This op-ed first appeared in The Advocate on March 3, 2017.
When Omar Mateen marched into the Pulse nightclub on Latin night last June, brutally killing 49 people and wounding another 53, he sent shockwaves not just through the greater Orlando community but the entire LGBTQ community.
For millions who grew up after Stonewall, LGBTQ bars were a haven where we were free to be ourselves. And all it took to change that were a few minutes on a June night and a disturbed man with easy access to firearms.
CNN’s headline in the days after Pulse was typical — “The Next LGBT Cause: Gun Control.”
Everything that has happened since Pulse has only served as a reminder that LGBTQ people must fight for their safety against the epidemic of gun violence, just as hard as they have fought for equality. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported a surge in bias-motivated incidents after Donald Trump’s election. When the FBI released its annual report on hate crimes last fall, it reported a disturbing surge in bias-motivated crimes targeting transgender people. The four-fold increase reported by the FBI is likely only the tip of the iceberg, given that hate-crime reporting is not mandatory and too many local agencies don’t report any data on bias crimes.
Already at least seven transgender people have been killed this year — six of whom were killed with a firearm, according to media reports. This puts 2017 on a pace to exceed 2016, when at least 27 transgender people were killed. And just like in previous years, the violence has fallen disproportionately on trans women of color.
Meanwhile, hate crimes based on sexual orientation also increased, according to the FBI. The problem, of course, isn’t just bias. It’s a toxic culture — in Donald Trump’s America — in which hateful rhetoric is weaponized by easy access to firearms. We have more guns in the U.S. than adults. Those guns are used to kill at a rate that’s 25 times higher than that of any other high-income country in the world. And those who are most subject to prejudice are in the greatest danger.
Here’s the reality: Unless we redouble our efforts as a community and take on the gun lobby over the next year, gun violence is only going to get worse. The National Rifle Association has spent years buying Congress. It spent over 30 million to elect Donald Trump — more than any outside group. Now the NRA has a president who won’t stand in its way.
The gun lobby’s vision is one with even more guns — and for starters, that means getting rid of gun-free zones, even if that means allowing firearms in schools and churches and bars. Next on the agenda, the gun lobby wants to make it harder for states to set their own rules on who is allowed to carry a hidden, loaded weapon in public. The NRA doesn’t care that states with higher rates of gun ownership also face higher rates of gun violence, because confronting that fact might cut into firearm sales.
Here’s the central fact that should guide our actions on gun violence going forward: The Pulse shooter, the Fort Lauderdale airport shooter, and countless other murderers were legally entitled to have firearms. They did everything right — until the moment they started shooting.
Our vision is simple, and unlike the gun lobby’s, it’s actually supported by reality — which is precisely why the gun lobby continues to oppose scientific studies on gun violence. Legally obtained or not, whether by “good guys” or “bad guys,” guns are the problem. If we’re serious about saving lives, we need to build a bolder, broader movement that finally tackles the problem at its core. We need to go after guns themselves.
Instead, the gun lobby’s vision is a race to the bottom where people with no safety training, with violent misdemeanor convictions or a history of drug and alcohol abuse, can carry loaded, concealed guns in every place, in every state, in the country.
Donald Trump won’t stand in the way. Congress won’t stand in the way.
We can. And together, we must.
IGOR VOLSKY is director of GunsDown, which is building a movement for dramatically fewer guns in America. MARK GLAZE is former executive director of Everytown, the nation’s largest gun violence prevention group, and a senior adviser to GunsDown.