Episode 56: Don't Shoot

Published July 15, 2016.

Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.

Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.

Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.

Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman.

Aminatou: Hi Ann Friedman.

Ann: Hi, boo. How's it going?

Aminatou: Oh my god, it's so hot in New York City.

Ann: You're in New York! I have to pretend I don't know that for the podcast. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Listen, I feel like I'm pretending I don't know that. It's so hot. I forgot how hot it is on the east coast.

Ann: I mean I'm sorry to hear that but also you knew what you were getting into.

Aminatou: Yeah, you know, that's a thing. It's like it's disgusting but I'm so happy. [Laughs]

Ann: Ugh. Are you ready to have a heavy convo?

Aminatou: When is it not a heavy convo on this podcast?

Ann: Oh my god, so many times.

Aminatou: Exactly. [Laughs] No, I'm so ready. You know, we've been talking about this episode for a long time and for different reasons, like scheduling/self-care have not addressed a lot of the recent gun violence that's happened in the country. And so I'm really glad that we took some time out and this is what we're going to be doing today.

Ann: When we first talked about doing an episode devoted to guns it was just a couple days after the shooting in Orlando at Pulse. Then we knew we wanted to have a bigger conversation about violence that wasn't just anti-gay violence and wasn't just mass shootings but the totality of the gun violence that we read about every week. And in the weeks since that happened obviously there has been just a relentless amount of horrific news about guns and the people who use them.

[Theme Song]

(2:00)

Aminatou: Yeah, you know, it's so depressing thinking back to those couple weeks ago when we were like oh, we should probably do this in a timely, fast way. Like the media-savvy part is like let's do this soon. And I remember one of us saying well, actually, there's probably going to be another high-profile shooting by the time we do this and it feels like the whole country's lost its mind right now. So it is really depressing to me that it is always a timely, evergreen topic to talk about gun violence and it's becoming more urgent. And I think that a lot of people are taking it really personally.

Ann: I know that for you and for me and for Gina part of our conversation about this is we are not gun people, like do not own them, haven't really spent a ton of time around them. Which is not to say that, you know, that means you're unaffected by gun violence. But I think it is to say that I definitely feel like I don't understand the perspective of people who want to own guns and actively campaign for them to remain legal and on the market.

Aminatou: Oh, 100%, right? I think this is a really good place to put all of our biases out. Like I think that maybe of the three of us I am the most extreme anti-gun person. I will not date somebody who owns a gun. I will not spend the night in the house of somebody who has a gun. I will not let children of my family play with other kids who have guns in their homes, and it's something I'm very cognizant of and that's probably from Texas living where it's a thing that you're confronted with weirdly more than you should be.

Ann: Here's a question, though, do you always know?

Aminatou: I ask.

Ann: You do? Before you sleep with someone or spend the night in their house you ask if they have guns?

Aminatou: Yes, 100%, because I learned this in college. [Laughs]

(3:50)

Ann: Oh my god, Texas college.

Aminatou: No, totally, right? Where it's like you're shacking up with someone and the next thing you know they're a gun owner. And I'm like had I known this at the onset of this relationship I would not have been here. And it's not a space I feel safe in, especially as a black woman, and so now I just know to ask. And all of my cousins who have kids too have made me really aware of the fact that before they plan -- they schedule play dates for their kids -- they always ask if the other parents have guns, and if the answer is yes their kids won't go there.

Ann: Yeah, there's something about . . . I mean it's interesting that I think part of your experience starts in Texas, or being in a state where guns or owning guns is pretty normalized. I mean I a few weeks ago was on a reporting trip in Missouri and was out in the middle of nowhere, with other people, not just like me alone with this dude I was interviewing, but he specifically asked me and the photographer I was with if we were carrying.

Aminatou: Oh my god, I would've lost my mind.

Ann: And, you know, that's one of those things where I had not until that moment felt uneasy but it was something about being asked "Well why didn't you think to arm yourself against me?" He was literally the only person standing there. He was the only threat that possibly could've been posed to us that was just so menacing. And I do believe that he was curious about it, that he was not trying to threaten us, but it was horrifying. And it was like oh, yeah, you are in an environment where most people or many, many people are carrying.

Aminatou: Yeah, and honestly, I don't understand it. It's like I know what people say: it's for sport, it's for recreation, it's for protection. Like I know it. I just, deep in my soul, do not understand why you need a gun.

Ann: Yeah. And one of the things that I told that guy is I understand that there is maybe a perception that if I were carrying a gun I would be safer. Even if I were trained in carrying a gun I have my doubts that I would be able to use it -- I'm air quoting -- to defend myself and whatever. Due to statistics and my general incoordination, I have no doubt that it would be something that would put me in greater danger if I were.

(6:00)

Aminatou: Well yeah, right? So this is honestly a great talking point because this is one of the things that a lot of gun owners and especially conservative people but not exclusively conservative people all say, like firearms are essentially the great equalizer between men and women. And all of the statistics blow that out of the water. It's like 100% a lie.

Ann: Right, and in fact what is the stat about having a gun in the house? I'm going to find it. Having a gun in the house makes a woman less safe, not more safe.

Aminatou: Oh, yeah. Here it is. More than twice as many women are killed with a gun by their husbands or intimate acquaintances than are murdered by strangers using guns, knives, or any other means.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: That's from the Rand Institute of Health.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: You know what I mean? It's just the kind of thing where I just never bought into it, that me owning a firearm is what's going to stop a random boogey monster or intimate acquaintance that you know that wants to kill you.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: If anything it puts you more in danger. It's like the availability of a weapon . . .

