Here’s a place for us to talk about gun control and its complicated intersection with race. Family only.

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26. Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32. Amanda Alvear, 25. Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49. Akyra Murray, 18. Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24. Kimberly Morris, 37. All killed in the Orlando Pulse shooting.

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26. Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32. Amanda Alvear, 25. Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49. Akyra Murray, 18. Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24. Kimberly Morris, 37. All killed in the Orlando Pulse shooting.

Scientific Research vs. the National Rifle Association of America

My original thought here was to provide a list of scientific studies relating to the efficacy of gun control (this column is about science, after all). As it turns out, however, there really aren’t that many. As a direct result of NRA lobbying, public safety research into guns has been overwhelmingly suppressed for the past 20 years.

According to Scientific American,

The problems began when investigators funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that having a gun in the home tripled the chance that a family member would get shot. Outraged that reality was not falling into line with presuppositions, then representative Jay Dickey of Arkansas added language to federal law in 1996 that barred the CDC from conducting research that might be used “to advocate or promote gun control.” This deliberately vague wording, coupled with a campaign of harassment of researchers, effectively halted federally funded gun safety research.

Dickey’s amendment also stripped $2.6 million from the agency’s 1997 funding — the exact amount that the CDC had spent on a fledgling gun violence research effort the previous year. In 2013, Congress extended the law to prevent the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from researching guns. President Obama responded by issuing a presidential memorandum to the CDC to do studies on gun violence, advising that it did not break with federal requirements. The CDC resisted, concerned that Congress would punish them anyway by taking future funding away. Though they have since released studies on the topic, the NRA’s political clout and history of researcher harassment has truly made conducting gun-related scientific research an uphill battle.

It should also be noted here that research around gun control is largely based on theoretical models and case studies. For obvious reasons, scientists are unable to design experiments where human lives are knowingly put at risk. This doesn’t mean that all research conclusions about gun violence and gun control are invalid; just that there are limitations due to the subject nature, and that it can be difficult to identify significant results that would have broad applicability.

The Effect Of White Supremacy

Although we’re now beginning to see scientific research trickle out of federally funded organizations, one thing to keep in mind as new information becomes available is the inextricable link between gun control and anti-Black racism throughout American history. Scientific research can never be truly politically neutral so long as there are human beings involved, and I find this is particularly true when unconscious racial bias is involved. Some of the earliest gun control measures in this country were used to restrict Black access to guns, and as recently as the late ’60s, white conservatives supported gun control as a method of keeping civil rights groups such as the Black Panthers in check. Today, although people of all races are allowed to carry guns, there’s still a pernicious racial double standard at play. When a white person carries a gun, our cultural narrative frames them as motivated by zeal for personal defense and individual rights. They’re eccentric, perhaps, but an accepted part of our democracy. In contrast, when a Black person carries a gun, our cultural narrative frames them as criminally motivated, usually linked to a gang. They’re seen as aggressive, imminently dangerous, and an overall threat to society. People of all races have internalized this story, to devastating and lethal effect.

I mention this context not to imply that gun control is a racist concept — I don’t think it is, particularly in light of the fact that gun violence disproportionately harms Black and Latinx people — but because I want us to interrogate the ways in which white supremacy has informed our thinking. If we allow gun violence to continue blighting communities of color, we have failed. But if we enact gun control measures that aid the police state in criminalizing Black and brown bodies, we have also failed. Taking into consideration who in our community bears the brunt of anti-LGBT violence, we need to be particularly conscious of this as we collectively strategize and move forward.

Gun Control Strategies

Though strategies around gun control abound, there are three major categories of restrictions: dangerous uses, dangerous users, and dangerous guns. Let’s break them down.

Dangerous Uses

What is this?

“Dangerous use” controls seek to limit the times and locations where guns are allowable. Examples include laws prohibiting concealed weapons, or bans on guns in airports, schools, churches, courthouses, or across state lines.

What does science say?

Not much! There’s a tiny bit of research on concealed weapons (most of which says “it seems like there may be other factors at play” and “we need more research”), but I wasn’t actually able to locate a solid scientific paper relevant to the other types of laws. If anyone finds one, please list it in the comments and I’ll update this so we can discuss.

Okay, what else?

Logically, it makes sense to me that we wouldn’t want to allow guns in some spaces — there are countless people feeling upset and desperate in courthouses, for example, which becomes a serious safety issue if guns are present. But is this the most efficient way to lower murder rates? I’m skeptical. Not opposed, necessarily, but skeptical. I wish someone would do a good study on this.

Dangerous Users

What is this?

