An elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. A grocery store in East Buffalo, New York. A mall in Allen, Texas. The list of locations where mass shootings have taken place in the United States continues to grow, with gun violence touching every aspect of American life. Even people who have not been directly affected by gun violence still feel trapped by the crisis our nation is enduring and feeling a loss of public safety. On this week’s episode of Our Body Politic, creator and host Farai Chideya focuses on the impact and intersections of gun violence. Plus, a special panel on gun violence and reproductive justice recorded live at the Center for the Study of Guns and Society at Wesleyan University and moderated by OBP guest host, Karen Attiah.
Farai Chideya [00:00:02] Hi, folks. We are so glad that you're listening to Our Body Politic. If you haven't yet, remember to follow us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcast. And if you have time, please leave us a review. It helps other listeners find us and we read them for your feedback. You can also reach out to us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. We are here for you with you and because of you, so keep letting us know what's on your mind. We would also love for you to join in financially supporting the show if you are able. You can find out more at OurBodyPolitic.com/donate. Thanks for listening.
This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. So, you know, we're going to be talking about gun violence on this show. So please take care of yourself. Even people who have not been directly touched by gun violence still feel trapped by the crisis our nation is enduring and feeling a loss of public safety. On May 14th, 2022, a self-proclaimed white supremacist opened fire at the Tops Friendly Market Grocery Store in the predominantly Black community of East Buffalo, New York. Ten women and men were murdered that day. And just ten days later, a teen shooter killed 21 people at Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 19 of them were children. Those are just two recent anniversaries and there are many, many more. So we're bringing you a special show on gun violence. Later, you'll hear Washington Post columnist and regular, Our Body Politic guest host Karin Attiah, leading a conversation on the history of guns and domestic violence. It was taped live at Wesleyan University. She's also joining me now to have our lead interview on where we stand in America today. Hi, Karen.
Karen Attiah [00:01:47] Hey, Farai.
Farai Chideya [00:01:49] We're also joined by public health reporter at the gun violence specific newsroom, The Trace, Fairriona, Magee. Welcome, Fairriona.
Fairriona Magee [00:01:56] Hi. Thank you for having me.
Farai Chideya [00:01:58] So, Karen, I want to start with you. You have been writing some beautiful, beautiful pieces about this deadly crisis in society. And I feel like on this show, we really try to talk about the ways in which mental health and civic health intersect with all the different issues that we're facing today. So you wrote in a recent article about how some people are experiencing social death when it comes to gun violence. What is that?
Karen Attiah [00:02:25] This was in response to a mass shooting that happened just about 20 minutes from me. One of those things where I never thought the violence would hit my home basically at the Allen Outlets Mall here in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. And I decided to go to the scene the day after the shooting after a man shot and killed eight people. And just looking at people gathering around a makeshift memorial of eight crosses, people were stunned, crying, defiant, all sorts of emotions. And you're just seeing them process things. I saw one teenage girl who was that was her first time going to a mall by herself. And then after that, she said she doesn't want to go to malls anymore. Another young guy who had moved to the area with his parents from Washington State, then they moved to Allen, Texas, which is known for being pretty safe and very diverse. He'd never thought about guns that much before moving to Texas. He never thought about needing one. He asked me, Would you get a gun? And I was like, Well, why are you asking me that? And he said he was thinking about getting a gun. And it's just that death of trust that you have in your public spaces to be safe. That trust that you have in other people, that they're not going to harm you. That died that day. And those are the things that don't get captured in injury counts and death counts. And even I you know, I read about this mall, which I've been going to since I was a kid. I was just there two weeks before the shooting, buying jeans for a trip. The prospect of this space that has been a safe space and a fun space for families in the area. At the time, we thought that that mom may never open again. That's a certain death of a gathering space. But at the time, it was just this prospect of many different types of deaths that we don't often see reflected in the news.
Farai Chideya [00:04:28] Fairriona, you are doing public health work for The Trace, which focuses on gun violence. What is the public health impact of this crisis, both on bodies and on psyches?
Fairriona Magee [00:04:42] So that's a really good question. And I think that it takes a layered response. When we look at gun violence impact and how it shift in the social landscape, I think from one instance it's what Karen was mentioning, the deaths of public spaces we hear in conversation around school safety. Around just attending public events. I mean, what we witnessed recently with Memorial Day weekend numbers are still coming in, but it's estimated that dozens of people were shot attending public events and currently around maybe 16 people have died. I mean, that is extremely traumatic when people are just trying to enjoy a holiday that people have enjoyed for a long period of time. But on one end to it's important to recognize that for certain communities and for certain people, gun violence has always existed in their spaces. And I've interviewed people where they talk about this generational conversation with their fathers or their mothers, had it with them and sat him down and said, This is how you have to navigate gun violence in the area that we live in. And unfortunately, they have to sit down and have that same conversation with their children. So as gun violence continues to be a persistent issue, it affects a lot of people. It's shifting for certain people who in the past may not have ever thought about it being in their space or their room. But for some individuals, this has been an issue for decades.
