Situating Race in Gun Control Debates

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On Thursday morning, there was another school shooting in the United States–this time, at a Los Angeles middle school. The count for school shootings this year has climbed to twelve and it’s barely been over a month since the year started. Conversations around the time of school shootings are generally varied and contextual, but they rarely end in a consensus for gun control measures. This sparse follow-through is a product of different politics: those who favor ‘comprehensive gun control’ are liberals or progressives and those who are averse to it are conservatives and ‘traditionalists.’

Ideals for ‘comprehensive gun control’ appear to be compelling to liberals and progressives, but its proponents also often differ in their political stance toward the position itself. These political differences distinguish the two groups: the liberals and the progressives. Where liberals lean toward reform, trust in the criminal legal system (credit to writer and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha for the phrase), and ‘love not hate’ slogans, progressives lean in the direction of revolution, community and restorative justice, and explicit race consciousness.

So, looking back on the incident on Thursday morning, gun control advocates could have a range of responses. The shooting was in an area that is reported by news outlets to have had a gang presence. The Los Angeles Times shares interviews with students’ parents who claim, though, that the school itself doesn’t have problems with safety. The February 1 article reports that the Los Angeles Unified School district “is the only district its size that requires every middle- and high-school campus to conduct daily random searches for weapons using metal-detecting wands.” However, an internal district audit of twenty schools released in April of 2017 found inconsistencies in the way these random searches were conducted.

Although the random searches are a part of the district’s safety plan, there have been debates by locals as to whether or not they are useful and necessary. Another Los Angeles Times article entitled “Amid middle school shooting, a debate rages over random weapons searches on L.A. campuses” reports that interviews with teachers, students, and administrators in the district reveal that “elements of the searches–from who gets picked to be searched and how the search is done–are not uniform across the school system.” During these searches, school officials did not only search for and confiscate weapons but school supplies and other materials. According to the article, on April 20, 2015, “a day in which many people celebrate marijuana,” North Hollywood High School randomly searched 100 students and did not find any drugs but simply several permanent markers and a lighter. Some school faculty and students claim that these searches are less common in advanced placement, honors, and magnet classrooms, which “have more white students, which means nonwhite students in other classes could be targeted more frequently.”

Some advocates of gun control, especially those who are liberal leaning, may read the district’s safety plan as one prong to a two-pronged approach to achieving increases in student safety (the safety plan along with gun control). But others may be critical of rises in surveillance on campuses which could result in increases in criminalization, especially for Black and brown youth. The differences in these two stances has become pivotal in present politics with a divide between relative allegiance to the state, and critique of the state’s base structure and foundation. To me, it’s ludicrous to claim that so-called political ‘divides’ like this one are unproductive and dangerous. It’s the urgency of the present climate that should be regarded with such conviction as opposed to the perceived polarity in people’s responses to it.

 

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