“Dangerous user” controls seek to limit which people are allowed to have guns. This includes items such as minimum legal age requirements for handgun purchases, and background checks that ban people from buying or owning guns if they’ve been convicted of any felony or a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; been subject to a final domestic violence restraining order; been a fugitive from justice; been involuntarily committed to a mental institution; or been addicted to or arrested for having controlled substances.

What does science say?

Okay, what else?

A common argument against background checks is that the creation of a national gun registry will constitute an unacceptable invasion of privacy. Such a registry does not exist, and in fact, federal law already bans the creation of such a thing. Currently, there is only one gun tracing facility in the whole country, and the way they store gun sales records is extremely low-tech.

A more legitimate concern, I think, is that background checks do not lead to race-neutral outcomes. Black people are incarcerated at particularly disproportionate rates, and are thus less likely to pass a background check. Do we accept that overpoliced Black communities should have a more difficult time accessing guns than white communities? In the long run, does this manage to prevent deaths or benefit communities of color in other ways? Would a greater benefit be achievable by funding programs to directly address urban gun violence? I don’t know the answer here, but I do know that POC need to be major players in the policy creation and decision-making process.

It should also be noted that at least half of people committing gun crimes do not meet any of the prohibiting conditions under federal law. While the evidence clearly shows this category to be effective at preventing some gun deaths, it’s a long way from solving the problem entirely.

gun control method: Dangerous Guns

Dangerous Guns

What is this?

“Dangerous gun” controls seek to limit overly powerful gun technology. For example, banning automatic weapons or ammunition feeding devices that hold 10+ rounds of ammunition. Efforts to implement “smart guns” would also fall under this category.

What does science say?

  • In a government study following the 1994 federal ban on certain semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, it was found that the share of gun crimes involving automatic weapons declined by 17% to 72%. This decline was offset, however, by increased use of other guns with large capacity magazines. We can postulate that results would have been better, had the law been less easily and legally circumvented, but alas. That’s not what was actually done. So for now, there’s no clear evidence that this works.
  • Studies that include more recent data have come to the same conclusion.

Okay, what else?

Individual gun ownership is often talked about in terms of freedom — the idea being that guns serve as the ultimate guarantee of liberty, therefore stronger guns are even stronger protectors of freedom. Here’s an editorial breaking down why that doesn’t make logical sense.

Also, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about banning AR-15s, the semiautomatic assault rifle that the shooter was initially reported to have used in the Orlando Pulse shooting. This turns out to be incorrect (he used a different type of assault rifle), but it’s still fucking horrible. Experts suggest that legislation focusing on banning all large capacity ammunition magazines would have a bigger impact than restrictions based around specific gun models. Again, however, this particular fix would not be impactful in addressing day-in-day-out urban gun violence (mostly carried out with handguns), which accounts for the majority of gun-related deaths (mostly young Black and Latinx people). But it could have an impact on deaths from mass shootings, and that’s also important.

What’s next?

While any given gun control law is bound to have a weakness in some area, on the whole, restricting access to guns results in fewer gun-related deaths. Multiple studies have shown that more guns = more homicide. In a 2013 study published in PLOS ONE, Dominik Wodarz and Natalia Komarova showed the effect of gun availability. “The key insight [of the study] is that there are essentially two perfect worlds, one in which no one owns a gun (meaning no one is able to attack) and one in which everyone owns a gun (meaning no one is willing to attack),” another researcher wrote in praise of their work. “In between, we get the worst of both worlds because some criminals have guns and they choose to use them. This means that the effect of gun availability is crucially dependent on where we sit between these two worlds.” I don’t know about you, but my takeaway from this is that any approach resulting in decreased gun availability will save lives. We just need to determine which methods are both effective and acceptable. For everyone.

Perhaps more importantly, though, we need to address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and racism. Gun control is a good first step in decreasing the number of deaths in our community. It doesn’t stop people from wanting to kill us, though, and for people with intersectional oppressed identities — such as the clubgoers at Pulse on Latino night last weekend — it may not be enough.

I’m sad about what happened and what’s happening. I don’t have the answers. I’d really love to hear your perspective in the comments.

Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.

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Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 210 articles for us.


  1. You are a treasure and your brain is amazing. Thank you for putting this together, it’s so smart.

  2. One of the most intelligent and well-researched articles I’ve read on this topic — ever.

    Regarding the choice between the two perfect worlds (“everyone has gun” or “nobody has gun”), I would think that what you’d really need to see is what the curve looks like for region in-between, since it’s probably very hard to get close to either end of that spectrum.

