By Sakeena Rashid
We are 13 days removed from one of the deadliest school shootings in America’s history. On February 14th, in Parkland, FL shortly after 2 pm, Nikolas Cruz was dropped off by an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—a school he’d previously attended and been expelled from. Carrying an AR-15 rifle, Cruz entered the building and allegedly began firing. By days end, 17 people were dead including both students and staff.
Regardless of what side of the gun control debate you’re on, the latest school shooting has opened up an important national conversation on guns in our society that we all need to have. Law enforcement, students (including those who survived the Parkland massacre), legislators, teachers and of course President Trump are all speaking out.
Trump took to Twitter and suggested that arming school teachers would be a solution to active shooter scenarios within our schools. He went on to add that teachers who chose to carry firearms should also receive a raise. This sparked swift and strong comments from teacher groups across the country who’ve rejected the idea.
The California Teachers Association’s President, Eric Heins responded to Trumps call to arm teachers in a public memo posted to the association’s website. “Arming educators or other school employees with guns to prevent mass shootings does nothing to protect students. Bringing more guns into schools is a misguided and dangerously flawed idea. What’s more, thinking more firearms on our campuses is the answer is the most irresponsible solution you could imagine…” Heins says in a portion of his statement.
Critics of Trumps plan to allow teachers the option of having “concealed carry” weapons in schools have pointed out the fact that there was an armed staff member at Douglas High School at the time of the shooting, who did not stop the shooter.
Sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer Scot Peterson stood armed outside of Douglas High as shots rang out and students took cover. Peterson has been a resource officer at the school since 2009, and at this time it is still unclear as to why he did not go after the gunman as he was trained to do. He has since resigned and received criticism from both Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and President Trump. Trump said addressing the media Friday that Peterson ‘acted poorly’ and suggested that he was ‘a coward.’
Texas has already passed a school marshal law that allows teachers to have guns on school campuses, but not on their person as Trump has suggested. School Marshalls in Texas must go through an 80-hour training program before being allowed to have a gun on campus, which must be locked up but accessible to them.
Over the weekend, NBC News reported that there were three sheriff’s deputies who remained outside of Douglas High School as the shooting took place and did not engage the shooter or enter the building. Sheriff Israel denies reports of two additional officers at the school and issued a statement in response to Rep. Bill Hager’s request that Israel be removed from his position by Florida governor Rick Scott.
Sunday afternoon Gov. Rick Scott called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate the police response to the school shooting in Parkland, FL. The FDLE confirmed that they would immediately begin their investigation.
So, if armed and trained school staff isn’t the answer, what is? It’s become a popular opinion after a mass shooting or gun related tragedy to suggest that if black Americans went out and bought guns in mass, then that act would finally lead to tougher gun laws. This option suggests that millions of armed African Americans would be perceived as such a threat that those against stricter gun legislation would finally have a reason to vote for common sense gun control.
Past discriminatory laws against African Americans and current bias against black citizens say otherwise. In 1967 the Mulford Act was signed into law by then California governor Ronald Regan outlawed open carry as a result of armed patrols by the Black Panther Party. When the Black Panthers showed up armed to escort Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X’s widow) from the airport, officials were frustrated that they couldn’t apprehend the Panthers under current gun laws. “We have to protect society from nuts with guns,” then CA Chief Deputy AG Charles O’Brien said in an interview with KRON-TV.
Fast-forward some 50 years later and race, discrimination in law enforcement and gun control are still hot-button issues. The controversial “Stop and Frisk” law in NY state has been statistically proven to be unevenly applied against African Americans, as well as Latinos. Over the last 15 years, black New Yorkers made up more than 50% of police stops. In the first quarter of 2017 alone around 57% of police stops were of African American New Yorkers. Compare that with the report that says roughly 9 out of 10 New Yorkers who were stopped-and-frisked were innocent. (Source: NYCLU)
The unbalanced and discriminatory application of these laws against minorities across the country have led to class-action lawsuits and states having to pay out tens of millions of dollars in restitution. Since Trump was elected, The National African-American Gun Association (NAAGA) has reported an uptick in black gun owners. In an interview with NBC news, Kevin Jones, Ohio state director of NAAGA explains the surge in gun purchases among black citizens, “People feel that they have, perhaps, a president that they don’t feel is going to protect them, that’s there for them.”
