Feminist Legal Theorizing about the Second Amendment: Gun Violence is a Women’s Issue
Thanks so much, Naomi, for inviting me to blog this month. It’s really an honor and pleasure to participate in the lively discussion on this forum.
Starting today, concealed weapons will be allowed on college campuses in Texas. Ironically, this new law goes into effect on the solemn anniversary of the state’s largest mass shooting at none other than its flagship institution, the University of Texas.
More guns. Just what we need.
After all, there haven’t been enough headlines about Black lives lost at the hands of police, or stunning murders of white police officers as they protected Black Lives Matter protesters.
Please forgive my sarcasm. I’m frustrated. Before this year is out, I’m sure there will be more tragic slayings, more outpourings of grief and recrimination, but still no movement toward sensible reform of gun laws.
And, amidst the din, there is little to nothing coming from feminist legal circles.
Two summers ago, Nation commentator Dani McClain argued that “the murder of Black youth is a reproductive justice issue.” Her call to action came to mind when I saw the “Mothers of the Movement” during the Democratic National Convention. The mother of Jordan Davis, who was shot for playing his music too loud, openly hoped for a time when membership in this “club of heartbroken mothers” would shrink.
I had been puzzling over this issue for a while, struck by the no-regulation-no-time stance of the National Rifle Association. In the context of reproductive justice, many have argued with success that the state’s interest in potential life trumps women’s fundamental interest in bodily integrity (thankfully, with Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court finally has drawn a line over which states cannot cross). Imagine if potential gun buyers had to jump through the same hoops as women seeking abortions. As district court judge Myron Thompson stated in Planned Parenthood v. Strange, the legislature would have “a heck of a lot of explaining” to do.
Hypotheticals aside, it doesn’t take much digging to see the gendered and raced aspects of gun violence. An August 2015 survey by the Ms. Foundation for Women showed that violence is a top concern for women. Firearms figure prominently in the domestic violence context. According to the Pew Research Center, gun owners are predominantly male and white—they are 82 % of firearm owners.
So, in the next three blog posts, I accept McClain’s challenge and apply a feminist analysis to the issue of guns in the nation. Given the medium, the exploration will be brief; but, I discuss it more fully in a forthcoming article upon which my posts are drawn, “Guns, Sex, and Race: The Second Amendment through a Feminist Lens,” which will be published in the Tennessee Law Review.
The feminist lens that I’m using is one that is intersectional and rooted in feminist legal practice: social justice feminism (SJF). SJF emerged from practitioners responding to the calls from women of color and other marginalized women to recalibrate the women’s movement with a focus on their needs. As my colleague Kristin Kalsem and I have explained, SJF is about uncovering and dismantling social and political structures that support patriarchy, while “recognizing and addressing multiple oppressions.” SJF methodologies focus on historical context, structural inequities, intersecting oppressions and underserved populations. In so doing, they reveal issues liberal feminism might fail to recognize as having gender implications.
SJF’s historical method looks to the past in order identify the roots of structural inequalities and dismantle them. In this sense, SJF follows in the footsteps of feminist and critical race theory in seeking to uncover lost histories, elevate the experiences of marginalized people, and reveal how traditional historical narratives mask and perpetuate subordination.
In the posts that follow, I will apply this methodology to the Court’s decisions in Heller v. District of Columbia and McDonald v. Chicago, cases that relied heavily on a so-called originalist telling of history. However, SJF reveals the context omitted by the majorities in both cases—one that helped lay the foundation for a race-and gender-based social hierarchy.