  3. I’m not in a place to read through this right now, but thank you for writing it. I’ll come back to it and am sure I’ll draw something useful from it then.

  4. Thanks for writing this, it’s so comprehensive and clear. I have so much to read about guns and gun control and I’ve saved this to digest further later.

    This is an aside, but the part that some of my asshole family on FB doesn’t get is that dehumanization leads to expendability leads to murder, and all hate speech and legislation falls along that line. Those people insisting that the shooter were radicalized by ISIL miss the fact that he could have easily been radicalized by the ‘Christian’ right in our own country (where he grew up). If you don’t believe a trans person has the right to use a public restroom, you don’t believe fully in their humanity, period. If you believe undocumented people should be incarcerated, separated from family and deported, you don’t believe fully in their humanity, period. If you don’t believe that LGB people should have the right to legally marry the people they love most in the world, you don’t believe fully in their humanity, period. And once they stop being human in your mind, people must be a lot easier to shoot.

    TLDR Laura is so right when she says that gun control is just one facet of the work we need to do in our country, and I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I don’t want to start a fight with relatives I barely know and I had to post it somewhere.

    • Ugh, I’m so sorry you have to deal with assholes right now. Wish I could put them on indefinite pause for you.

    • I agree with you completely. And I wonder if this is part of why people are talking less about the attempted attack on LA Pride by a white Christian man.

    • Wow, this is actually wonderful and uplifting–we can actually do something besides fight the losing fight of gun control. Thank you. Can I steal this? Because I would totally post this to my FB.

  5. This is … wow, Laura. I am speechless. This is so important and exactly — I mean exactly — what I needed to read and know and understand. Thank you.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so glad to see somebody discussing specifics here and looking at real-world data. I know that, unfortunately, there isn’t enough, but drawing conclusions and making decisions based on incomplete evidence is basically the definition of life, so…

    I think this is particularly important among all the admonitions we hear, in the news and from our opinion makers, to “do something.” My response has been, “OK, what?” It’s in the details that a lot of this breaks down, and overly emotional flailing does not serve us. It is never the basis for good policy.

    I’m also happy to see an analysis of how various approaches have disparate impacts on different communities. That is so important to consider, but it’s rare that people do. We got a little bit of discussion surrounding it when some court cases made it obvious that “stand your ground” was mostly for white people, but I would like to see this type of nuanced analysis continue.

    Finally, on a more personal note, I often prefer to process horrible things (and less horrible things, too) by looking at facts and taking a rational approach. I know in the grand scheme of things these types of “answers” are not satisfying to many, and in fact those of us who operate in this mental mode may be seen as cold or mercenary by people who don’t or can’t process in this way. It’s comforting to see that I am not alone and that it’s OK to take a more analytical approach to deal. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. It’s a different way, our way, of showing we care.

    • “drawing conclusions and making decisions based on incomplete evidence is basically the definition of life, so…” <- YES. Cold analytical solidarity, friend.

  7. The primary problem is that any restriction that would actually do anything will absolutely, positively, 100% certainly run afoul of the second amendment. And the votes to repeal it doesn’t exist. On the other hand, the current read on that amendment is completely nonsensical – what the founders envisaged was clearly something like the Swiss citizen militia. So.. there are options. Don’t make guns legal, make them mandatory. Turn 18, get to spend a few months training, get a rifle home with you. Handguns? Not arms. Banned. It’ll be really difficult to argue that this initiative is intended to disarm the people, and it would stop people carrying hidden weapons. Also probably create a more sensible gun culture – if people associate their constitutionally guaranteed boom-stick with being forced to take first aid and civil defense classes, that should demystify them a *whole bunch*

    • That’s kind of bullshit. It’s a lot of bullshit.

      The second amendment says, “”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.” First of all, the words “well regulated” are in there. Secondly, it clearly implies that the point is for there to be able a state militia, likely to protect states from federal power gone out of control. Scalia basically decided he didn’t like that interpretation in Heller v. DC. He also felt that if we allowed gay sex to be legal, we may as well allow murder to be legal, so hurray for his logic.

      Secondly, we already can’t just have whatever weapons we want. You can’t go out and say, “hey, I’m going to make a bomb because I think booby trapping my house and announcing that to the world would stop anyone from breaking in. Because having people making bombs dangerous Similarly, you shouldn’t be able to get a semi-automatic.