So, it seems, black Americans have already begun purchasing firearms in greater numbers and are continuing to become first-time gun owners. The increase in black gun owners over that past year has not lead to any tougher legislation or even real conversation politically on gun control. As we’ve seen with the Stop-and-Frisk law, tougher laws can be applied (while unconstitutional) to one segment of the population. By suggesting that black Americans lead the way in enacting tighter gun control laws could result in them having those tougher laws disproportionately and unfairly applied to them.
The latest gun control theory: Muslims should take up arms in large numbers to finally spark a reaction from our government to enact tougher gun laws. Our current administration has expressed open bias against Muslim Americans and vehemently pushed the “Muslim Ban” later repackaged as a Travel Ban, to try and get the controversial law passed. Earlier this month, the third iteration of the Muslim ban was yet again struck down and ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The ultimate fate of the Muslim Ban won’t be known until this summer when the Supreme Court issues a final ruling.
Trump has stated on several occasions that he supports a national registry for Muslims within the U.S. but hasn’t vocalized support for a registry to be created for American gun owners. So, if being an un-armed Muslim is more of a threat than the average armed American—assault rifle and all—would a Muslim gun owner be seen as more American? Less of a threat?
The jury is still out on that theory, but one thing is certain—gun control legislation has been seemingly off limits with the most common-sense proposals being voted down. In June 2016, the senate voted down four amendments that would tighten gun laws. Amendments that included the proposal to bar terrorist suspects and those on watch and no-fly lists from being able to purchase guns. So even if our government has determined that you are enough of a risk that your freedom to travel on our airlines is taken away, you are still not seen as enough of a threat to prevent you from then going out to purchase an automatic assault weapon—with no background check.
Where we draw the line at who is a threat and who isn’t clearly doesn’t depend on the weapons available to them, but in the case of Muslim Americans, it is our ideology that makes us a threat according to some in our current administration. President Trump has famously said “Islam hates us” as if Islam itself as religion has some personhood.
I get it.
I, as a Muslim American mom of three, born and raised in the US, I am more of a threat and in need of being monitored than any random gun owner who hasn’t been screened and who in some cases hasn’t even been trained to use the guns they’ve purchased. It’s clear, my ideology is the problem; one that is anti-woman, stuck in the stone ages and inherently violent.
That’s the narrative the Islamaphobes have been pushing at least, rhetoric which has even come from some of our elected officials. So, with that thinking, a civilian armed to the teeth poses no threat, doesn’t need to be registered, or have their background checked before amassing a stockpile of weapons, as long as they have an ideology deemed ‘American’ enough?
The problem with that line of thought is that stereotypes and spouting biased narratives don’t equate to fact. A 2017 Pew Research study on American Muslims revels that most are proud to be Americans yet worried about their place in society.
Roughly half of American Muslims reported experiencing discrimination within the last year alone (Source: Pew Research Center). Muslims have been the targets of an increasing number of violent attacks and hate crimes, within the last few years. Yet, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has not come out and urged Muslim Americans to exercise their second amendment rights to protect themselves and their families against the rising hate crimes.
In the latest conversations on gun control, the left is blaming the right while many conservatives blame the left for the gun problem in America. The thing is, both groups may be pointing the finger in the wrong direction. A poll by NPR in 2017 says that both political parties, Democrats and Republicans by and large favor increased gun restrictions. So, if both parties are largely in agreement on gun control, why haven’t those laws been put in place?
Pundits suggest that our lack of gun control is directly tied to the money the NRA pays members of congress for political campaigns. Other theories argue that it’s the 5 million strong NRA membership that gives the association the massive political power it wields. Power that the NRA holds by being able to mobilize millions of voters behind issues they support. Just last week at a CNN Town Hall, Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) if he would reject NRA money going forward. Rubio would not say that he would no longer accept NRA funding which led to jeers and booing from the audience.
To suggest that throngs of gun-toting black or Muslim Americans would be enough of a reason to cause real gun control laws to be enacted in this country is a pipe dream. It’s wishful thinking at its worst and a flawed argument at best. One that could potentially get innocent black and Muslim American gun owners killed. We don’t need millions of minorities who are perceived by some within our society as a threat to begin stockpiling weapons.
In 2017, over 15,500 Americans were killed by guns, a 3% increase from 2016. That’s 15,549 reasons to put common sense gun control in place. We don’t need more groups buying guns and the threat of minority militias forming to cause us to act. We simply need to make the safety of every American a top priority.