Ann: Yeah, I was going to read that.

Aminatou: It's going to be used against you.

Ann: Totally. The stat is actually the study found that women with access to firearms -- women with access to firearms, not just women who live with men who own them -- women with access to firearms become homicide victims at significantly higher rates than men.

Aminatou: Ugh.

Ann: Yeah, and higher rates of gun availability in the US correlate with higher rates of female homicide.

Aminatou: Yeah, okay.

Ann: So that's a thing.

Aminatou: As we were saying, yeah, that's a thing that I have deeply internalized.

Ann: Well also when we were planning this episode we recognized that all of us are kind of on the same page about not being into guns, so I went out a call for listeners to get in touch with us if they were gun owners to talk about why and I think that this personal safety question, their answers to that were interesting.

(7:55)

[Clips Starts]

Female: My name is Jesse Plevel. I live in quite a small town in northwestern Montana.

Female: My name is Sarah Plamzano.

Female: My name is Alexis Lambert. I live in Florida.

Female: My name's Jess Harrilson. I currently live in Brooklyn, New York but I grew up in Sheridan, Wyoming. And yeah, I grew up around guns. Guns is just part of the culture of Wyoming.

Female: I personally have three guns, but between the guns that I grew up with, my dad and my brothers, oh gosh, probably like 60 or 70?

Female: My experience with guns is I'm a die-in-the-wool liberal, never had any experience with them until I started dating my husband.

Female: I could never see myself using a gun to protect myself from an intruder or something.

Female: But having it there when I'm there alone late at night, you know, there's a little bit more security in that.

Female: Look at it from this way, I'm like a queer woman, and imagine me living out. Like say I move back to Wyoming to not a very populated area out on a ranch and I was living with my wife or my girlfriend, maybe I would probably want to have some guns just for protection.

Female: Like if someone comes into my home with the intent to do me harm I know that I have the resources to protect myself, and my dog. Because if you trifle with my dog I'm going to unshackle you from your mortal coil.

[Clip Ends]

Aminatou: Way to really be into your pet.

Ann: I know. I'm like we are not aligned on so many issues. [Laughs]

Aminatou: On so many things.

Ann: Oh my god, the pet-loving fanbase is going to come at us so hard.

Aminatou: Oh my god, it's like the Venn diagram of gun owners and pet owners I bet you is a perfect circle.

Ann: I think it's more we are outside what is two very common circles. We're -- yeah.

(9:50)

Aminatou: Oh my god. Oh my god.

Ann: Yeah. I mean and I do think that there is something, I mean both to the point about Texas or me being in rural Missouri, there is something about context to the area you're in that changes potentially how you feel. Feel -- not like the stats -- but how you feel about whether a gun would be useful for protection. I think there's something true about that. And the woman saying if I moved back to rural Wyoming I might want one then I think kind of speaks to that.

Aminatou: I don't know. It makes me really scared that a significant number of the population in this country thinks that they need guns for any kind of reason and are so attached to them. They have their own personal attachment to their guns and they all tell you the same thing about how they want common sense regulation, right? Like common sense is common in the first place. And then you have people like me who are just deeply uncomfortable by it, and I don't know what the middle ground is.

Ann: Yeah. I think that for me where it starts to break down is listening to members of Congress really push hard to keep guns out of the hands of people on the no-fly list which lots of problems happening there. And even the idea that we can sort of on a broad level make people safe by saying if you're a convicted felon or if you have anything in your background that people use to kind of be specific about who is a dangerous person, we don't want to have guns. All of that stuff says to me well, you know, I haven't done a systematic analysis of -- I mean, whatever, it would be impossible -- of all the gun-related homicide that happens in America. But I can't imagine that every single incident, or even the majority of incidents, are perpetrated by "dangerous people." Like people we don't identify as dangerous kill people all the time.

Aminatou: No. I feel like even in the news, in passing, at least once a week you read about either a toddler that shot their mom or there was the dad just last week in I don't remember what state, some real America state, who shot his own son at the gun range. And they're like "It's an accident but guns are fine."

Ann: Yeah, toddlers have shot 23 people this year.

(12:00)

Aminatou: Yeah, toddlers are dangerous out there. So, you know, it's just one of those things where it's always somebody else who is dangerous. It's not . . . they're like we have proper training; we have common sense on our side. The other part of this too, I think what makes me really uneasy when I hear a lot of our politicians talk about gun control, is none of them are really telling the hard truth that for the United States to get down to sensible levels of violence, which the standards here are usually European or Australian, it means we're going to have to take everybody's guns away. We're going to have to take a significant number of guns from a significant number of gun owners.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: And the second amendment nut jobs here are not going to make that possible.

Ann: Well it's interesting because in the same way that I feel like people who actually watch professional football are really good advocates for better regulations on professional football, I asked these women who are gun owners how would you advocate for regulation? Because every single one of them were like "The NRA doesn't speak for me. I'm not an NRA supporter. I don't believe in unfettered access to guns." So I was like okay, so what would you do?

[Clip Starts]

Female: I won't use an AR-15 because that's way too much gun for me but I don't see any reason to take that off the market just because it's been completely misused.

Female: Like there's just absolutely no reason. If you want to add it to your collection or whatever -- like I know people that do that, I think there's probably a couple in our safe, but . . .

Female: You shouldn't just be able to create the ultimate killing machine and hand them out. AR-15s terrify me. I have not shot one. I've been around them when they're shot. It just doesn't seem necessarily.

Female: Well I definitely, 100%, feel there should not be automatic weapons on the market. That's fucking ridiculous.

