On June 12th 49 people were killed in a nightclub in Orlando. As what usually happens after an incident of gun violence, debates flared up again about how to control gun sales in the United States. One idea that was circulating was to restrict people on the no-fly list, part of the terror watch list, from buying guns. Looking at this proposal through a queer diasporic critique illuminates the ways that even a “liberal” agenda, such as gun control, can get derailed by racist notions about who is allowed in our nation.
When we really look at what gun control is about, it’s about what defines our safety. It is not difficult to agree that people deserve to feel safe, but the disagreement emerges when we define how to keep our communities safe. Some say having a gun makes them feel safe, while others say we need to restrict the ownership of guns for the same effect. Self-proclaimed liberal politicians will advocate for gun control, but to control the use of guns, we have to decide who the common enemy is.
The attempted response (though it wasn’t passed) was that people who should not be allowed to fly should not be allowed to own guns. However, there are very few standards for the government to watchlist people and the ACLU believes that this can lead to religious and racial profiling. Furthermore, of all gun sales in the U.S., only a tiny portion are to people on the terror watchlist. So if this is the case, why the focus on restricting people on a subset of the terrorist watchlist? Because the people we choose to view as aliens, the people who we do not allow to join our nation, are the people who are easy to blame.
As Brandzel and Desai point out, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two white men who were responsible for the Columbine massacre, were never accused of terrorism, even though they identified as part of “The Trenchcoat Mafia”, which they describe as a “group of disenfranchised white men—and central to this community formation were discourses of white supremacy and white privilege” (Brandzel and Desai, 68). These two men took their anger of being excluded and rejected out on innocent people, yet they were not called terrorists because they do not threaten the ideals of the American Dream and who makes up the American nation. Instead, their violence was justified because their white heteromasculinity was threatened, and when threatened it is ok and excused to act out in violence to protect it. As Brandzel and Desai discuss, the same must be said of an Asian American killer like Cho of the Virginia Tech shooting because focusing instead on his alienation would shatter the illusion of the American Dream. It would also be the kind of betrayal of nation that Bow discusses.
Though Cho was not called a terrorist, he was framed as an alien, even as a citizen of the U.S. The media discourse focused on rhetoric of “forever foreign” and “yellow peril” as they mentioned his stalking of women and painted him as a possible sexual predator. Focusing on the no-fly list to control gun sales does the same thing. It paints certain citizens as dangerous foreigners because they are easy targets and blaming them preserves the ideals of the American nation, even though hardly any of the gun sales in the U.S. are made to people on the terror watchlist, and most of the mass shootings that have happened in the U.S. are not related to terrorism. The Washington Post made a map of them below:
Terrorism is defined by the FBI as “acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law” and “appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” The Columbine shooters were not considered terrorists, though they were involved in this “Trenchcoat Mafia” and most of the victims were students of color. The 2015 Charleston shooter who killed nine Black people in the church is not considered a terrorist. The KKK is not considered a terrorist group, even though I see all of these people or groups as “intimidating and coercing civilian populations.” The proposal to restrict people on the no-fly list from buying guns and the definition of terrorism compared to who we actually call a terrorist illuminate who is scapegoated and who is threatening to ideas of the American nation. In attempts to protect our nation, the real borders of our nation are constructed and it is important to realize who is included and who is excluded, so that hopefully one day we can deconstruct the current idea of “national security” and build a reality where all people can actually exist safely and free from violence.