As U.S. government leaders continue to grapple with addressing gun violence-prevention following last weekend’s homophobic massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, LGBTQ and gun violence-prevention advocates and activists are calling for more stringent checks to keep guns out of dangerous hands.
The Orlando tragedy, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, highlights how vulnerable LGBTQ communities are to hate-fueled violence, especially LGBTQ communities of color.
Hate violence has risen sharply in recent years, with a 20% increase in reported LGBTQ homicides in the U.S. between 2014 and 2015, according to a study released this week by The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). Of the homicides reported last year, 62% were LGBTQ people of color.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) hate crime statistics tell us year after year that people are most frequently targeted for hate violence based on the personal characteristics related to race, religion, and sexual orientation. According to The Williams Institute, gay men report being victims of violent hate crimes at a higher rate than any other targeted group, and these crimes are more violent and result in hospitalization more often.
And yet we cannot ignore the fact that transgender people are at great risk of being victims of hate violence because of their gender identity and this reality is even worse for those who are also targeted on the basis of their race, ethnicity, class, and citizenship status. Fifty-four percent of all hate-violence related LGBTQ homicides were transgender women of color, according to the NCAVP study.
We recognize the need to address the bigotry that motivates acts of violence toward LGBTQ people, and we also recognize that such violence is far more deadly when carried out with firearms.
Any solutions to the problem of hate violence, including anti-LGBTQ violence, must address the alarmingly easy access that bigots have to such deadly weapons. For example, under current law, people convicted of violent hate crimes can legally buy and possess guns. This is unacceptable.
With each new massacre, most recently the one in Orlando, we hope the number of homicides has pushed Americans over the threshold of tolerance for hatred fueled by people who seek to divide the country; for weak gun laws that arm those with hate in their hearts; and for the more than 90 victims of gun killings nationwide each day, affecting people of all backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities.
Assault-style weapons, like the Sig Sauer MCX rifle used in Sunday’s Pulse nightclub shooting, can be purchased legally in the state of Florida without a background check – as long as the purchase is made from an unlicensed seller.
Eighteen states have already taken steps to close this dangerous “unlicensed sale loophole.” But in the remaining states, including Florida, anyone can buy a gun from an unlicensed seller with no background check, no questions asked.
Under current U.S. federal law, people on terror watch lists can legally buy guns, exploiting this “terror gap.” Since 2004, more than 2,000 terror suspects have taken advantage of this loophole. But we also recognize how this screening mechanism has the dangerous potential to profile specific communities on the basis of their actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, and other attributes.
Orlando is the sixth mass shooting1 in the U.S. since January 2009 to be investigated as an act of terrorism by the FBI. Americans are 25 times more likely than people in other developed countries to fall victim to a gun homicide.
The federal background check system established in 1994 by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act has blocked more than 2.6 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers at licensed dealers; however, an estimated 40% of gun sales across the U.S. take place without a background check, primarily at gun shows and online.
We urge Congress to make a start towards stronger protections against gun violence nationwide by enacting laws to:
1. Prevent known and suspected terrorists and those convicted of violent hate crimes from legally buying guns.
2. Ensure that criminal background checks are required on all gun sales, including online and at gun shows.