Female: Background checks on every single firearm purchase. There are common sense regulations that need to be in place. I don't want the wrong people having access to firearms.

(14:10)

Female: Sometimes I think if we could magically get rid of all the guns, I'd give up my gun rights. Happily. I would happily not want to own guns if we could make sure there were magically no guns. But it's just you're not going to -- Joe Blow in deep, deep Wyoming, he's not going to give up his gun collection. It's not going to happen.

[Clip Ends]

Aminatou: Yeah, and what we should do is have a ridiculous gun buy-back program like they did in Australia. In Australia, in 1996 and 1997, they just kind of got fed up with their own gun violence problem and the government was like fine, we're collecting everybody's guns. And they caught something in the order of magnitude of 650,000 guns that people just gave back. And guess what? Now they're a civilized society.

Ann: They crawled their way back to civilization. [Laughs] Good job, Australia.

Aminatou: You know, where it's just not at the epidemic levels that we have here. And I feel like people just are not taking -- gun owners are not taking personal responsibility in the broad sense that they're all . . . I don't care why you own a weapon; you're part of the problem if you do.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: You can be a sensible Brooklyn-living, Midwest diva who is really nostalgic about the guns of your youth but still you're part of the problem.

Ann: Yeah. Well, it's interesting because I . . . ugh, I don't know. On one hand I just feel we're so far from a reality where we could implement something like that buyback policy in Australia.

Aminatou: But why? That's crazy. It's like if they can do it in Australia, why can't we do it here?

(15:50)

Ann: I mean why do we have Donald Trump as a major party candidate for president? There's a lot of whys about America.

Aminatou: Okay, I don't know how to tell you this, they've had Donald Trumps in Australia. Please.

Ann: Have they really? Like come on now.

Aminatou: Ann, their politics right now are probably as crazy as ours. They have an insane scandal. We're not even going down that rabbit hole. Australis is crazy.

Ann: I'm holding my head in my hands.

Aminatou: No, please. They're also insane people.

Ann: I guess what I'm trying to say is whether or not it is factually accurate -- I'm talking about feelings now -- my feeling is that feels like so much of a stretch when we can't even get Congress to pay attention to this what I think is actually kind of a weirdly right-wing approach of taking away guns from people on a no-fly list. You know what I mean? It's like if we can't even get that, how can we get a national gun buyback?

Aminatou: I know, right? But that's why for me -- and I think that we're saying the same thing, we're just outraged in different ways.

Ann: Same opinion, different outrage. The new subtitle of this podcast.

Aminatou: Yeah, same opinion, different outrage. I just like, you know . . . I'm sorry to be this person. It's just not a thing I can be open-minded about. What I'm saying is I don't think there's such a thing as a sensible person who owns weapons.

Ann: It is interesting where I think this mentality . . . so it's worth noting, in case it wasn't apparent, that the listeners we spoke with who own guns for personal safety or for sport are all white women.

Aminatou: Oh yeah, that was the next thing I was going to ask you, is all of those women that we just heard from are all white, correct?

Ann: Totally. And I think that what I was going to say about this is there's a thread I think that goes from this "I need to protect myself from the bad things in the world," like I mean as in this case a white woman, that feeds directly into and heightens other types of gun violence.

Aminatou: Absolutely, you know? And I think that also just looking at the way you feel about personal safety and guns through the lens of race and gender, it's honestly very critical. Like going back to this feeling of I just do not feel safe around them and that has everything to do with being a black woman. You know, I was like maybe if I was a white lady from a real America state I would feel differently about it.

Ann: Right.

(18:08)

Aminatou: But as far as I'm concerned it does not put me at ease.

Ann: You know, I have no doubt that if we put out a call for black women who are gun owners for personal safety we could find someone. Just like I'm a white lady from a "real America" state who thinks they are super scary and doesn't want anywhere near one. But I think without trying too hard to figure out statistically how it breaks down, I do think the idea of needing a gun for your personal protection is kind of a white lady thing.

Aminatou: [Laughs] That seems accurate to me. But I think there's also something about just looking at people who always hide under the cover of the second amendment and just thinking if you're a black person, as we have seen recently with the shooting of Philando Castile, the second amendment kind of doesn't apply to you. He was a man who was shot who had a permit to carry. According to his partner who was in the car with him he announced himself to the police officer and still somehow ended up dead. And to nobody's surprise the NRA didn't come out supporting him even though he is legally licensed to carry a firearm. It's just par for the course for how African-Americans are treated when it comes to second amendment rights.

Ann: Or like lots of amendments. Let's be real.

Aminatou: Yeah, I mean like all of them. But the gun one is especially really interesting, right?

Ann: Well the history.

Aminatou: Yeah. The history of it, one, is 100% racist where any time we've had any kind of curtailing of the second amendment it's literally white people reacting to black people having guns.

Ann: Yeah. I mean we can link -- there's a great overview of the racist history of gun control on the MTV website that we can link to if you want to read the full history. But definitely just this idea of oh, we super fucked up and enslaved a bunch of people and now they can't ever have guns being the prevailing white mentality is the story of the second amendment.

(20:05)

Aminatou: No, totally. And then I think about things like open carry, right? Which I went to the University of Texas at Austin. Open carry is supposed to start on the UT campus next month, and I cannot tell you how outraged I am as an alumni. Like literally I can't tell you how many letters I've written. I'm like every time they solicit feedback from people in the campus community I'm there and I can't believe . . .

Ann: You're like "I have feedback."

