Subberwal: Growing up under the gun (column)
June 15, 2016
On the morning of June 12, Andy Carvin wrote a Facebook post that was destined for 30,000 shares. It described how, mere hours before, investigators working their way through the eerie stillness of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando had to tune out the sound of the phones ringing in the pockets of the lifeless bodies on the floor. Friends and families, desperate to be certain of the safety of their loved ones in Orlando, were calling phones that no longer had owners. In a world of constant connectivity, 49 people dropped off the grid as the news of their deaths flooded across social media.
I've grown up in a time where mass shootings occur with a numbing regularity. I was 2 years old when a pair of teenagers killed 13 people at a high school only an hour's drive from my house in Frisco. When, at age 14, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises in Denver just weeks after the arrest of James Holmes, I spent the entire movie bolt upright in my seat, my ears straining for the slamming of a door, the readying of a rifle. I sat in tenth grade history and told my teacher, stone-faced, that someone had just opened fire in a kindergarten classroom in Connecticut. Last year, I worried for my family in Colorado Springs when I heard that a Planned Parenthood just down the road had been attacked.
I know the drill: the shock, the worry, the loss, the mourning, the status updates, the promises that things will change, the getting on with life until the next time. This is the world that I've inherited; perhaps it's time I accepted it.
And yet, I can't.
I refuse the inheritance that means the world can be poorer 49 members of the LGBT community just because a homophobe with a gun thought that because they were queer they had no right to live. There are LGBT people who now feel that it is no longer safe for them to express their identity, who, after experiencing decades of hate and discrimination now have to contend with outright slaughter.
I refuse to inherit a country in which Muslims have to contend with even deeper fear, hate and discrimination because a crazed amateur terrorist committed atrocities in the name of their religion. The fact that the attack fell both in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and in June, which is LGBT pride month, is no coincidence. In the aftermath of the attack, the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility, adopting the attack as one inspired by their ideology. In the past months, ISIS has warned of impending violence during Ramadan and has called for lone wolves to stage attacks on soft targets (i.e. civilians) rather than U.S. military operations.
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ISIS has managed to adopt a martyr who shattered the U.S. along its most fragile fault lines: religion, guns and sexuality. And Muslims around the nation will have to pay the price for this havoc wreaked in their name.
Though our president has given sixteen post-mass shooting addresses in his seven years in office, I refuse to accept that this is my inheritance as a young American. We have to act. The rampant rates of gun violence in our nation underscore a need to severely restrict access to firearms — for they are the fundamental problem.
Being homophobic is allowed. Being Islamophobic is allowed. Being a radical Islamist is allowed. Are these things moral? In my opinion, they are not. But are they legal? Yes.
This is the tolerance of diversity of opinion to which we committed ourselves in the opening act of our nation's history. The freedom of speech that we value so much requires us to both tolerate and rigorously debate opinions that differ from our own — so long as these opinions don't impinge on others' rights. It is legal to hold unpopular, even immoral opinions. What is not legal is charging into a gay nightclub and extinguishing 49 lives, not because you're a radicalized homophobe, but because you're a radicalized homophobe with a gun.
The rational anti-gun control response to this claim is that, if we value the First Amendment so much, we must give the Second Amendment its rightful due. However, the First Amendment has reasonable restrictions: One example is that you cannot yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. Likewise, the Second Amendment ought have restrictions to minimize the use of legally-purchased weapons for illegal, violent crimes.
In the case of the First Amendment, a person can speak his or her mind unless it places someone else in a compromising position. For this amendment, the restrictions are fairly minimal — there is a great deal that I can say before I begin to infringe on someone's rights. However, there are many more opportunities for a citizen to be placed in harm's way under the Second Amendment, and, therefore, much stricter regulations are necessary. If the Second Amendment allows Omar Mateen, who was on the FBI terrorist watchlist, to legally purchase a semiautomatic assault rifle and a pistol, the right to bear arms must further be restricted.
When, on November 30 of this past year, classes at my university were cancelled due to a gun threat, I called my parents right away. Whenever they called me to check in, they were reassured that I was on the other end of the line. The Chicago Police Department caught the threat in time, and we were safe. The patrons of Pulse were not so lucky. A 21-year-old student threatened to kill 16 people at my school as vengeance for the death of Laquan McDonald. A security guard killed 49 people in Orlando, perhaps because he was "outraged" at the sight of two men kissing.
Each of these men was entitled to his beliefs. They were not entitled to enforce those beliefs with gunfire. That world is not my birthright.
Kaeli Subberwal graduated from Summit High School in 2015 and just finished her first year at the University of Chicago. She is a summer intern at the Summit Daily.
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