      Thirdly, more guns= more safety is idiotic and real life has shown the opposite to be true. Countries with fewer guns and more restrictions on what type of guns people can have have fewer shootings. Take Australia. They increased gun control after a mass shooting, and guess what happened? No more mass shootings. NYC has had programs where the city gives cash for guns, no questions asked, and you know what? Fewer shootings. Weirdly, if it is harder to get what you need to shoot people, fewer people get shot. You can make up whatever reality you want to in your head, but as a scientist, I look at evidence. I think that counts for more. Not to mention the obvious question of how you identify who the good shooters are and who the bad ones are if there is another gunman in a movie theater. Suddenly you have a whole theater with guns out and they’re supposed to say what, “all bad guys, please raise your hands so we can tell which one of you we’re allowed to shoot?” One stray bullet, and how do you know the “good” guns from the “bad” guns?

    • Oh this comment is so naive.

      I do like the idea that everyone should get gun training but everyone owning a rifle is insane. Even with adults having proper training kids could still get into accidents (even if trained, kids can be pretty dumb) also that would probably make suicide via death MUCH more prevalent. Kind of like how suicide via sticking ones head in a gas oven completely disappeared when everyone started buying electric ovens, people are going to use what is ever closest and if you have 1+ rifles in the house it’s not that hard to figure out what.

      Also gun culture being demystified by educations is nice idea but america is terrible at given equal education to all its citizens so the quality is going to fluctuate pretty wildly depending on how rich your district is.

    • Agree with you utterly. As nice as the “no guns” world might be, I think the reality is going to have to be the “all guns” world. And you are completely correct in that weapons training (as well as first aid/cpr) is necessary. “Gun Control” ought not mean “no guns”, it ought to mean “Controlling One’s Gun”.

      On another note, I also appreciate this column. Yes, what happened was horrible, and we shouldn’t dismiss that, or the emotions it engenders, but I’m another of those that appreciates the … logicalness of this piece.

      — Yes, I am male. But please, don’t hold it against me; I promise, it wasn’t my fault. —

  8. Every time you write something like this, dissecting a complicated political issue from the place of race, science, class, and gender, I am absolutely floored. You are so smart. And you make complicated issues and ideas accessible to the average person (me) who normally finds these kinds of things overwhelming. If every straight “ally” ranting about gun control on FB was as smart, reasoned, and intersectional as you, I’d be in a much happier place with them.

  9. Well, I’m in favor of a handgun ban, an assault weapons ban (including semi-automatics), strict background checks, a national gun registry, and a massive increase in terms of who isn’t allowed a gun.

    I don’t know if any of it will ever happen.

    We reinforce how driving a car is a privilege, but dictate that owning a weapon for mass murder is a “right”. I really don’t get it.

    I own a semi-automatic rifle. I inherited it. I used to use it for target shooting, until I no longer lived in the country and wouldn’t go near a shooting range with a ten foot pole because they’re toxic. I don’t think it would protect me in a home invasion because I can’t access and load it fast enough, besides which research shows it’s really pointless for that.

    Guns make me nervous too. Yet, for all that, I can’t bring myself to get rid of the weapon or deactivate it. There is some level of intangible comfort knowing thousands, if not millions of bigots and extremists in this country want me dead and that I have a firearm. I consider this an irrational comfort, but I can’t shake it. Unfortunately, it gives me insight into the conservative fears as well. They all want to “think” they’re us. They want to think they’re the persecuted minority and that the government is going to come for them. In reality, they have nothing to fear… and the government isn’t even likely to come after them for being extremists. Hell, the FBI and U.S. government won’t even call the KKK a terrorist organization.

    Even if it’s for different reasons, we share that irrational fear and have that same comfort. More ironically, my fear is driven of them and their fear is driven by their desire to be able to live “freely” and propagate hate.

    If the gun control measures of my first paragraph were put into effect there would be active cases of insurrection. There would be many acts of violence, militia groups would target the government and citizens like us that they hate and blame. After all, minorities are the most murdered and since we don’t want to be murdered, we’re persecuting them. However, is this really a rational, logical reason not to implement such a policy? Do we intend to sacrifice thousands of lives each year because the government is being held hostage by the threat of violence from white conservatives and supremacists? Is the violence that would unfold somehow less appealing than the thousands who are murdered every year… ?

    I don’t feel like I have any answers. Only more questions and rhetoric, because the odds of even banning assault weapons and making it harder to get a gun will be an overwhelming political fight. All I know is we just had the worst mass murder in this country since Wounded Knee. We never take responsibility for our violence. We didn’t accept what we did and continue to do to indigenous people, African-Americans, Latinx-Americans, Asian-Americans… on that note, we never took responsibility for using nuclear weapons on civilians in Japan, or firebombing civilians in Japan and German. It’s 2016 and we won’t apologize or take responsibility for any war crimes from the past three hundred years. We don’t apologize or take responsibility for using federal troops to gun down striking union workers or protesting students. We are a horrifically violent culture and we admit nothing and apologize for nothing. This cycle has to end. When will it?