Aminatou: Yeah, I'm like I actually have a lot of feedback and I will not be giving you a penny of my money or stepping foot on this campus that I have loved so much because of how shameful this is. Open carry is a thing -- that's, to me, again it's where my outrage goes today where I just don't understand, you know? And when you think about this Dallas police ambush that just happened recently, the Dallas police basically tweeted out the photo of a man saying he was a suspect in the shooting when it turned out he was not and it was a black man that was wearing a camo shirt and carrying a long rifle at this peaceful protest. He is well within his rights to carry a long gun at a rally or anywhere in Dallas apparently. But this created a lot of very significant confusion because he was there and it just goes to prove that open carry is a ginormous failure.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: It's like why would you do that? First of all that guy looks like a fucking doofus and I don't trust him to protect me from anything. I'm like I don't need your protection, sir, so I don't need you to have a gun here. And two, it was like well, this is the actual nightmare scenario, right? It's like there are all these people with guns. There's a sniper somewhere. What are we supposed to do?

(21:58)

Ann: And the quotes, oh my god, the next-day article quoting a lot of the police who were on the scene. They were like "Yeah, it was really hard to figure out. When everyone's got a gun it was really difficult." And it's like doh, did anyone think of this when you were making this a legal thing to do in your state? That maybe it might pose a problem in a violent situation. And maybe we don't want violent situations at all, and maybe leaving your guns at home is a good idea.

Aminatou: Yeah. Yeah, it's just so shocking when I see all these pictures in the news of people who are just carrying rifles around a Walmart or whatever because they're like "It's my right to." It's just not okay and honestly it creates confusion and I don't know, it just again seems very nonsensical.

[Music and Ads]

(26:52)

Ann: So yeah, so when you realize things like the second amendment do not apply to everyone and you take a step back and you see how mass shootings like Orlando and the horrific level of violence in certain communities like certain parts of Chicago right now which are seeing soaring rates of gun violence, plus gun violence perpetrated by police in a more sanctioned environment, I mean I can definitely recognize all that stuff as gun violence in kind of a broad sense. But it's kind of surprisingly disconnected when you read about it or when we talk about it. I don't know if you feel that way too, that there's not a lot of conversation that connects those things.

Aminatou: No, absolutely. I think that I'm really curious to hear what this next guest says about that just because, one, it's her core area of expertise. But also I really think that it's lost in the high-level conversation that a lot of people have in just the disparate ways that all this is connected.

[Interview Starts]

Jamira: So my name is Jamira Burley and I am the manager of gun violence and criminal justice reform at Amnesty International. My job is to work in collaborations with our more than 250,000 members in the United States and our seven million members worldwide to elevate the issues that are impacting individuals domestically here in the United States and to kind of work with the US to live up to its expectations to protect the citizens against huge amounts of human rights violations including gun violence.

(28:32)

Ann: Maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you came to work on this issue or wanted to work on this issue? Because I assume you've been doing this work long before guns were at the center of the national conversation the way they are right now.

Jamira: Oh yeah, totally. I mean I've been doing this work for the last 15 years. I got engaged from a very personal perspective, born and raised in Philadelphia in what many people would consider a very violent and drug-impacted community. And in 2005 my 20-year-old brother Andre was shot and killed in Philadelphia. He was 20 years old. He was killed a month before his 21st birthday. And I think for me experiencing that firsthand, I think as a person growing up in Philadelphia I saw . . . I mean I'd heard about people dying to gun violence. I saw it on the news. It became a regular part of life. But I think until it happened to me personally I never really understood the impact. This happened when I was 15 years old and I was encouraged by the mentors and the adults in my life to actually figure out a way in which I could have an impact. And so I created an anti-violence program in my high school, Overbrook High School in West Philly, that trained high school students how to be peer mediators and violence interrupters.

And so we trained football players, basketball players, any type of student who had influence over other students to interrupt violence incidents in their environment and prevent violence from happening on school grounds and in their communities. We decreased violence by more than 30% at Overbrook, and then I was given a grant by the governor to implement that same program in the top ten dangerous high schools across Philadelphia.

(30:08)

Ann: Wow. Part of why we wanted to do this episode is we were kind of noticing Congress isn't moving super-fast on a lot of these issues and I think we were feeling a little bit like where is the momentum to do something about gun violence? And clearly you have experience translating that feeling into action. I mean maybe you can point to a couple of things that you guys are doing or working on at Amnesty, or maybe some things you are watching just as an advocate who works on this issue in terms of positive change?

Jamira: Yeah. I think many people who are just entering the work of the gun violence space, what you hear on the media a lot of times is Congress isn't moving. Nothing is happening. And I think that's actually not true. They're happening in small pockets and communities around the country, but they're not happening at a large enough scale to really impact the overall numbers of 30,000 people dying to gun violence. And so what we're really trying to do here at Amnesty is to really bring in the human rights framing, so recognizing there are international laws which the US has not done its due diligence to actually prevent its citizens from being killed at alarming numbers due to gun violence.

The US, because of our lax gun laws here in the States, we actually impact gun violence around the world. 75% of the guns that are actually trafficked in Mexico for example originate from the US. So when you think about how we set the stage for a lot of times the rest of the world, it starts here at home. And I think if we're really going to solve the issue of gun violence we have to recognize that what happened at Sandy Hook and what happen every day in Chicago are similar, meaning they are used by -- instruments are at the center, instruments like guns are at the center of tragedy, but they're different in the sense that what drives those violent incidents are very different.

