I will never forget the morning of 12 June, 2016. I was up early, eager to drive to the Los Angeles Pride parade, when I heard the terrible news of the shooting at Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando. The contrast between my exuberance about the parade and the shock of so many deaths in Florida seemed otherworldly. I was in a daze. I wanted to speak to friends but it was too early to call or text anyone. Not until I arrived at the festival and experienced the increased security did the reality of the situation set in. Cops were everywhere. Everyone was on edge. It was surreal.
Over the next few weeks, I read endless articles and news reports about the massacre. When dancing with friends that week, I was aware how we all looked around our favorite bar with an eye for anything out of place. Anxiety set in. It was unnerving; looking over our shoulders anticipating a gun shot or worse.
One of the articles I read suggested that the LGBT community could be leaders in the call for gun control. I had been indifferent about guns. I knew the U.S. had too many guns and that violent shootouts like at Sandy Hook and elsewhere occurred all too often, but progress was stymied. I personally never owned a gun nor ever shot one. I had no interest in guns.
The deaths of so many gay people and families and friends hit my consciousness. I educated myself about guns and the incident at Pulse. What an education!
There was much speculation about the shooter—Omar Mateen. Was he a terrorist? Was he a self-loathing gay? The FBI investigation was ultimately inconclusive and motive was not established. What is known is that he entered a gay nightclub with the intention to specifically kill the people in the bar. This was an anti-gay hate crime. Yet, much of the media, especially from conservative outlets, began to “straight-wash” the event to claim that it was an Islamic “terrorist” attack—regardless that there was no direct evidence to support that claim. Even the Republican National Committee used the term “terrorist” but failed to mention the word gay in describing the nightclub in their press releases. Groups were cashing in on the event to promote their own agenda. A couple of Christian pastors applauded the shooting and called for more gays to be killed. They even recorded their sermons on YouTube to spread their hate.
LGBT people are very aware how much anti-gay hate permeates our culture. Religious and political conservatives, the Republican Party, Fox News, NRA, televangelists, and others continue to spew their anti-gay propaganda. A quick online search presented direct quotes from fourteen “leaders” that denied our existence, referred to us as second-hand citizens, or outright advocated for our deaths. There is nothing new here but it is disconcerting to see such vitriol even in 2017.
Unfortunately, hate crimes are on the rise, with crimes against transgenders leading the way. Gay suicides are up. Guns play a major part in this violence. It is common to hear about gun rights being expressed as “second amendment” rights. Even President Trump used this coded language to predict that Hillary Clinton could be killed by Second Amendment zealots to stop her from gutting the law. But what does the Second Amendment say?
“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.”
After reviewing many legal articles, court documents, and legal histories, this is what I learned: the Second Amendment has nothing to say about personal ownership of guns. Rather, it defines the relationship between the federal government and state militias. For over 220 years, the courts were very clear about this understanding with no dissention. Furthermore, the Second Amendment is a vestige of slavery. If runaway slaves made it to the North and joined a militia, they were often granted freedom. The newly constructed Constitution of 1789 accorded federal control over state militias. This led the southern states to fear that the North would simply make their militias ineffective (in the south, militia were known as “slave patrols”) and declare slaves to be free. By including the Second Amendment, states maintained control over their slave patrols.
In the 1970s, the NRA tried consistently to push for policy that would alter the understanding of the Second Amendment to advocate for unfettered access to all kinds of weapons. By 2008, a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the Second Amendment to include personal ownership of guns, but within limits. This confusion spawned thousands of lawsuits across the country. If pro-gun people were earnest in their argument for gun-ownership, they would have crafted an independent Constitutional amendment and processed it through the steps necessary to ratify amendments. Instead, they manipulated the Second Amendment to meet their goals. Unfortunately, this has now become the common yet utterly misplaced understanding of the law.
There has always been gun control in the U.S. at local, state, and federal levels, and it is important to have a rational discussion about gun ownership that dispels all myths and misinformation. And this is where the LGBT community can have an impact. At an elementary level, coming out gay gives us strength to stand up to bullies. Also, the LGBT community has, through the many social struggles and victories against oppression in history, shown great ability at organizing. As gay people, we need to stand up against all the falsehoods perpetrated by the pro-gun lobby. For example, gun violence is a real problem; a “good guy” with a gun is not an effective way to stop a “bad guy” with a gun; dictators have not used the confiscation of weapons as an effective means to consolidate power. Don’t let the gun bullies push us around. Our LGBT support organizations need to encourage academic research into gun violence and push for comprehensive gun control legislation. LGBT people have both the temperament and organizational skill to lead the fight to end gun violence.
Chuck Stewart, Ph.D. is an editor and writer for ABC-CLIO and other publisher. To read the entire 16,000 word academic essay, visit: www.ChuckStewartPhD.net. Stewart, Chuck. “Massacre at Pulse Gay Nightclub and LGBT Gun Control Leadership.” In Vol. 3, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans at Risk: Problems and Solutions. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2018.