March 19, 2018 at 11:51 am PST | by Valerie Ploumpis
Guns – An LGBTQ Issue
The nation’s political calculation on guns may have begun shifting — finally — last Wednesday morning, when students across the country streamed out of classes like algebra and English II for the student-led National Walkout Day on March 14.
Galvanized by the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, students from Parkland, Florida, to Livingston, Montana, from New York to California formed human peace signs on football fields, knelt in school hallways, and carried handmade posters demanding that Congress take action to stop mass shootings. Millions watched approvingly, thrilled by the image of young people denouncing the National Rifle Association (NRA)’s stranglehold on lawmakers and demanding that our elected leaders take action on an issue that has paralyzed them for decades.
This was hardly the first time our nation’s young people demonstrated greater moral clarity than adults in positions of power. In October 1963, more than 200,000 students staged a boycott of Chicago’s then-segregated public schools. Sixty years earlier, hundreds of young textile workers marched from Philadelphia to President Teddy Roosevelt’s home in New York to demand child labor laws. And every year since 1996, LGBTQ students and their allies across the country have spread awareness about the effects of bullying and harassment through GLSEN’s Day of Silence.
First, the obvious: United States gun deaths from accident, suicide and murder far outnumber those in the rest of the world. The clear solution — enacting gun safety laws and banning civilian ownership of military-style weapons — has reduced gun violence in every country that has enacted such laws. Polls have repeatedly shown that the American public, including gun owners, supports commonsense gun safety restrictions.
But the political might of the NRA has thus far stymied serious, lasting compromise. Chief among the recipients of NRA campaign donations is President Trump, who opined after the Florida shootings that a teacher with a gun “would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what had happened.” Armed teachers, he mused, should be paid “a little bit of a bonus.”
To be clear, arming teachers — as Emma Gonzalez, the student leader who survived the Stoneman Douglas shooting, said on 60 Minutes — is a “stupid” idea.
Gun Laws in the Golden State
Equality California has long spoken out in support of commonsense gun safety restrictions, but our advocacy became full-throated in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which took the lives of 49 people — most of them young, queer and Latino.
California now has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. As of January 1, 2018, residents are no longer able to purchase an assault rifle — defined as any semi-automatic, centerfire rifle or semi-automatic pistol that lacks a fixed magazine and has one of a number of features that include a protruding pistol grip or a folding or telescoping stock. All such rifles must be registered with the California Department of Justice by June 30, 2018. Two pending cases in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will determine whether Californians who own detachable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition can keep them.
California also has some of the strictest ammunition-related laws in the country. As of January 1, 2018, it is illegal to import into California ammunition purchased in another state. Californians can purchase ammunition online but only if it is first shipped to a licensed vendor, rather than a home address.
Background checks to buy ammunition will start in July 2019, and buyers must pay a $1 state fee for a background check at the point of sale.
Guns – An LGBTQ Issue
A complicated tangle of social factors — anti-LGBTQ violence, hate crimes and significantly higher levels of poverty, homelessness, drug use, depression and suicidal ideation — too often puts LGBTQ people into proximity with guns. According to the Trevor Project, lesbian, bisexual and gay youth are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide than straight youth. And 40% of transgender adults said they have attempted suicide, of whom 92% said they had tried before the age of 25.
Our community and society will be safer when there are fewer guns in circulation.
As Rep. Mark Takano, a former classroom teacher and openly gay Congressman representing Riverside County, pointed out, “California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation…but without a federal assault weapons ban, which expired eight years ago, there are loopholes that make it relatively easy to obtain military style assault weapons in spite of strong state gun safety laws.”
Equality California agrees. A national crisis like gun violence can only be solved with national solutions. That’s why we’ll be out in force at the “March for Our Lives” on Saturday, March 24 — in solidarity with the youth who are our nation’s last best hope.
Valerie Ploumpis is Equality California’s National Policy Director based in Washington DC