(32:00)

So we know a lot of times in white suburban communities it's suicide and it's mass shootings, and so a lot of it has to do with mental health and individuals getting access to guns. When you look at urban communities you're looking at illegal trafficking of guns and you're also looking at the social and economic implications of a community that's constantly been bombarded with a host of different human rights violations like lack of education, lack of jobs and opportunity. So while they're similar in many areas, the solutions for them largely are very different.

Ann: I mean I'm curious what you think about when all these different types of gun violence get lumped together in a similar narrative, or when . . . often the circumstances of one type of gun violence are used as supporting evidence or an example for a law that's maybe designed to curb a totally different type of gun violence. And I know we've been struggling with how -- like if this is an episode of our podcast about gun violence, we don't want to neglect the fact that death rates from gun violence in Chicago right now are at epidemic levels. At the same time a lot of the experts we're talking to seem to shift the conversation back to the mental health angle or the mass shooting angle that you were talking about before. So maybe for people who are engaged in this issue and care about both of those things, how would you advise actually trying to take them separately? Or what kinds of questions can we ask of lawmakers to try to separate the issues?

Jamira: So I would say that they're separate and they're not separate. So mental health a lot of times automatically assumes for incidents happening in suburban communities, like with mass shootings. But a lot of times when you think about mental health in urban communities it's not the same. So again you're looking at individuals who've constantly been in communities of color where they are surrounded by violence and drugs. You have communities who a lot of times the perpetrators of gun violence are more likely to be victims and vice-versa. So mental health does play a role in both of those communities, but what I say to people who want to get engaged is the way to really identify what are the solutions or how do we shift the narrative on those solutions for our suburban and urban violence is really talk to impacted communities and talk to people at the heart who are actually creating solutions. Because what might work in Chicago may not very well work in Philadelphia.

(34:20)

But what we do know is that one of the things that could happen is limiting individuals' access to illegal guns and also legal guns because we know that sometimes people get legal access to guns who shouldn't have them, whether that's mental health or whether that's because they have a domestic dispute against them. And so there are a whole host of different reasons why people shouldn't legally have access and also the illegal trafficking of guns, specifically in urban communities.

One of my struggles I find is that a lot of times it's so easy on the national stage for us to talk about Sandy Hook because those victims were children and they were young and who wouldn't be saddened by those incidents? But it's hard many times for people to understand the implications of gun violence in Chicago when you think about a five-year-old who was sitting on her porch and got shot, or a drug dealer who got shot on the corner. All of those lives matter. And so until we have a conversation about what makes our community safe for all of its people, I think we're going to continue to be impacted by the same issue. Because what we find is if you limit assault weapons in suburban communities violence is still going to continue in Chicago. And also violence will more than likely still continue for a large extent with white males who are more likely to use guns for suicide.

Ann: It's interesting, I did an interview with a different gun violence sort of spokesperson expert type with a national organization and I noticed that in her talking point she kept saying "We're just trying to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people." Or the talking point was kind of like we don't want to restrict access to all guns but the bad people shouldn't have them. And I really tried to push her for an answer on how that's possible. How do you tell who is a "bad person?" Or how do you start legislating that? And so I'm curious about, like you said, this is a problem that has to do with both legal and illegal guns. Is there a starting point that you advocate for okay, if we do this first this would help a lot of people kind of thing? I don't know. I'm curious about your reaction to just that distinction.

(36:28)

Jamira: When you hear that -- I mean I've said it to many of the partners that we have -- that that's hard to really quantify for people who for many of them they like guns, and so it's hard for them to say how do I . . . I'm in a state for instance that's an open carry and I'm a Walmart cashier. How do I differentiate the person walking in with a gun, if that's a good person or a bad person? Do you know what I mean? That's hard to differentiate and I don't think we should require the average citizen to do that.

Whereas though I think for instance if you look at cars, one of the things that's required to get a car is you have to go through training. You have to take a test. And I think something like that for gun owners needs to be implemented where not only do they go through a training of actually knowing how to carry, store, and utilize that gun, but also there should be a mental health test I think included in that process to ensure that whoever has access to this gun is not impacted by mental health issues. But also I think there needs to be an avenue for someone who may have previously been flagged to later on be able to apply to get access to a gun.

What I would say for when we think about individuals who have sexual abuse charges against themselves, they should be limited in access to a gun, and we also need to think about individuals who want to purchase a gun and evaluating who is in the household who will also have access to that gun and ensuring that they themselves don't have a history of mental health illness through the course of them purchasing that gun. So I think there's a number of avenues that could be done but there need to be built-in mechanisms that is tied into the system of purchasing a gun where we're not just willy-nilly letting someone walk into a store and purchase something.

(38:08)

Ann: If all of our listeners were to really pay attention to what you're saying here, what would you ask them to do both on a personal level as they educate themselves on this issue and then maybe on a direct action level if it's something that they want to see change?

Jamira: I think three things that I would say. One is ask people what do they think about? Like when they visualize their safety in their community, visualize what that looks like. More than often it does not include a gun. I would also ask them that if you do have a gun in the home, ensuring that it's locked up and away from children and that they don't have access to it. And three, I would say it's important for us all to look at both suburban violence with sympathy and urban violence with sympathy and think about ways we can all collaborate around both issues. Because I think a lot of times people get into this work and they can easily connect to Sandy Hook or they could easily connect to Chicago and that's how a lot of times politicians divide us is they try to develop a solution that's only going to impact one of those communities and a lot of times minorities are left out of the conversation. So I think we have to think more cohesively how we can collaborate in a way that can move us all forward and make us all safe in our communities.