Farai Chideya [00:05:59] Yeah, I mean, as we were getting set up to do this conversation, there was a shooting where I am right now in Brooklyn, and I have a neighbor who I call the mayor who kind of communicates with everyone on the block and makes it a point to know everyone on the block. And he's like, There's a shooting at this intersection. That's why you're here in the helicopters. Two people headed to the hospital. There is an informal network of people, and this is rare. I moved into Crown Heights, Brooklyn, when it was sort of on the come up from a really rough period and have been here now for over a decade. And this is not an everyday occurrence, but there is community based communication infrastructure to meet the needs of what is going on. When I moved in, there were no white or Asian people in the building. It was mainly Black and a few Latino, and now it's a mixed income, mixed race building. And I'm not sure how much some people are plugged into that infrastructure. So also, as communities change how we have to communicate with each other changes, and I wonder if that's part of the fear. How do you do your work on these impacts Fairriona? And knowing how communities who have learned to deal with gun violence meet the moment.
Fairriona Magee [00:07:18] When we think about how communities who have had long standing issues with gun violence have to grapple with these issues. They have had to navigate these issues for a long period of time. I've covered studies and I've been able to speak to researchers who look at things as small as like planting trees or investment in nearby communities can have a big impact on gun violence. Right? So the answer is in moving away or secluding groups of people, it isn't diminishing diversity at all. The real answer is investment in communities, because, as you're mentioning, demographics are shifting. People are moving to different areas. But we do have to ask ourselves some of these individuals who have had long standing issues surrounding gun violence, where do they go? Are they pushed out? Are they out of that network? So it's very important that we have true investment, not just superficial or surface layer investment.
Farai Chideya [00:08:07] What do you consider your job to be when you think about public health and gun violence? What kind of stories do you look for? What draws your eye and how do you go about doing your work?
Fairriona Magee [00:08:17] Something I found myself explaining often because sometimes when people hear that you're a gun violence reporter that comes out to the lens of public health, they're kind of like, what? Eyebrows raised. Because I think that there is a general confusion around what gun violence looks like as an issue. Public health approach is, you know, gathering data and developing strategies that could tackle public health issues and the implementation of those strategies. So my work really consists of doing a lot of that, speaking to people who are close to the issue, speaking to people who researched the topic and researched the issue. I think it's very clear that public health practitioners aren't out here to take everyone's guns or aren't playing in a political role. I think is very important to emphasize that their true goal in doing the work that they do is insurance people. Safety's a common example. People reference is cars, right? Like we saw in the past that public health officials have done a lot of work around reducing car fatalities and cars aren't off the road. Right. So I think it's important that we put things in context and to see that public health officials are doing the work that needs to be done to really address this topic.
Farai Chideya [00:09:23] Karen, I want to go to an issue that is an intersection of different health issues and public health issues. You had covered your hometown of Dallas, Texas, making headlines in early May when a young man shot and killed his partner for traveling out of state to Colorado for an abortion. I have also covered intersections of massive issues that are huge by themselves. But then together there's a whole other frame on the issue. Can you tell us a bit about why we should pay attention to that story?
Karen Attiah [00:09:57] So a 26 year old woman who was in an abusive relationship already, according to reports, she had actually contacted the police before and filed a report about the threats that her partner was making against her and her family. And she got pregnant and traveled to Colorado to get an abortion because abortion is basically almost illegal here in the state. And when she came back, he started choking her in a parking lot and then shot her and then shot her, got on the ground. It is the intersection of a lot of things we know, but we don't speak of as much as we should is the fact that pregnant women are in so much more risk when it comes to death from intimate partner violence, from male violence, frankly, and that there have been studies that have shown that interpersonal violence or male violence is one of the leading causes of death for pregnant women, almost outstripping other obstructive causes like heart disease, high blood pressure by almost two fold. So the issue of gun violence also being a maternal mortality issue is not something that we talk about. And secondly, it's also an issue of abortion being a means of self-defense. Gun rights advocates will say for women, well, if they armed themselves, they can protect themselves from rape, from attacks. Well, for many women, most of the danger presented to them in their lives are by men who are already in their lives. So by their husbands, by their boyfriends, by their exes. And after I wrote this story, I heard from people who said that they had been in the same situation, that they got abortions because they knew that if their partner either would get angry, if they found out that their partner was pregnant, they knew that they did not want to be tied to an abuser, and they knew that they didn't want to subject their future children to a violent person. So it's this frame of why a lot of women do get abortions. It's to protect themselves and to escape violent situations. And I think putting those facts and figures out there for a lot of people were really shocking. For me, it's just shining more light on these intersections and reframing the way we silo these different issues and why. Again, it's just so important to think about just the various ways that women have had to protect themselves from male violence and terminating pregnancies has long been one of those strategies.
