This article is part of a new ongoing series presented by activist group Voices4 curated by Adam Eli. The series, like the activist group, will seek to drive change in our community by leveraging our global network and elevating marginalized voices.
Tragedy struck New Zealand on March 15, 2019. The world witnessed a grave injustice: a 28-year-old, Australian white supremacist opened fire upon two mosques in Christchurch, ending the lives of 50 Muslim individuals. Fifty too many.
Gun violence and associated acts of terrorism, such as this event, are entirely preventable; this is a concept unfamiliar to Americans, but one that New Zealand readily adopted and acted upon. Following the events at Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s reaction was magnanimous and swift: an immediate ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. Beyond stifling the voice and hate speech of the killer, she understood the tools for his nefarious actions were equally responsible as his bigotry. This ban, and Arden’s subsequent actions, are guided by facts — facts that plague countries that choose to ignore the gun-related bloodshed of its citizens, like the United States.
Granted, this event was an outlier for New Zealand. The shootings at Christchurch are the country’s single most violent event in its modern history, with a death toll higher than the accumulation of six years of gun homicides. But in the US, which has had 1,600 mass shootings in the last 6 years and roughly 19 times the amount of annual firearm homicides as New Zealand, you would expect the American government to enact meaningful and long-lasting change. It hasn’t.
Other than a ban on bump stocks — an accessory that provides semi-automatic weapons with fully automatic capabilities — nationwide gun reform has been limited and marginally incremental. Sweeping reforms, such as the one this month in New Zealand, have been largely absent from the American legislative agenda. This has had consequences: an average of one mass shooting per day and a leading position in the number of gun deaths among developed nations. The clear indicator for our disproportionate amount of violence is our astronomical civilian ownership of firearms. With only 4.4% of the world’s population, America owns almost half of the world’s civilian guns. Ownership and homicides are highly correlated; this is even evident on the state level, with states like Alaska and Louisiana that have coinciding rates of unusually high gun ownership and gun deaths.
The effects of the lack of gun control are exaggerated for some communities, especially those who are susceptible to increased levels of violence. The LGBTQ+ community, especially its youth, is vulnerable to an increased risk of suicide, further proof that these deaths are avoidable. LGBTQ+ youth are three times more likely to contemplate suicide when compared to heterosexual youth and five times more likely to attempt it. These statistics are only further sustained and aggravated by the accessibility of firearms: states with higher ownership of guns reported more suicides and more attempts using a gun, an apparatus that transforms an attempt into reality 96.5% of the time (higher than any other mechanism). Additionally, hate crimes and even acts of terrorism often target queer people. The Pulse Nightclub terrorist attack in Orlando was specifically aimed at inflicting violence on the LGBTQ+ community, which has shaken its members and created permanent trauma. In the wake of Christchurch, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK spiked by 593% in the week following the attack. There is a contagion effect with acts of terrorism grounded in minority prejudice, so when one LGBTQ+ individual is targeted, all of them are.
It is clear that action must be taken if change is wanted. The United States should be a leader in gun safety, not gun violence. Provisions for gun reform are not proposed or put in place to rid lives of a right, they are enacted to make sure individuals can enjoy their rights (including the right to bear arms, responsibly) and continue their lives without a premature ending at the hands of a monstrous gunman. Lives can be saved with gun reform. Barring the sale of firearms to violent criminals and the mentally ill, universal background checking and the mandated reporting of lost or stolen guns have proven effective at limiting gun-related homicides. These measures, regardless of their initial popularity, must be discussed and considered if America is to break from the normalization of its violent gun culture.
After the shooting in Christchurch, 2,000 New Zealanders marched in the name of love and owners of semi-automatic guns voluntarily returned their weapons to gun merchants and law enforcement. A country, badly wounded by barbarity, rallied together in their collective best interest, one that promoted tenderness and excluded guns. Exactly one week after the shooting, Prime Minister Arden spoke at the service, held in honor of the 50 fallen people, quoting the Prophet Muhammad, “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain. New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”
New Zealand is not alone in its suffering; Americans feel their pain and are all too familiar with it. For the sake of ourselves, for other countries around the world, for queer people and not, Americans need to look in the mirror and ask themselves what they value more: their lives or their guns. New Zealand made a clear choice, one made much faster than we could ever expect in the US. It’s not too late for the US to make its choice too, but from what’s been done so far, it looks like it’s allowing guns to take priority. This fight will take much more than just one hand; working together can provide the change we need to make sure we decrease the number of victims of gun violence and preserve the livelihoods of all Americans. Like Prime Minister Arden spoke, we are one.
If you are looking to take action in your own hands and fight for stricter gun reform, look to Gays Against Guns, an organization of LGBTQIA individuals and allies that forms actions and events to fight back against gun lobbyists and move federal legislation in the right direction.