    • First of all, there are no actual class of firearms called assault weapons, it is a made up term. And any rifle useful for self defense will be semi automatic.

      Regarding how you store your weapon, how would you not be able to access it and load it in time? If I ever needed my rifle, the way I stored it safely was a loaded magazine in the weapon, empty chamber, safety on. It took literally less than a second to ready it if needed, but was safely stored. The research on that is biased and wrong, anyways. There are millions of cases every year where burglaries and home invasions were stopped by an armed homeowner.

      For Japan, the invasion of the mainland would have cost millions of lives on both sides, the atomic bombs actually killed less people than would have died with an invasion of the mainland.

      And no, all the bans you listed in your first paragraph won’t happen, there would be another civil war.

  10. I’ll believe that the Republican Party actually doesn’t believe that guns are dangerous when they start allowing people to carry guns in federal government buildings.

  11. I love data. Thank you for an article about research and data and rational responses.

    I think we should all grieve and respond in the ways we are best suited to, and that all the different ways are important.

    We need to address all the different contributing factors (guns, bigotry, etc) but we don’t all have to focus equally on every single part of it or do it in the same way.

    The USA was founded on racism. It’s bedrock. Until we reverse that, any policy will have skewed impact. I think POC should of course be involved in discussions about gun regulation, but that’s also true of any other policy we make. We need to undo racism so many ways and at so many levels, and until we do, and until the justice system is reformed, even the best crafted laws will continue to be applied disproportionately. But lack of regulation also has this effect. Any issue you pick, this is always true.

    I started to look at what various civil rights and advocacy groups say about gun control. I would love it if some other folks would help with this– partly because I am exhausted and partly because I’m not sure I know all the places to go looking.

    I think it would be interesting to see a list of policy positions compiled.

    Because of the limits of research, we lack all the info we might like, but there are a lot of people who have been thinking about these things since long before Orlando, and some of them have a pretty good track record for making sense.

    I’m worn out. I have the impulse to be working on about 50 different things all at once, and I can’t do even half of them.

    Since this week’s massacre targeted the Latinx community, I started with LULAC. They put out a policy statement on gun control in 2013. Here’s what it says:

    Love to all.

  12. Excellent piece, thank you! Racism is a big part of the problem, but so is patriarchy. The number of households with guns has been decreasing (sorry I can’t find a source right now) but the number of guns per gun- owning household has increased greatly. I suspect that some men are reacting to a perceived loss of status by buying guns as sources of power and authority. Writer Chauncey DeVega says it’s a form of sexual fetish (see his blog We Are Respectable Negroes).

    But I’m afraid I agree with Joanna above that we need to reduce the number of guns people already own, and it would be a bloodbath,the Waco siege x 1000. A slow tactic is to use social pressure and make guns as improper to own as cigarette smoking has become. We need to do more, though.

    • Thanks, NB. I’d rather see a thousand more Wacos than to see one more Orlando, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Red Lake, Virginia Tech…

      I’m sick of us all being hostage to the violence nutjobs might perpetrate, while we are all victims of the violence they DO perpetrate on a weekly basis.

  13. Though by no means perfect, Canadian gun laws seem to be relatively effective.

    While there is no constitutional right to bear arms in Canada, obtaining a license for a firearm is fairly straight forward so long as there is no history of violent tendency and your partner,neighbours, and co workers will vouch for that.

    Training and testing is mandatory and the application takes weeks to process.

    Unlicensed people are not to permitted to touch any firearm.

    Guns are classified. Guns not used for hunting are restricted (a license doesn’t guarantee you can get them) and military weapons are absolutely prohibited. A license to carry a handgun can only be obtained when there is proof of a special need and then additional screening and certification is required.

    Magazines holding more than 5 rounds are prohibited on most firearms.

    Finally, the regulations around firearms and ammunition storage are quite strict, keeping the two separate, locked up at more than arms length unless in use for a legitimate purpose. This I think is the most significant part; there is no presumed legitimacy to having a loaded firearm at the ready for self defence

    That last part means if you use a gun, and someone gets hurt, even if it’s self defence, there is a boatload of explaining to do and the evidence had better back your story up or you’re in deep doo doo. The thinking around firearms is more sober as a result of the mindset this creates.