Farai Chideya [00:12:55] Fairriona, you look at how everything from climate change to public policy affects the dynamics of communities and questions of public health and gun violence. So what sorts of things do you look for when you're doing pattern matching to understand how different trends fit together?
Fairriona Magee [00:13:14] I think that is very important when we're talking about gun violence to the lens of public health that we look at health disparities, we see that race, gendered violence, discrimination, your educational access, your health care access, your economic stability, play a role into someone's social determinants of health, right? So when we look at those factors in combination with a country that has extremely weak gun laws, it ultimately creates a recipe for disaster. And we know that in disasters, often the most vulnerable communities, they carry that burden because typically speaking, they are the least protected. Black women are more likely than any other group to be a victim of intimate partner violence while they are pregnant. Right. So this link speaking study looked at a time period and found that up to nearly 70% of maternal homicides were firearm related. I mean, that's a l disparity. So that vulnerability as it connects to your social determinants of health, your race, your class, your socioeconomic status, where do you live? All play a part in increasing your susceptibility to unfortunately being a victim of gun violence. And if we don't look at gun violence as a public health issue, is the heart to look at these as issues of health disparities, which they clearly are, and from looking at them from a point of health disparities, that means that they can truly be addressed.
Farai Chideya [00:14:34] And picking up on what Karen was talking about, about abortion, how do you see the increasingly restrictive abortion laws potentially affecting the dynamics of the intersectionality of these public health issues?
Fairriona Magee [00:14:48] So I think that it's important to point out that there is a connection between lack of access to abortion and increase in intimate partner violence. I mean, we saw clearly during the pandemic that intimate partner. Violence rose dramatically in relation to firearms. My colleague Jennifer Mascia actually did a project with USA Today and we saw that between 2018, 2022, nearly 866 children were unfortunately victims of domestic violence. Right. So that is just showing that in those really intense situations, when people cannot get access to the care that they need, how dangerous that is.
Farai Chideya [00:15:23] Do you think that we're still living in an echo of the pandemic in terms I mean, you know, I'm just going to say I do. I think that the mental health of this country is very strained and statistics show that. So how do we take that into account?
Karen Attiah [00:15:36] We know from that from 2019 to 2021, the rates of domestic homicides have been rising in Texas, and a significant portion were women. Those numbers do coincide with the onset of the pandemic. And in that time, Texas passed its permit-less carry laws. So it is now even easier to get a gun without any background checks. We're also talking about often the failures of police enforcement when women and their families or people are reporting domestic violence. In the case that we talked about where the man shot and killed his partner who had gotten an abortion. You know, the local report said that the family had tried to call the police and the police didn't get back to them. You know, three weeks later, she was dead. We also have the vulnerabilities in terms of law enforcement enforcing restraining orders, law enforcement, not taking women's stories and complaints seriously. So I really do think the pandemic, in addition to legal changes, legal environments, at least here in Texas and in other red states that have left more firearms and less protection. Even when I was trying to do this research, it was not easy to find explicit studies on a lot of this stuff. And I very much hope that these intersectionality, these connections, particularly since the effective overturn of Roe v Wade, we need to be tracking these links between the lack of access to abortion and the increase to violence against women and people who can get pregnant because it's been only a year. But still, that case out of Texas was kind of this canary in the coal mine sort of feeling of what can happen and what might be happening to women across these red states where they don't have the option of leaving their abusers. So at least hope that, you know, one thing that we can do is just talk about it and encourage hospitals and clinics to be on the alert for women who are experiencing this, asking the right questions. It's a really scary time to be a woman in general, but particularly in Texas, it seems. Texas seems to prefer that the women here a bit more killablel, especially if they're pregnant.
Farai Chideya [00:18:10] We've been talking about the reproductive space. There's also campuses. And I have a friend who's a professor in a state with a lot of mental health challenges among younger people. I mean, that's true of young people nationally, but their state has some specific indexes to poverty and extremism that are taxing on young people's mental health. At the same time, the state has moved to an open-carry style system. And as a professor, they're being warned that they have to try to monitor their students to see who's a potential mass shooter. I had remembered speaking to Nikki Giovanni in a previous job, I interviewed her and she had taught the shooter on her campus and had flagged his behavior. But he still became a shooter because it's very tricky. You don't want to demonize people with mental health issues and identify as someone with mental health issues, you know, with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. And I'm not ashamed of it. But Fairriona, you know, how are you tracking that, if at all?
