Revoking the Man Card
In the fog of shock and grief that settled in after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shootings in June, I found myself thinking about the last time I’d felt so angry and so overwhelmingly vulnerable.
Just how long had it been? It was 27 years ago, December 6, 1989, the day of the Montreal Massacre, the event that had a profound impact on our understanding of gender-based violence.
As feminists, there was no escaping that women’s claims to equality were in the crosshair of Marc Lepine’s semi-automatic rifle that day. He didn’t need to shout “You’re all a bunch of feminists” before killing 14 female engineering students. No, we already knew that it could have been any of us in a pool of blood that day. And we suddenly knew, too, what it felt like to be hunted. It was that feeling that came hurling back hearing about Orlando.
Most of the Orlando victims—gay Latino men in their early 20s—weren’t even born at the time of the Montreal Massacre. Despite being separated by a gulf of three decades and 3,000 miles, though, both sets of victims were minorities who faced discrimination. In Montreal, it was female engineering students taking up their place in one of the last bastions of male academia. In Orlando, it was young gay men of colour, who would have encountered racist and homophobic discrimination in their own lives.
So, what can be the solution to the fury of Pulse shooter Omar Mateen, who, like Lepine, set a record for orchestrating the largest mass killing in his country?
In Canada, the Montreal Massacre fuelled demands for stronger gun control. Suzanne Laplante Edward was, in her own words, a “typical complacent, suburban, middle-class Canadian” before her 21-year-old daughter Anne-Marie Edward’s bullet-ridden body appeared on the front page of newspapers, slumped over a chair in the cafeteria at École Polytechnique. And Heidi Rathjen was an engineering student at the university the day her student peers were shot. After it, she became executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control.
Due to the efforts of these women, semi-automatic weapons like the one Lepine used face greater restrictions in Canada. It didn’t hurt that female senators crossed party lines to ensure that the bill, introduced by a Liberal Parliament, passed in the Conservative-dominated Senate.
In the U.S., where the Republican-dominated Senate repeatedly votes down gun control bills, the issue has been taken up by surviving family members of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. They aim to sue Remington, the maker of the AR-15 rifle that was used to kill 22 children and adults. It’s a weapon which has been used in many U.S. mass killings.
U.S. gun culture is inextricably linked to masculine power and identity, as witnessed by the fact that the AR-15 is deliberately marketed to men with a skewed idea of masculinity and a thirst for vengeance. One popular ad for the AR-15 shows a distressed image of the gun beneath this inviting promise: “Consider Your Man Card Re-Issued.” Another twisted factor in the Orlando shootings is Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has sponsored a dozen pieces of legislation to loosen gun regulations.
What the plaintiffs in the Remington lawsuit believe is that the company is liable because it should reasonably have known that promoting automatic weapons (we used to call them “machine guns” because they reload automatically without the need to pause and put in more bullets) to loner, angry men would lead to mass casualties. Unfortunately, there are now 49 more bodies as evidence.
In Canada, we may be legislatively ahead of the U.S. on gay rights. But as feminists and as queer activists, we can’t sit still. The Orlando shootings are a reminder that all minorities have a distinct understanding of violence because they are so often its victims.
Mass killings get a lot of media attention, but slower kills—such as the violence endured by Indigenous women in Canada—are no less deadly. The fact that there have been 1,100 Indigenous women reported missing or murdered since the era of the Montreal Massacre is a clear reminder that equality, fairness and justice, as well as gun control, are needed to stop racist and sexist violence.
Taking away semi-automatic and automatic weapons means that fewer targets of hate will be killed at any one time. However, ending discrimination and securing greater equality for people of colour, including Indigenous people, women and LGBTQ people, is ultimately the best way to revoke the man card.