We were troubled by the title of Jessica Lee’s recent column on gun laws (“A gay perspective on D.C. gun rights,” July 22). While her opinion is certainly welcome, to call it “a gay perspective” suggests that she speaks for the entire LBGT community on this issue. She does not.
For starters, we find it disturbing to see Lee seeking to justify the illegal behavior of friends who keep firearms in violation of the District of Columbia’s laws. Her argument is that since they “would never instigate a crime” (how she can guarantee this she does not say), they should not be subject to the rule of law and can be easily distinguished from real criminals. As James Madison, the author of the Second Amendment, said at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, “A government leaving it to a man to do his duty, or not, as he pleases, would be a new species of government, or rather no government at all.” Additionally, even when D.C.’s handgun ban was in place prior to 2008, law-abiding residents were able to obtain licenses for long guns and register them with the police. This now pertains to handguns as well.
Lee also fails to grasp the purpose of firearms regulation. Guns do not cause crime—but they do make attempted crimes and common arguments/confrontations more lethal. The U.S. has similar rates of violent crime as other industrialized democracies, but higher rates of homicide and astronomically higher rates of gun death.
Her criticism of the District’s gun laws also misses the mark. In 2009, more than 98 percent of all guns recovered from crime scenes in the District were originally purchased in states with lax gun regulations, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida. Criminals and traffickers know exactly where to go to “exercise their Second Amendment rights” and it’s not the District. To quote Madison again, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty, as well as by the abuses of power.”
And while Lee might feel outrage about the March 30 mass shooting that claimed four lives in Southeast Washington, those directly affected do not share her conviction that “gun laws do not work.” Nardyne Jefferies and Norman Williams, who lost their children in that tragedy, have been among the most vocal opponents of the National Rifle Association’s “Second Amendment Enforcement Act,” which would repeal the city’s gun laws across the board and strip the D.C. Council of its Home Rule authority concerning firearms regulation. The District’s elected officials unanimously oppose the NRA’s repeal legislation and their repeated efforts to attach it to the “D.C. House Voting Rights Act.” As recently as July 13, the Council reconfirmed its opposition by unanimously passing R18-0541, “Sense of the Council Against Congressional Gun Legislation Resolution of 2010.”
Lee and Tom Palmer are outraged by the decision of the D.C. Council and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton to act in the interest of public safety? They should consider the words of NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox, who smugly stated, “I honestly don’t care about voting rights.”
Lee and Palmer may be frustrated that their personal preference for easier access to guns is not the consensus position of either the citizens of the District of Columbia or their elected officials.
It is more than a bit simplistic to reduce Norton’s final decision not to take “the gun deal” as having been irrational. Frankly, as our delegate to Congress, it was clearly the right thing to do, especially given the fact that the District’s current gun laws were deemed constitutional in a March ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Lee’s concerns regarding self-defense might be genuine and well-intentioned, but the solution to hate crimes is not an armed society. Acceptance of gay people in this country has progressed dramatically over the last 30 to 40 years. That was accomplished because gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people were courageous enough to open up and talk with brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, colleagues, and friends. That change did not occur looking down the barrel of a gun.
Finally, the LGBT community should pose this question to Lee and Palmer: If we surrender our gun laws and Home Rule authority to the NRA, how long before the next right-wing interest group comes gunning for our same-sex marriage law?
Jerry Clark is chair of DC for Democracy and a former board member and co-chair, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Ladd Everitt is director of communications for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.