Fairriona Magee [00:19:19] As reporters, we often have these conversations around mental health and gun violence. It can often be difficult because we see that political leaders often like to relegate to mental health as a scapegoat instead of addressing laws that could be, you know, put in invective immediately. But going back to the coronavirus pandemic, we saw during that time an extreme rise in gun violence. And we saw an extreme rise in the struggle with mental health compounded with economic instability, a national housing crisis, a job crisis. And that goes back to the points of social determinants of health and how we live in a country where the resources are really hard to get to in certain spaces. And often we speak about how. Politicians or political leaders like to refer to mental health. But there isn't this same conversation around investing in affordable health insurance, which could help people get access to the care that they need. So I think that we begin to track it and see how these two things are intersecting. And it's very important because we are seeing a staggering rise in particularly vulnerable communities as it relates to Black youth, Native American youth. How do we think about that as it relates to mental health? We have to make sure that people have the resources that they need.
Farai Chideya [00:20:29] And so how do you resource yourself? How do you make space for yourself doing this work to have a sense of wholeness as you're taking in all of this incoming?
Fairriona Magee [00:20:39] So it can be really difficult. Going back to some of the points that I made earlier as it relates to who gets the opportunity to make space for themselves, to have the opportunity to really do a wellness check or really evaluate your mental health often or have those resources are really relegated to people who have a certain economic status. And that can be really difficult for a lot of the communities that we were mentioning earlier and part of the population who is extremely impacted by this topic. As a young Black woman who covers this topic, it can be extremely difficult to read certain things and participate in, but it's also important that it continues to get done, and it is important to take this work seriously because we're talking about populations who are extremely vulnerable.
Farai Chideya [00:21:19] Yeah, I mean, when we talked with your colleague Jennifer, she definitely expressed the challenge of self-care while covering hard issues. And I know that for me as a journalist, sometimes I am a little extra. It's like, Hey, Farai, how are you? Well, I've been covering domestic terrorism today and it's like, Girls, slow your roll. We're just having coffee. I didn't ask to be your therapist. Karen, how do you separate the lines between mutual aid type of self-care, talking with your girlfriends or guy friends or human friends, and just the intensity of what we do?
Karen Attiah [00:21:54] I can be better about a lot of things.
Farai Chideya [00:21:56] Couldn’t we all?
Karen Attiah [00:21:59] I'll be honest. Our jobs are not normal in the sense of sometimes it can be pretty hard to talk to people about what you just saw. I had to go to my parents house after coming back from the scene of the Allen shooting and in my mind is burned a man talking about a child who was basically bleeding out and holding on to their parents. And here I am I get to come home to my parents. I think what Fairriona has been saying, this whole conversation is who gets access to care and to protection in general. I've been thinking a lot about community and a lot about interdependence as Black people, Black women especially. I think we get a lot of our strength from our realization that we don't do this alone. And so I think even just being able to talk to other journalists and researchers who cover these issues and who can relate has been helpful. Honestly, at the end of the day, even as journalists, a lot of us come from the communities that we cover, like the Allen shooting. You know, first and foremost, this was a place that has high end stories, high end ish stories, middle class, comfortable community. But this is the thing, places that, oh, this is not supposed to happen here. And often we think about marginalized neighborhoods, Black, Latino neighborhoods. That's where we where it's okay somehow to happen. That doesn't make national news. So I think the fact that we're able to move in and out of both of these spaces is a privilege. And it's not one that I take for granted, but it's important to acknowledge. So I think just being able to process the things that don't make it into our copy very.
Farai Chideya [00:23:53] Fairriona, you know, how do you also make sense of that question of this is where we expect people to be dying on a regular basis versus, Oh, I'm so shocked.
Fairriona Magee [00:24:03] I think that nationally there's a large misunderstanding of where gun violence predominately takes place and who are predominantly impacts. Politicians or media can often emphasize certain communities. And that's not to say that certain communities are not susceptible to gun violence, but to act as if gun violence is exclusively an urban issue, is scientifically inaccurate, and evidence supports that. I recently had the opportunity to cover a study that was conducted by the Columbia University School of Public Health. And essentially what these researchers did is they did a 20 year analysis comparing gun violence and gun deaths in urban communities compared to rural communities. And what they found is gun violence in gun deaths was extremely higher in rural communities. And that really combats this narrative as if gun violence is only a urban problem that predominantly impacts. Communities of color, which definitely has racial and racist implications and is often the scapegoat. But the researchers also did make a point that gun suicides play a huge part in why gun deaths are so high. And we also see from certain reports that firearm homicide in rural communities is also increasing. Right. So it is important to point out that gun violence is a nationwide problem, that this is not only an issue for Black or brown people. This it's not only an issue for impoverished communities, but is something that's nationwide in research is highlighting that and showing that.