Ann: Yeah. And do you think that a solution like for example instituting something that's more like a driver's license to get a gun does have a positive effect on a variety of types of communities?

Jamira: Oh, yes. Because one, it will deter people who know that they shouldn't have access to a gun from even going to purchase one. Particularly for parents who think having a gun in the home makes them safer, it will enable them the skills that they need in order to make having that gun safe for their children, like if you look at a lot of incidents of toddlers shooting each other. And so I think it will eliminate a lot of people from getting access to guns. It won't prevent all gun violence, but it will do, it will shave off I think a large population of accidental shootings and eliminate or try to eliminate a lot of the mental health individuals from getting access to guns.

(40:12)

Ann: Yeah. One last question, I know we've talked about different types of communities here but we're also really trying to connect the piece here about gun violence as perpetrated by police or by people who are seen as . . .

Jamira: Good people?

Ann: Yeah, exactly. Exactly the opposite of what I was saying before. You know, I feel on an intuitive, gut level that it is the same issue. It's all related. But again it's sort of like another slant or a different . . .  at least it's portrayed in the media as a different type of gun violence. And I'm curious how you at Amnesty or maybe you personally connect that back.

Jamira: Yeah. And so I also receive the deadly force work at Amnesty which is police use of excessive force and I can tell you wholeheartedly that they are interconnected both in urban and suburban communities because I think police lay the foundation for why many people in suburban communities feel like having a gun actually makes them safe when in all reality it doesn't. In urban communities more specifically there's a lot of intersections between both the gun violence and criminal justice and police violence in urban communities. You have to think about for many people a lot of times the visibility of police officers actually creates a more hostile environment. And also a lot of times people who funnel through the criminal justice system, their first contact are with police who use excessive force in their arrest or they use different internal policies that funnel people through the criminal justice system which when they're released their only outlet or their only ability to find income is illegal means and many of them then feel the need to carry a gun to protect that illegal means of income.

(41:50)

So there are a lot of intersections. There are some gaps I think where each of these issues on gun violence could stand alone but there's no way you could look at urban violence without looking at police accountability or police excessive use of force with guns as one of the triggers and/or reactionary things that happen due to the over amount of gun violence in urban communities.

Ann: Before I hang up is there anything that you're particularly focused on lately? Or is there anything you would definitely want to raise with our listeners that I didn't ask about?

Jamira: I think the only thing that I would raise with your listeners is recognizing that there's no way we can elect any candidate that doesn't see gun violence as a major issue in 2016. And so I think we need to push politicians of all brackets to have serious and authentic conversations about how we tackle gun violence in our communities because if this was any other issue where 30,000 people are dying every organization and every think tank would be studying this and would be calling this what it is which is an epidemic. So I think we have to push our politicians to have serious conversations and think more critically about how we can prevent innocent people from dying. And when I say innocent I don't believe gun violence or death is a sentence that anyone should take regardless of their crime, so I think we really need to have a serious conversation about why guns actually don't make us safe but actually are more than likely to hurt us long-term.

[Interview Ends]

[Music]

Aminatou: Thinking that you're not going to be affected by this kind of violence, it's really interesting because I think that for a lot of us, particularly for black people in this country, it's that we are so aware that we could be affected by it, right? In a myriad of shapes and forms. Every day I just wake up and I'm like wow, another way I didn't know I could die. And most of those ways all involve guns and that's something that is highly depressing.

(44:00)

Ann: Sorry, I don't mean to cut you off, but I think that actually really just clarified something for me. It's when the stories that we hear about we have to end gun violence now come directly after mass shootings that feel like it's more probable that you could get caught up in if you're white, right, there's a reason why those things happen. It's definitely those are the incidents that make white people feel under threat, not the rest of it.

Aminatou: Exactly.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: Wow. Another way the race of lens separates us. The lens of races, sorry.

Ann: [Laughs]

Aminatou: But, you know, in a very . . . just very stark and shocking, right? I think you're absolutely -- I think that point you made is absolutely right.

Ann: Well, and I think it's something that I . . . it's hard to keep in mind, even just reading the news as a critical person. Being like huh, why are these two paragraphs about a mass shooting at a suburban movie theater being immediately followed by news about gun control and what we can do about the issue? Whereas articles about violence in Chicago or police violence or violence against a black teenager is not immediately followed with "Here is what is happening legislatively or not happening about gun violence." I think that's a huge tell.

Aminatou: Yeah, you know? One, I was telling you earlier that for me one particular incident of this that made this so crystal clear, especially in just the way that I relate to it, was the death of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida where Jordan Davis was this young man, I'm pretty sure about my brother's age and it's probably why I feel just so attached to the story, that he was outside a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. He was apparently playing loud music in his car with three of his friends and some middle-aged white guy, Michael Dunn -- it's so crazy how we remember these people's names, also. It's like you can tell me the name of prominent white people that have shot black people recently and I can tell you exactly what case it is, and then teens whose names I shouldn't know except for tragedy.

Ann: Yeah.

(46:25)

Aminatou: So anyway, this man Michael Dunn shoots him. So this is all in escalation from your music is too loud to now somebody is dead. And Michael Dunn used the defense that he was essentially acting in self-defense under Florida's stand your ground law which is so awful.

Ann: Even though Jordan Davis was still in the car, right?