    To my knowledge there aren’t a lot of people who died because they didn’t have a gun for self defence in Canada. The attitude toward gun violence seems to be respected even by the criminals. Why would they risk a draconian penalty (penalties go way up for using a gun in a crime) when they aren’t worried about their victim having one?

    When a firearms related crime occurs in Canada, which is relatively rare, it often involves a weapon that was purchased illegally. That problem will never go away; however, it’s even easier to spot these when guns aren’t everywhere you look.

      • The point of gun regulations is to re-engineer the way we think about guns, and how we keep ourselves safe.

        Because of the storage policy, no one buys a gun strictly to have it around for the unlikely event they actually will need it for self defence any more.

        Firearms are tools designed for a single deadly purpose, and they are too effective at that to ever allow them to be treated in a casual manner.

        When Canadians talk about guns today, it’s mostly a whisper. This won’t likely prevent events like Orlando entirely, and we have experienced them too, but it certainly lessens the amount of firearms related misery when people begin to shift their focus to developing community rather than weapons to make themselves safer.

  14. Thank you Laura for all this info.

    So, Jay Dickey, really? How appropriate…

    But here is the thing, until the 2008 SCOTUS’ ruling on District of Columbia v. Heller, the Second Amendment was never considered as an individual right.

    The irony there is that Justice Antonin Scalia, kinda like the poster-child for originalism, decided just to make disappear the “well regulated Militia” part of the Second Amendment. Those 3 words are the key, because until 2008, they were considered to mean “to forbid the national government from abolishing state militias”.

    Magic in the name of the NRA and the rest of the people is paying the consequences of that.

    I think that retired Chief Justice Warren Burger (a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon) said it better, in a 1991 interview: the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

  15. Thank you for such a concise, readable, and informative piece. In my own privilege, I did not make these connections and now I have a lot of thinking to do. Thank you!

    • This is the best kind of feedback a writer could ever hope for, I think. Thank you.

  16. Fascinating to read as a foreigner, especially as a Brit where guns are almost impossible to own and are seen as a privilege not a right. I think that’s why tragedies like this are so hard to process for me, in addition to the horror of the loss of life there is the utter disparity in our national attitude to guns.
    The only people in England with legal licencensed firearms are farmers, sport shooters (like Olympic target), and people who hunt, the latter being mainly upper class people. We have very strict laws here and a lot of things that could be used as weapons are illegal to buy. Our knife laws are strict, it’s even illegal to carry a folding knife with a locking blade longer than 3inches. I carry a miniature Swiss Army knife and people are honestly shocked when I pull it out to cut things. We had a national knife amnesty a few years ago, loads of things were handed in. Close to that time a friend was stopped by police, for carrying a tool box in a city centre, and had her box cutter taken away – apparently going home from art college wasn’t a “good reason” to be carrying it.
    So given these circumstances, to me the idea that having guns is normal seems an utterly alien concept. I really struggle to wrap my head around the entire situation, so thanks for breaking it down. It’s still mind boggling but at least I have facts and reasons for it now.

    UK Knife law

    UK Gun law which is long and complex but might give insight into why some Brits don’t understand the American view of guns:

    • Such a different frame of reference! Here, I actually feel like, why do they even bother taking away Swiss army knives at the airport? Seems so harmless. In comparison to guns.

      • Even with all this one of our progressive MPs was murdered by a
        Far right extremist with a homemade gun and knife literally hours after I posted this. The horror and outcry over that situation is huge right now. This referendum is terrifying.

  17. So much that is good here, and it can still be sharpened more still.

    Your article–and, in fact, most–accept a framing of gun violence as homicide. In 2013, 62% of all gun violence was suicide; in Alaska, which has the highest gun violence rate (if memory serves), 80% was suicide. Off the top of my head, I don’t recall how much gun violence involved accidental death (the actual percentage is not central to my point). And, finally, measures of gun violence do not include police and other domestic security forces killing citizens of any race.

    Moreover, this narrow focus on homicide (and disregard for homicides by police, etc) has its nasty ironies. People of color, especially black people, feel that no one cares about gun violence in their communities; something like Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Orlando brings “gun violence” to white people’s attention, and then somebody discovers (all over again) about gun violence in communities of color, especially the Black community. And then we get to hear racist tropes about black on black violence. [So far, I’ve seen two people describe Orlando as gay-on-gay violence.] And while you do a good job of underlining how historically most gun control (and the kind of current proposals for present gun control) disproportionately affect people of color, especially Black folk, this itself is an artifact of only looking at gun violence as homicide. In the Black community, it’s black-on-black violence; in the White community, everyone stands around (as Time Wise notes trenchantly) scratching their heads, talking about mental illness and “but he seemed such a normal kid”. And so on.