Farai Chideya [00:25:32] Guns are so complicated. Because I come from a family where a lot of the men served in the military and some of the women were auxiliaries in World War II. And, you know, a couple generations ago my family were farmers and they had guns and they have hunted and I've eaten the meat that they hunted. As I look at the great national pageant of gun ownership and gun law, it's not that guns don't have a place, but the place that they have in America is killing us literally. And yet we don't seem to be able to fix it. And no other country has quite the relationship we have. I believe it's a psychic link where we sort of perceive guns as freedom, but it doesn't feel very free when people are getting killed every day, including in the neighborhood that I live in right now. Right. Very. Fairriona, you're a reporter. You're a woman. You're a human being. How do you see your place in this great national pageant of what it means to have guns in America?
Fairriona Magee [00:26:35] I think my existence where I just my title as a public health reporter who covers gun violence is something that's fairly new. Not to say that gun violence hasn't been covered through the lens of public health in the past, but we see that because there were so many barriers to getting research done. My existence is just very important where the national conversation is going. That's not to say there's not a lot of room for improvement, but I do play a huge role in the larger societal understanding of gun violence as a public health issue. And I think when we think about COVID as a public health issue that includes sourcing, who are we speaking to? Are we speaking to predominantly law enforcement voices in these stories? Are we talking to public health officials? What type of images are encompassing the stories that we're writing? I mean, we know that imagery can be extremely damaging for certain populations. What type of headlines are we writing was the language that we're using in our pieces. Are we talking to people who are impacted by the issue? Because we know often these voices can be ignored and they have to be voices that are included in the conversation if we're going to understand this as a public health topic.
Farai Chideya [00:27:37] Absolutely. And as we wrap up, Karen, we're going to hear more from you later in this show from a fantastic event that you did at Wesleyan University. But thinking about all the work you're doing right now, just give us a preview of the kind of connections between history and this moment in time.
Karen Attiah [00:27:57] You said it just now, this sort of psychic hold that guns have on this nation. You know, one thing that I still think about from that conference is our American tendencies towards individualism and individual solutions in terms of defense instead of sort of collective solutions. So again, I'm scared for myself and my family. I am going to get a gun because I alone, I'm the one who can protect my family or my property or what have you. Instead of rethinking what safety means, rethinking investing in communities, stabilizing economic situations. But I just think even suicide, right? Taking matters into your own hands, literally, like with guns, is something that I think is just also tied, frankly, spiritually to our culture of the individual in handling their own defense. So I think a lot about these things and I think about this question of women's defense and particularly how do Black women defend themselves in a racist society and a misogynist society and at the most vulnerable point in their lives, which is when they're pregnant? I think we're still trying to figure that out. And my part is we just keep on having the conversations and asking the uncomfortable questions. That's not all we can do, but it's important that we do.
Farai Chideya [00:29:35] Very important. Karen, thank you so much, as always.
Karen Attiah [00:29:40] Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Farai Chideya [00:29:41] Fairriona, thank you so much.
Fairriona Magee [00:29:43] Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Farai Chideya [00:29:47] That was Fairriona Magee, public health reporter at The Trace and Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah.
Farai Chideya [00:30:06] We turn next to a special panel recorded live at the Center for the Study of Guns and Society at Wesleyan University. The center is dedicated to researching the history of firearms in the United States and, quote, the role history plays in making categories of contemporary debate around guns appear inevitable, natural or culturally necessary. Our Body Politic joined their symposium Lessons from History on Domestic Violence, Firearms and the Law. Our very own Karen Attiah moderated our panel: Rethinking Regulation Why Gun Violence Is A Reproductive Issue Too. The panel featured three Black women leaders whose work centers on understanding and preventing harm caused by gun violence. Let's hear them introduce themselves.
Kelly Sampson [00:30:53] My name is Kelly Samson. I'm an attorney at Brady, where we work with gun owners and non gun owners. Take action. Matt sides to prevent gun violence.
Alicia B. Nichols [00:31:01] My name is Alisha Nichols. I currently serve as the deputy director of the National Center on Gun Violence and Relationships. I am a social worker and a victim advocate and restorative justice practitioner.
Crystal Feimster [00:31:13] I'm Crystal Feimster. I'm a historian. I'm a professor in African-American Studies, and American Studies. My specialty is 19th and 20th century American history. I specialize on sexual and racial violence with a particular focus on Black women and the American South.
Karen Attiah [00:31:31] Thank you all. I'm super excited to be able to have this conversation. I'd love to start with you, Crystal. Just what can you tell us from your research about the intersection of guns and violence and Black people in particular, perhaps after the Civil War?
Crystal Feimster [00:31:46] Gun violence is huge still in the American Civil War, and it is a moment where you see women for the first time actually being in positions to arm themselves. And interestingly, white women are arming themselves for the first time in the context of war and occupation in the postwar period. For the first time, you see what we might think about as a more traditional understanding of domestic violence, pre-war period. I think much of the violence that Black women suffer in slave holding households, whether that is sexual violence or racial and physical and psychological violence, we can talk about that as domestic violence, that this is intimate violence happening in enslaved household in the postwar period. We see Black women arming themselves, not particularly in terms of thinking about domestic violence within their own familial circles, but in the context of the sort of racist white supremacist terrorist campaigns that are moving through the South that justify the lynching and rape of Black people. Right. And oftentimes, when we think about the postwar period in Black self-defense, we automatically capitulate to, oh, nonviolence in the 1960s. But in the postwar period, guns make their way into Black families homes. And that is going to come at a profound cost and consequences for Black families and the way that intimate violence plays out.