Aminatou: Yeah, and is a teenager. And all Michael Dunn has to say is he believed Jordan Davis had a weapon. No weapon was found, P.S. But this belief that this teenager, because he was listening to loud music, had a weapon and killed him is enough to get Michael Dunn off. So anyway, a couple of years ago I was at Sundance and I was at this really fancy party where I was so aware that I was one of the only black people there because of how ridiculously fancy it was. And this man found me in the crowd and just stopped me. And I'm such a social anxiety person and I was like ugh, what is this going to be about? And he put this flyer in my hand and was having a really emotional moment and was like "You should watch this documentary about my son." And I didn't look at the flyer until the next day, and it turns out it was Jordon Davis's dad. And I watched the documentary that morning.

(47:45)

I don't know, that documentary about this particular case is so -- and just the whole case in general -- it's so heartbreaking because you can watch it and think about, you know, it's like how do white people get away with shooting black men? But also so much of it is about race and so much of it is about guns and your relationship to them and your reaction to them.

Ann: Right, and how they enable someone who feels -- feels -- threatened, for something that is based in essentially racism, to act on that.

Aminatou: Yeah, I know.

Ann: P.S., the guy who shot him was totally permitted and within the bounds of the law to carry a gun. You know, it's . . . 

Aminatou: Exactly.

Ann: Yeah, exactly what we were talking about.

Aminatou: And all he had to do was think this black, normal, middle-classed teen was a thug and that's how he got away with it, right? And so it's called Three-and-a-half Minutes, Ten Bullets, and you should watch it if you haven't seen it. But it's also been really interesting to watch Jordan Davis's parents become these spokespeople essentially and just fighting for justice for their son. I remember an interview that Lucia McBath, his mother, did with Ta-Nehisi Coates where Ta-Nehisi Coates took his son and at the end she has this excerption for him. I'll link to it in the document, but that was definitely one of those Internet reading made me cry days. So yeah, you know, and it's so unfair that this is what his parents have to do now but they're essentially fighting for black lives everywhere.

Ann: Yeah. So we actually talked to Lucia McBath for this episode. She's been working with Every Town for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, doing outreach to faith-based communities but also general advocacy and legislative work on this issue.

Lucia: I am Lucy McBath. I'm the mother of Jordan Davis and I'm a national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and faith and community outreach leader for Every Town for Gun Safety.

Ann: Maybe you can start by talking about how you got involved with this issue?

(49:50)

Lucia: I got involved in gun violence prevention, which I absolutely had no clue about the gun culture or the gun epidemic, gun violence epidemic, I didn't really have that much of an idea about what was really going on in the country until Trayvon Martin was murdered. And then, you know, Jordan was murdered very shortly thereafter, seven months after. And so I just out of my angst and my anger I wanted to know why the faith community was not standing up and speaking out about morally and ethically what was happening in the country and I wanted to understand a little bit more about the gun culture and the gun laws and how under our existing gun laws people were dying in the streets disproportionately. You know, young males of color.

I wanted to address the nation, not just the black community, because I wanted the nation as a whole to understand that this is their problem too. So I'd liken my work to be a bridge builder. I talk to all audiences and around the country I talk with our legislators, I talk with our civic leaders, academia, the faith community, and I engage them into gun violence prevention work.

Ann: And so how do you . . . I mean obviously a lot of people who are going to listen to this have not had a personal experience with gun violence that is so devastating or have not really had it affect someone in their family. How do you talk to people kind of like the folks you were describing who don't seem to think they have a personal stake in this issue and how do you convince them that this is really all of our problem?

(51:40)

Lucia: Well I basically say that if you think that you are immune to gun violence then you're sadly mistaken because I for one thought that we would never be affected by it. We weren't living in a community that was ensconced by gun violence. We never had guns around the house. You know, Jordan was afraid of guns. Jordan was in an environment, a very safe environment, and I thought I'd done all the right things. I homeschooled him and laid a really good grounding in faith for him. You know, we were believers and just doing so-called all the right things. And you think because you believe you're doing all the right things that you are not likely to be a subject of gun violence but that is absolutely not true because our gun culture has become so expansive. Our gun laws have become so loose and ambiguous that people are using their guns anywhere that they want to. People are deciding for themselves to take matters into their own hands. They're shooting first, asking questions later. People are using their guns as a means to silence people that don't look, think, or act like them. You know, people are acting out their implicit biases and racism through gun violence and if you think that you are immune to it, no one is.

You know, gun violence has infiltrated the church. Gun violence has infiltrated the LGBTQ community. Gun violence has infiltrated every facet of society. And so we are all stakeholders in this because people are innocently dying in the streets every single day. We've got 91 people in this country that are dying every single day and hundreds more are injured by gun violence and no one is safe. We're supposed to be one nation under God. Everyone is responsible for trying to create a safer environment for all of us to live in, and you cannot turn a blind eye to the communities that are disproportionately affected by gun violence because as I tell people all the time, as you've seen, the so-called gun epidemic in the urban community is no longer just the urban community's problem. 

If we do not care about communities outside of our own, if we do not care about people and individuals outside of our own reality and our own community, then we are taking part in really the demise morally and ethically and violently of our own people and our nation. And as I say all the time maybe you can't do what I do. I'm not asking you to. But I'm asking you to use your voice and to stand up and let your legislators and your community leaders know that they are accountable to you, your safety. You can do that and very easily make your voice known. Make a phone call to your legislator. Sending a letter to your legislator. Sending a Facebook post or a tweet, or better yet the best thing to do is to march yourself up there to their offices, go to the capitol, and demand that they pay heed to our safety.

(55:08)

I talk to these legislators all the time and I'm sitting there and I'm imploring with them as a victim of gun violence, of having lost my own son to senseless gun violence, and they say to me all the time "Okay, well if this is true that most people -- that 90% of the people in this country believe as you do and that 90% of gun owners believe as you believe then where are they?" And what can I say when I'm sitting there by myself and I don't have anybody there that is supporting what I'm telling the legislators? What I'm telling the civic leaders?

