Whatever it is, it’s been killing people, especially Black people, for hundreds of years, with or without semi-automatics.

-Desmera Gatewood

by Desmera Gatewood

Response from the masses to recent mass shootings are, yet again, an avoidance of white violence and racism.

In the wake of the shooting event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida, citizens and elected officials have reignited the gun-control debate. Central to the debate is the accessibility of semi-automatic rifles—the weapons used in the most recent and most devastating mass shootings.  

Droves of people have contributed to an impressive display of resistance, ranging from walkouts, press-conferences, pickets, marches, lobbies, and NRA boycotts. Businesses have gone so far as to cut ties with the NRA for fear of being labeled as a supporter of mass violence.  

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One of the many points, which is sensible, is that the accessibility to automatic weapons and the ease at which one can secure a weapon is a contributor to the prevalence of this kind of violence. If we can at least make semi-automatic weapons inaccessible to civilians, we would make mass-shootings more difficult to commit and, thus, less common.

Of course, the right-wing (and some members on the left), whom former President Obama described as “clinging to their bibles and their guns”, believe that limiting their access to guns, in any respect, is an infringement on their second-amendment rights.   

Whenever a mass shooter is a white man, which is very often, the mental illness argument (read: apology) is the go-to, but this same argument is rarely ever applied to “criminals” of other races, regardless of the crime.

These kinds of shooters are overwhelming white and male, but automatic rifles are not the only weapon that white men have used to commit mass murder. The current gun debate is simply the latest way to address a historic trend of mass violence at the hands of white men.

Consider all of the lynchings, burnings, and
bombings. The neighborhoods populated by people of color destroyed during moments of white rage in just the last one hundred years of U.S. history. Think of the homes set ablaze in one night when hundreds of people were wiped out in Wilmington, Tulsa, Rosewood—not an AR-15 in sight.

The sadistic nature of the Jim Crow killings, the church bombings, the assassinations, and more all point to a trend of “mass killings” by white men before the gun control debate ever began.

In the last six decades alone, Black people have been killed by white men by lynch mobs, while in churches, while in their homes, and by agents of the state. Killed using ropes, bombs, handguns, night sticks, torches, fists, blades. Killed by KKK and by the police—often one in the same. Killed without warning. Killed in front of their family and, at times, with their family. Children, women, elders. Killed.  

“Inner city violence” and “Black on Black crime” often get used as scapegoats in these discussions, but these things have been under the microscope so much that we have had ample opportunity to explore the myths, the truths, the causes, and the impacts, even as white Americans voyeuristically witnessed and even invited themselves into the dialogues.

This is something that will never happen with the particular kind if violence that white men continually enact as long as white people refuse to contend with what is at the root of it. Instead, they have had centuries of denial, lies, excuses, and propaganda to hide or justify this violence.

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So, the gun reform campaigns like March for Our Lives and those who support them may fight to better control and limit access to guns, but if the automatic weapons are taken away, what will that do if white men’s inclination towards terroristic violence still remains?

Some say it’s the impact of capitalism. Others call it an overflow of hypermasculinity. Whatever it is, it’s been killing people, especially Black people, for hundreds of years, with or without semi-automatics.


Desmera Gatewood is a mother, social-justice/international human-rights activist, and writer from Durham, NC. She is affiliated with organizations which seek justice for Black, Latin American, and Palestinian people. She is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and the co-founder of the on-campus organization Kinky and Proud (KAP), an organization which celebrates the natural beauty of Black femmes.  Desmera has an array of social justice experience ranging from meeting with UN officials about the impacts of NAFTA in Mexico, to co organizing Black Lives Matter rallies in Durham, NC