Karen Attiah [00:33:23] My question then would be that getting to the point of Black women and defense, were they punished more frequently for defending themselves?
Crystal Feimster [00:33:34] Women have a long history of self-defense and trying to mobilize the courts and the justice system in defense of themselves and in protection of themselves. Whether we are talking about the post-Civil War South or we're thinking about enslaved women. Black women have really tried to engage in self-defense and to try to make claims on the legal system. We can go back to Celia, a slave, even though she's charged with murdering her white enslaver, her legal team argues that it was self-defense and try to make an argument that as a Black woman, she has a right to defend herself against sexual violence. They fail in part because this idea that Black women do not fall into the category of all women. If we look at the legal codes, there's a reason that Black women were written out because legislatures understood what the stakes were, and they would explicitly say, if the bar is in that high, then our young boys will be accused of sexually assaulting 12 year old Black girls. So there is a way in which I think the legal system is not just misogynistic and the arguments around originalism, but it's rooted in a kind of white supremacy way to maintain power.
Karen Attiah [00:35:00] I want to skip ahead a long time to the present day. In February 2023, a three judge panel of the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas ruled that the federal prohibition on gun possession for people subject to domestic violence restraining orders is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. This decision is referred to as the Rahimi decision. I want to come to you, Alicia. What precedent do you think the Rahimi decision could set for people who experience domestic violence across the nation?
Alicia B. Nichols [00:35:35] We first have to acknowledge very few Black women are going to the civil or criminal justice system, in this case, the civil justice system for protections, Right. Because of long standing racism and historical traumas that these people have experienced. I think that there's been a cultural approach to domestic violence, and that culture is that of white women. And we have as a domestic violence movement for a very long time, we have shuffled women towards this pathway of you must leave, the family has to split, you can't have contact, etc.. And what women of color and in particular Black women have been screaming from the mountaintops for decades is we don't want the relationship to end, but we do want the violence to end. I don't want to call the police to my home. Whether my house is burglarized or someone is trespassing out of fear that the police will respond and either shoot my son or shoot my partner. I think what it sets up, though, which is what we don't want it to do, is that the system cannot be fixed. I do believe that we can improve the system. I do believe that there can be protections in place for women. I do think that Black women in particular could benefit from them as well. But we need to set the tone and the understanding that there is long time precedent and what it means to have access to firearms. We know when we implement protection orders, we know that there is a reduction not only in firearm homicide and intimate partner violence cases, but overall homicide in general. And so even in the states of Texas and Louisiana and Mississippi, I would say that they still have the ability to rely on their state, prohibit her, and that the judges in those jurisdictions should still be upholding the law and should be doing that regardless of the decision in Rahimi.
Karen Attiah [00:37:20] Absolutely. So I want to come back to just a recent article, and this is Politico in April, releasing a piece highlighting how gun violence is considerably, quote, worse in red states. With the Deep South, including Fifth Circuit states having the highest rates of gun homicides among major regions in the US. But there appears to be increased laxity regarding access to guns and their presence in public spaces. So I want to talk, Kelly, actually, about the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association versus Bruen, so the Bruen decision. The Supreme Court ruled that the New York law that prohibited individuals from carrying concealed weapons in public without a license is unconstitutional. And this decision came almost a month to the day after the Uvalde killing. Can you speak a little bit about what led to this decision and the implications that you're seeing, or do you think this will have on prevention of gun violence?
Kelly Sampson [00:38:17] Thanks for that question. You know, I come to this work from the gun violence prevention movement. And one of the things we talk about is just the ways that gun violence is multifaceted. And so it's not just mass shootings. It's also intimate partner violence or domestic violence and police violence. And so there's these complexities. And as we think about the way that we're regulating firearms, we have to be mindful of that and find solutions that are going to protect us from violence in our homes, but then also violence at the arms of the state. What led us to Bruen, in part, is that the Supreme Court collapsed self-defense to being specifically about firearms and gun use when it's really not to the extent there's this sort of preexisting idea of the natural right to self-defense. It's not just about guns, but that's kind of what the court made it. And looking at the Second Amendment in the way it's been litigated and approaching the courts for a long time, it wasn't really relevant constitutionally. If you look at cases, there wasn't this idea of I have to assert my Second Amendment right or this is a Second Amendment case when it came to firearms regulations. The reason why we got there is there was a concerted effort by the gun industry and by lobbyists. First, what they tried to do is use academia to put out this sort of bogus interpretation of the Second Amendment that makes it an individual right. And they sort of had their stable of scholars that they would go to to publish that and put that out there and try to make this legitimate argument that before was never considered. So they have this an academic space and then they move it into the cultural space and start trying to convince Americans that the Second Amendment is this individual right, that it's not about hunting, that's about self-defense. And so the academic side and the cultural side sort of meet up in Heller. That's where the court for the first time says that you have this individual right to self-defense. And they construe that as protecting firearms, specifically because Heller left a lot of questions open, I should say, The courts afterwards were still able to uphold gun laws using this two part framework that involved looking at the government's interests and also looking at research and data and the effect of a gun law. So Bruen is sort of the next step in this impulse to get guns as many places as possible. What Bruen did is it built on Heller's rocky and terrible foundation by saying not only is the Second Amendment about an individual right inside your home, but it's also about an individual right to carry a firearm outside her home. And it's definitely embolden gun rights advocates to challenge laws that they wouldn't have otherwise challenged. And that, I think, is one of the most problematic parts of it.
