Gun safety: A step forward in CA, an uphill fight in DC

  • by Rick Zbur
  • Wednesday July 13, 2016
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Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. Photo: Courtesy EQCA<br><br>
Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. Photo: Courtesy EQCA

As the LGBT community continues to reel from the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history " and as the country is rocked by the brutal shooting deaths by police of two black men, followed by the murders of five police officers in Dallas " we naturally search for meaning and hope to spring from these senseless tragedies. One unforeseen but much needed outcome may be long overdue progress in strengthening our nation's gun safety laws. 

Orlando was a call to action for Equality California and for the LGBT community as a whole. Following the shootings, we became one of the first major LGBT organizations to make gun safety a top priority and launched our #SafeAndEqual initiative to end gun violence. As part of #SafeAndEqual, we announced our support for a package of tough, commonsense gun safety bills that quickly made their way through the California Legislature. On July 1, California Governor Jerry Brown demonstrated his commitment to gun safety reform in California by signing into law six of those bills.

The six bills are a historic step in keeping Californians safe from gun violence. We Californians owe a debt of gratitude to Brown, to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Le"n (D-Los Angeles), to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) and to members of the Legislature for maintaining California's leadership in enacting tough, commonsense laws that protect all of us.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will relentlessly lobby in Washington, D.C. and in Sacramento and mobilize the LGBT community to support legislation to keep our community " and everyone " safe from gun violence.

Gun safety is, after all, an LGBT issue.

For one, LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence and hate-motivated crimes in general. Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. Hate crimes are on the rise throughout the United States, with 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally targeting people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Reported LGBT homicides rose by 20 percent in the U.S. between 2014 and 2015, according to a study released this week by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Of the homicides reported last year, 62 percent were LGBT people of color and 54 percent of all hate-violence related LGBT homicides were transgender women of color.

So yes ... gun safety is an LGBT issue and Equality California is already taking a leadership role in the ongoing struggle to enact tough federal gun safety measures and strengthen state laws to ensure that another Orlando cannot occur anywhere.

Nationally, gun violence prevention efforts are gaining attention as well, but progress has been stalled in Washington. Equality California supported two measures, by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), that would have barred those on the FBI terrorist watchlist from buying firearms and expanded FBI background checks on gun purchasers. The Senate voted down both measures.

Congress' utter failure to move forward even the most basic gun safety legislation in the aftermath of Orlando spawned an unusual and widely cheered 25-hour sit-in that drew 170 lawmakers, led by civil rights icon Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia).

In recent days, House Republicans faced intraparty squabbling on legislation that would ban gun sales to those on a government watch list. With opposition from the Republican Party, and without support by congressional leadership to allow a vote, the bill is likely to stay in limbo. At the same time, most Democrats are pushing for votes on measures to expand background checks and prevent those on the terror watch list from buying guns.

Equality California is lobbying for the passage of these and additional pieces of legislation. We recently participated in a roundtable discussion organized by Representative Xavier Becerra (D-California), joining seven other members of Congress, representatives of communities of color and faith, as well as gun safety and LGBT organizations to plan strategy and advance meaningful gun-safety reform at the federal level. And we will join many of those same organizations at a rally for gun law reform on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on August 13.

And while California has some of the nation's strongest gun safety laws, much more remains to be done. When Brown signed the recent six bills, he also returned five Equality California-supported gun safety bills that would have done more to make Californians even safer from gun violence. The governor's veto messages reflected careful analysis and raised concerns that we believe can be addressed. We encourage legislators to work with the governor next year to address his concerns and close remaining loopholes in California law. Equality California is also evaluating possible support for Safety for All, a ballot initiative backed by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D).

Too often, national tragedies like the Orlando mass shooting are followed by vocal cries for change but a disheartening lack of action. This time is different. Far from paralyzing us in fear and defeat, the recent tragedy in Orlando has only galvanized our community's commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of all people, including members of our own community. 

 

Rick Zbur is executive director of Equality California, the nation's largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization dedicated to creating a fair and just society. For more information, visit www.eqca.org.