Re­vok­ing the Man Card

Herizons - - Letters -

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.

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