Karen Attiah [00:41:00] Yeah, It's also really scary to think about more states removing regulations and and gun safety laws, particularly in public spaces. I'm currently based in Texas, which is one of the states allowing permitless carry. And I'm just wondering, you know, maybe it's too early to tell, but have you been seeing in any of your work Alicia, the impacts of this at all?
Alicia B. Nichols [00:41:24] That's a good question. Just generally speaking, we know that a majority of mass shootings in this country take place inside of a residence, not in a public place. But what I would also argue is that we do not, as of right now, do a very good job at all of enforcing the laws that currently exist. You know, when I go to communities and they say, what can we do to prevent this from happening to reduce domestic violence related homicides, The first thing that I want to ask about is where are the guns? Where are the guns and what is enforcement look like? A lot of the things that I hear is that we just can't do this. We can't regulate this. No one's going to turn over guns. And when we have honest conversations with folks and be transparent and we share education and information and awareness about the risk of firearms and what we can also do to mitigate some of that risk, people will comply, people will comply. And so it really is around helping communities figure out ways to implement the mechanisms that we currently have in place to keep people safe. And so that's what I would just refer back to, is that women are dying every day. I am tracking Google Alerts every single day about murder suicides in this country, with the majority of them being related, of course, to intimate partner violence. But we're not talking about them in that way. And so, again, I would just say that we need to go back and we need to look at what we currently have available and implement those things and actually enforce them and in particular, enforce them for Black women and girls. And I think that we'll see some change in a very positive direction.
Crystal Feimster [00:42:52] I was hoping maybe you could talk a little bit about the issue of restorative justice around this question, because what we all will agree to is that domestic violence is not new. Gun violence is an additive. Right. Is there a way to think about restorative justice, domestic violence and gun violence in some ways if they intersect or not?
Alicia B. Nichols I just want to say this, that we are a society that demands accountability but does not provide the space for people to truly do it. And we all have different understandings of what accountability is, and that is because everyone's relationship to harm is different. It should be allowed that we actually ask the people who are most impacted, what are your needs? And the difference between our traditional criminal justice system is we're looking at what law was broken, who did it, and what is the punishment. Nowhere in there are we asking what the needs are of the victim or are we addressing what is the root cause of the violence and why this person caused the violence in the first place? And so what we've done instead is we hurt people who hurt people to teach them that hurting people is wrong. So the idea and the concept of restorative justice is that we ask a series of different questions around who was harmed. Who has needs and obligations? What is the community's role in keeping the community, the victim, and the person who's caused harm safe? The goal is no more victims. And in our traditional criminal justice system, what we've done is we have kept people who cause violence away from the people that they have harmed. And so no one's needs are truly being met. I spent seven years working in prisons, but worked with men who have committed domestic violence, homicide, gender based violence, a variety of crimes. But what it is that I have found in working with incarcerated people is that they never have an opportunity to meet face to face with the person that's harmed them or to hear exactly how it is that their actions have impacted someone. And I will tell you, I have conducted victim offender dialogs where men who have committed egregious crimes. Right. It is the one way in which I have truly seen accountability and I have seen healing for both parties. And I do think that it can be used in domestic, but I know that it can. But I also think that there are some things that we could be looking at on the front end before someone comes to prison to look at how do we bring community members together, how do we lean in to community solutions. I believe that people in their community are the best resource. Right. Look around the landscape. See who's in your community. Get to the root cause of why things are happening. What needs aren't being met. And restorative justice is one way to get there. And most importantly, is it. It holds people in their humanity.