    At least one analysis of international gun violence data has shown that the intuitive equation more guns = more death has its origins outside of gun ownership per se. To be sure, more availability of guns makes them more available, but it doesn’t answer why people (in this country) resort to guns.

    It will sound like I’m saying guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But, as Eddie Izzard once remarked, “I think the gun helps.”

    Guns (all guns) by design inflict lethal injury as quickly as possible. Whereas slower methods of suicide give you a chance to change your mind, guns don’t, even when all you manage to do is wound yourself. So too for causing mass public mayhem–you get the most bang for your buck with a gun, probably even more so than with a bomb (unless the bomb is really big). There are certainly suicides who didn’t really mean it, but the gun made sure otherwise; there are certainly mass shooters who would have been satisfied with fewer deaths; but the gun saw to it otherwise. Guns do, by design, kill people.

    So, to propose gun control without getting at the underlying cause for why guns are attractive (for suicide or mass mayhem) might bring the death toll of public violence down from double digits to single, but I don’t think that 9 dead me’s (9 dead q

    Omar Mateen’s rampage is a grotesque, spectacular assertion of his “superiority” over a group (whether he was a member of that group or not) otherized, dehumanized, and made “inferior”–a gesture he’d almost certainly never have made if such “superior” positionings weren’t already taken to be and imposed on all of as as THE most essential component of identity in our culture.

    Our present milieu functions politically to make people feel superior by saying, “Well at least I’m not a Trump supporter” (or a Hillary supporter, or Bernie supporter). The strategy of counter-reaction to Reconstruction int he South encouraged poor whites to feel superior by saying, “At least I’m not Black.” And just about everyone commenting on Orlando congratulates themselves for their superiority by saying, “Well, at least I’m not Omar Mateen.”

    This is why, for most people (especially non-queer people), this event will quickly fade like so many others. Having greased their ego with an easy sense of superiority, they’ll go on to the next disaster tourist spot, feeling good about themselves.

    If this isn’t what we address, then nothing about gun violence will change–except maybe it will get worse. (The rate of mass shooting occurrence has increased, despite homicide rates decreasing). The frightening possibility is that our presnt culture actually NEEDS these kinds of events, so that as “survivors” (literally or just imaginatively, through the media) we can feel superior for that reason, and go on.

    • Very interesting! Thank you for commenting and adding this to the conversation.

  18. This was a very helpful, informative article, I recently started working on this issue professionally, and the phrase “gun violence prevention” is a more effective descriptor of policies than “gun control,” which the NRA uses to paint us as gun grabbers.

    • I mean personally I feel there’s nothing wrong with being a ‘gun grabber,’ but yeah, that’s very helpful language, thank you

  19. I have a question about the race part: if more guns in a community leads to more violence in a community, why would having an easier time getting a gun be helpful to any community, African Americans included? I see the benefit in making it harder for everyone to get a gun, but I don’t understand why changing the laws to make it easier for anyone to get a gun would be worth it just to make it race-neutral.
    Let me remind you that no civilian has ever stopped a one of these mass shootings- people who have been trained like police and military personal out of uniform have- but never a civilian. So I don’t think that there is any evidence that giving POC or any other minorities guns would prevent hate crimes. Furthermore, just about every case shows that more gun control= fewer murders.

    • I was just reading the abstract of an academic paper stating that, like many other laws (for instance, California’s Three Strikes law, or any of the federal laws resulting from the War on Drugs), laws that criminalize gun possession often impact communities of color more harshly than they impact white people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to access the paper itself.

      I believe 100% in gun control. I don’t think any of us should be able to purchase guns. But as we move forward, we do need to be cautious and intentional when we consider how laws will impact communities of color.

      • But is the problem gun control or is it three strike laws?
        These military grade guns should be illegal. No one should have them. I don’t see how it is more complicated.

        • Yeah, I wasn’t arguing with that. I agree.

          Again, “I believe 100% in gun control. I don’t think any of us should be able to purchase guns. But as we move forward, we do need to be cautious and intentional when we consider how laws will impact communities of color.”

        • Some laws have a disparate negative impact on people of color.

          Sometimes it’s in the ways that the laws are written that produce the disparate impact. For example the laws that define the criminal sentences for possession of crack vs possession of powder cocaine (someone in possession of 18 grams of powder cocaine gets the same sentence as someone who is in possession of 1 gram of crack). Those laws penalize people of color more than white people for basically the same crime, since crack users are more likely to be Black. (More on this example at

          Sometimes it’s in the ways that the laws are enforced that produce the disparate impact. For example, a judge giving light sentences to white criminal offenders, but giving harsh sentences to Black and Latinx criminal offenders for the same crime.