(55:45)

What they say to me is they hear all the time from the NRA gun lobby. They're pounding down our doors the minute any kind of legislation comes forth. They're sending in petitions. They're sending in hundreds of thousands of phone calls. Where are the people that believe like you? Yes, it's important to have prayer vigils. Yes, it's important to rally in the streets. But if you do not go beyond that nothing changes. And we have to vote at our state and local elections. That's where all the gun laws are created and passed through the state legislatures and that's where the power is.

Federal law does not mirror state and local law. You know, you could perish too. I tell people that all the time. You never know when someone within your community or your family is going to be affected by gun violence and then you're going to be kicking yourself saying why didn't I do something? Why did I only pray? Why did I just say "Jordan, we have to pray for those families?" Why did I not stand up and do more?

Ann: I know for me sometimes I'm a little bit daunted by the magnitude. You know, I've talked to a lot of advocates. A lot of the conversation is about keeping the guns out of certain hands or passing certain restrictions. And when I think about just how many guns are out there in America and how even with some change to our law how easy it is to get them, I get despairing really fast personally. What do you do about that feeling?

Lucia: Well, you know, you can't be beside yourself with the numbers of guns that are on the streets because we know they're there. Channel that energy, those feelings that you have, and channel them into doing something that is concrete. We know the number one way to begin reducing a lot of these unnecessary and senseless murders across the country is we've got to enact some sensible, common sense background check legislation. That's the number one way. It's not going to take all the guns off the street. It's not going to solve every problem. But we know it's the number one way to be able to catch those individuals in the country such as the domestic abusers, convicted felons, and people that are mentally ill, keeping guns out of their hands.

(58:10)

I agree with you, there are so many different forms and parts to this that it's going to take years -- years -- to get a grip and get control over the expanse of gun culture. But think about it, it's taken 25 to 30 years for it to even get to this point where the NRA gun lobby is quietly passing these very loose and watered-down gun laws on our legislative floors around the country, so it's going to take a long time to chisel away at each and every part and piece of it. But you pick your battles and find the easiest, most effective way to begin the process, and that's background check legislation.

Ann: Yeah. And so for our listeners who maybe don't know where their state stands on background checks or other gun control measures is there an easy place for them to find that out? Or what would you recommend they do?

Lucia: Absolutely. Go to everytown.org. You can find out information about various states, what states have particular gun laws, and you can even go on the website for the NRA gun lobby and they will give you report cards for the various legislators around the country based upon the way that they vote on various gun measures and initiatives. If you have a legislator on the NRA gun lobby site that receives an A or a B then those people are definitely not for stricter gun laws. If you have individuals that are receiving Ds and Fs, those are the individuals and the legislators that are not being beholden to the NRA gun lobby. Because the information is the way you can really be engaged and moved forward and have what you need, that is so-to-speak your ammunition. That is your ammunition to really be involved and engaged in making sure that you help to change the gun culture within your community. And I always tell people that you have the power and the knowledge; you've just got to know where to find it.

(1:00:20)

Ann: Ugh, thank you so much Lucia. This has been great.

Lucia: You're welcome. I always want to tell people again and again we are the catalyst for change. We have to do it ourselves.

Ann: Absolutely.

[Interview Ends]

[Music]

Ann: So we will have so many links to all of these things on callyourgirlfriend.com, a reading list that really helped us put together this episode, some of the statistics, and then also links about how to get involved with Every Town for Gun Safety and Amnesty International's gun violence and criminal justice work. Mega thanks to everyone who let us interview them for this episode.

Aminatou: Yeah, this was a lot and we didn't even touch on police violence which maybe we'll do an episode on that soon because . . .

Ann: I mean do you want . . .

Aminatou: No, you know, in the sense that this is my problem with this gun issue is it's so nuanced and it's so layered and it touches so many other just aspects of our policy and our lives. And, you know, we're going to have to talk about it a lot more.

Ann: Right, and how it's all connected. I mean Jamira made the point that police lay the foundation for suburban communities thinking that they need guns which, I don't know, I think there are a lot of unexplored connections here.

Aminatou: Thanks for getting heavy with us on Call Your Girlfriend this week.

Ann: Ugh, yeah.

(1:01:45)

Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com. You can download our show anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at callyrgf@gmail.com. You can also find us on Facebook -- you can look that up yourself -- or on Instagram at callyrgf. We're posting a lot on Instagram lately so you should find us there. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. If you haven't bought your tickets to our L.A. show . . . 

Ann: What are you doing with your life? What are you even doing?

Aminatou: You're a fool because it's selling out really fast and I don't want to get last-minute emails, like every one of our shows, people going "I didn't know it was going to sell out and I didn't buy my ticket." Guess what? Now you know.

Ann: You find out who your real friends are. They buy early.

Aminatou: Exactly. Come join us August 18th at the theater at the Ace Hotel. It's a beautiful venue. We're going to have so many fun guests that we'll be announcing soon and you're going to hate yourself for not buying your ticket when we tell you who will be there. I won't even give spoilers.

Ann: It's true. And you can find a link to buy tickets at callyourgirlfriend.com or pretty much everywhere on our social media.

Aminatou: Be there or be a fool forever.

Ann: Oh, and P.S., this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Gina! And thank you to our friends at Argot Studio for having us.

Ann: Yes. Oh yeah, see you on the Internet.

Aminatou: See you -- see you on the Internet.