Karen Attiah [00:45:33] I think it's really important. As you know, we're studying gun violence and remedies to be thinking about different ways of reframing what justice really means and what keeping communities and families together while reducing violence and providing avenues for care. So I want to turn to another issue, another R-word that's been in the news recently, and that's the reproductive justice issue and specifically abortion rights. States like Mississippi and Georgia that have weak gun laws and strict abortion laws. Mississippi has the weakest gun laws in the nation and has banned abortions entirely except to save the life of the pregnant person or in cases of rape and incest. And in Georgia, which bans abortions around six weeks, firearm homicides of pregnant women continue to happen. I think also, it's not just violence against pregnant people. It's also the history and the trail of violence against reproductive justice centers. So attacks and threats against institutions like Planned Parenthood. We know that the road to the overturning of Roe v Wade was paved with gun violence. So I want to get into that and I'll turn to you, Kelly, with the intersection of restrictions on abortion, restrictions on family planning and the increased availability of firearm safety, what the implications of this could mean.
Kelly Sampson [00:47:11] First, in terms of the intersection. Just getting at some of the rhetoric behind these laws restricting reproductive access. One of the things that we know from the gun violence prevention space is that there is an interplay between rhetoric and extremism and gun violence. There's a lot of rhetoric calling women or people, I should say, who seek access to reproductive services, calling them murderers or baby killers and things like that. And so if you have that rhetoric happening and that movement being emboldened and then you're adding more firearms into that space, it's not an extreme prediction to say that some of the people who are seeking services, but then also, as you said, providers may be subject to violence. So I think the rhetoric mixed with more access to guns is a problem. One of the things I think is important is not only is gun violence the number one killer of pregnant people, but also when you're talking about reproductive choice, we know that Black women who choose to carry to term and deliver disproportionately die in labor or after labor as well. And so I think that just goes to show how ridiculous it is that know majority of white men and legislators are in court are saying things about protecting the life of the mother. But then if you're a Black pregnant person, you're in between a rock and a hard place, and you should have the autonomy to be able to decide. So I think not only is the issue violence against pregnant people, but then also the ways that systemic racism infuses the health care system itself. I think the same thing is true with gun violence prevention. Gun violence is now the number one killer of American children, but Black children have been suffering disproportionately for years. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, And so even growing up, the world that I grew up in, where gun violence governed, where I played, where I sat, what I did when we went to the movie theater, we would go through metal detectors. That's the world that America is now living in, regardless of where you live. But Black communities talked about that for years, and what we got in response was punitive acts and this harsh system instead of the resources and prevention that we needed. So I think the time is right to listen.
Karen Attiah [00:49:20] Bringing it back to reproduction and domestic violence. I spend an inordinate amount of time on Reddit, okay? And I've seen stories of Redditors posting asking for help, that they're pregnant and they're seeing that their boyfriend or their husband is becoming increasingly violent and they're not sure what to do. And so now that we have a situation in the States where those resources are now extremely limited, Alicia, there's a you know, obviously the fear that these women might not survive. Right. So it's a question of, first of all, how do we make more data available? Make this more studied. And also, how can we get the sort of the maternal mortality discussion to be more inclusive and more considering of firearm violence?
Alicia B. Nichols [00:50:15] One of the things that I think that we do first and foremost is that we treat this like the public health issue, that it is right and that we look at non carceral, non system approaches, transformative justice, restorative justice, working with peacekeepers, with violence interrupters with others, to place people to have conversations in all of the places where people are right? Where people live and work and show up and play. But first and foremost is that we address this as a public health issue.
Karen Attiah [00:50:40] I think with that, we will close formally. Thank you guys so much for listening. Thank you guys, Alicia, Kelly, Crystal, thanks.
Farai Chideya [00:50:51] And that was our special panel on Gun Violence and Reproductive Justice, recorded live at the Center for the Study of Guns and Society at Wesleyan University. The panel was led by Our Body Politic, guest host and Washington Post columnist, Karen Attiah. Our panelists were Yale Associate Professor Crystal Feimster, director of innovation at The Battered Women's Justice Project, Alicia B. Nichols, and senior counsel and director of racial justice at Brady, Kelly Sampson.
Before we end, I have a question for our listeners. So on an upcoming show, we're going to be looking at Black memory. And we are asking you, did you celebrate Juneteenth as a kid? If yes, tell us a memory that you have or another way or time that you celebrated Black history and freedom. I grew up in Baltimore and we didn't celebrate Juneteenth in the East back then, but I have many memories of the way that my church, my family and my Girl Scout troop wove Black history into celebration. So again, we are asking about your Black memories, either of Juneteenth or in other ways and times. Leave us a voicemail at 929-353-7006. That's 929-353-7006. Or share with us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic.
Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Diaspora Farms and Rococo Punch.
I'm host and executive producer Farai Chideya. Nina Spensley is also executive producer. Emily J. Daly is our senior producer. Bridget McAllister is our booking producer. Natyna Bean and Emily Ho are our associate producers. Monica Morales-Garcia is our fact checker. This episode was produced by Natyna Bean. It was engineered by Mike Garth.
This program is produced with support from the Luce Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.