          So, it’s not just Three Strikes Laws. It’s about laws giving law enforcement and courts power when those systems love to incarcerate Black and Latinx bodies. If we enact laws that make it harder to get a certain type of gun, A) Does that law itself have disparate negative impact on people of color, and B) Will that law be enforced in a way that disproportionately affects people of color. Our legal system has a weaselly way of passing off racist laws as safety measures for “everyone.”

  20. “hat the share of gun crimes involving automatic weapons declined by 17% to 72%” should be “assault weapons”, rather than “automatic weapons”

  21. In a world where everyone has a gun there would most definitely be a LOT of gun violence. Since when do people act logically? Especially people intent on violence. Not to mention that there are plenty of situations where you simply wouldn’t get the chance to defend yourself, regardless of how well you’re armed.

    • Plus imagine how much more difficult it could become for a strategic response unit to identify “the shooter” versus a citizen “taking action” and the impact that could have on some of the procedures for mass shooting events.

      One the things that messed up response in Orlando was someone in the hospital merely hearing the near by shots and then the hospital getting locked down in belief the shooter had moved there. It’s not much of stretch that an armed citizen “taking action” could be mistaken for or reported as a 2nd shooter.

      • Yes, and certainly if some of the armed people are POC and some aren’t, it’s the POC who will more likely be suspected of being “the bad guys” and first targeted by law enforcement or white vigilante “self-defense responses” just like happens now even when UNarmed.

        I don’t think more weapons will reduce the casualties. If it’s not true that having a gun makes you safer in your own home, how would it be true anywhere else, especially if more people are armed, creating even more variables and wildcard players?

        Of course, the ban on research makes policy recommendations more speculative than they should be, but even with the data we have, there’s no evidence that more weapons makes less conflict, overall.

        So far, in my research of civil rights organizations, none have called for MORE guns or FEWER regulations on guns. Most call for more regulation of guns, and for stopping gun violence, hate crimes, police brutality, unfair sentencing, and other reforms, but not for “universal guns and fully armed communities” or anything even vaguely like that.

        Maybe I just haven’t looked anywhere where that’s under consideration, but I just haven’t seen it.

        I can think of plenty of people who definitely should not be trusted with a weapon. As far as I’m concerned, universal arms is off the table.

  22. I really appreciate your approach to writing about this issue. I have complicated/conflicting feelings about gun control, and it’s too late at night for me to write a longer comment, but THANK YOU SO MUCH.

  23. There is no semi automatic assault rifles, assault rifles are select fire, which means there is a switch that can go from semi automatic to full automatic. I didn’t even use full auto in Iraq, no one in my unit did besides the machinegunners, and they fired short bursts.

    Full auto is inaccurate, and not nearly as useful as you would think.

    Also, they don’t use “large capacity magazines”. A Glock 17 with a 17 round magazine, and an AR-15 with a 30 round magazine use standard capacity magazines, which is what the weapons are designed for. A 90 round drum for an AR-15 would be large capacity. Also, there are no class of firearms called Assault weapons, it is made up meaningless mumbo jumbo.

    Automatic weapons and long guns(rifles, shotguns,ect) have always been a tiny percentage of crimes anyways, because it is kind of hard to walk around with an AK-47. Most are committed with handguns, because they are easily concealed. When the ban expired in 2004, there wasn’t a huge increase in crime involving long guns.

    Also, hunting rifles and shotguns fire much more powerful ammunition than “assault rifles” do. Assault rifles only fire a medium rifle round, hunting rifles fire a full sized rifle round, and do so with far greater accuracy and range.

    As a gay man that grew up around firearms and then served in the Army, I’m giving you this advice because people that know about guns won’t take anything you have to say seriously if you do not know what you are talking about. If you are ignorant on the subject, most people won’t accept anything you have to say about the rest, either.

    I am all about responsibility and training. Anyone who carries a concealed handgun legally should have a lot more training than is “required” currently. The carry class is a joke, honestly. I always kept my weapons in a safe place, and was responsible about it. I know a lot of gun owners, and they are the same way. There is a minority of gun owners that give the rest of us a bad name.

    There are already background checks when purchasing a firearm, and the issuing of a concealed carry permit, as far as background checks and regulations go, is pretty stringent. Gun control laws are already pretty strong. The problem is, criminals will always find a way to get them, by stealing, or any other means. Countries with strict gun control such as Australia and the UK have gun crime, still, even as strict as they are.

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