Three Observations About Women And Today’s Gun Control Hearing

Struggling to speak, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords looked directly to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “You must act!” she said. Please watch her brief testimony if you have not done so already:

Rather than recapitulate the entire hearing (here’s a Storify of my live tweets throughout the  hearing if you’re interested) or make an argument for common-sense gun control measures, which I support, I’d rather like to use this occasion to make three observations about women and today’s gun control hearing:

No. 1: A refusal to take women’s views and violence against women seriously is **the** subtext of gun proliferation.

Disrespect for women is intimately interwoven with a lack of action on gun violence. The obvious overlap between Senators airing opposition to gun control today and Senators who led the charge to allow the Violence Against Women Act to expire for the first time in 18 years is not a coincidence. As C-SPAN first aired the hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) blamed Attorney General Eric Holder, Operation Fast and Furious, anything he could for Newtown while the camera cut to two younger women in the audience with their arms crossed in disappointment. Remember when Mitt Romney blamed mass shootings on single mothers?

No. 2: Women and people of color have been left out of the gun debate for too long, and this limits our ability for change.

Of four witnesses who gave testimony and answered questions today, one was a woman. Zero were people of color. Watch the news shows and you’ll see the same dynamic. The result is an overabundance of a racially charged white male “self-defense” perspective, while ignoring the perspectives of communities most impacted by gun proliferation: women with abusive partners and people of color getting shot to death in the inner cities (rarely do these equally outrageous deaths make the news the way a massacre of whites at school, at work, or in a movie theater does). The one woman selected to be a witness was a shill for the gun manufacturers placed by Republicans on the committee. We’ll move to her bizarre comments next, but suffice it to say that Senate Democrats screwed up. While the party is clearly more inclusive of women at a policy level and within its ranks, it’s doing a bad job of representational diversity at the head table (not just in the hearing, in Obama’s cabinet nominations) — any job that isn’t 50% is a bad job. Certainly zero percent allows one reactionary woman — the Republicans tend to pick just one — standing on the other side of a group of progressive men to take and twist feminist rhetoric to her heart’s content.

No. 3: Rampant, unchecked gun proliferation is a terrible and lethal solution for a country wracked with violence against women. 

What we heard about women and guns from the “Independent Women’s Forum” witness was bunk and bizarre. Doing nothing about guns, as the gun manufacturers want us to do, will kill more women. Continuing to allow abusers who can’t buy a gun at a dealer to buy a gun from a private seller without the background check that would disqualify them will kill more women. Please take some time to read the facts about women and gun violence from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In backing everything Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association said, witness Gayle Trotter also managed to twist feminist rhetoric into something unrecognizable. Several times she made reference to “a woman’s second amendment freedom of choice” and even used the abortion rights caselaw buzzword “undue burden.” She also asserted that younger women were speaking up everywhere for AR-15s, and in a desperate attempt for justification reached into the sexism grab-bag and said we like them because of their “style.” I honestly can’t decide what I think: Did she invoke “freedom of choice” multiple times to appropriate feminist rhetoric (since she was the only woman speaking and the opportunity was wide open for her to do so) or was she trying to link massacres with abortion? Elsewhere she asserted that conceal/carry laws benefit women who don’t carry, presumably because men packing heat might protect that “freedom of choice.”

As Mark Kelly noted, a good guy with a gun did come running out of a Walgreens after his wife was shot. In the melee, he nearly shot the man who tackled Jared Loughner, the man who shot his wife, Gabby Giffords, to the ground. It’s shameful that her colleagues didn’t get it together after she was nearly killed, but the chance for progress is before us now. It is time for action on gun proliferation and violence against women.

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