On Thursday, American headlines were yet again dominated by news of yet another mass shooting, this time at an Oregon community college. Yet again, worried parents, friends, and partners made anxious phone calls, rushed to the scene, prayed. Yet again, the shooter was an aggrieved young man with easy access to a gun. Yet again, the president of the United States expressed his grief and his hope that we will do something about our country's chronic and lethal gun disease. He seemed wearier this time, seemingly resigned to the fact that if mass shootings of elderly churchgoers and elementary school children couldn't get Republicans in Congress to budge on basic gun control, a slaughter at a community college probably won't do it either.
So what does get the GOP riled up enough to take action?
Apparently it's shutting down Planned Parenthood, one of the largest providers of reproductive health care to low-income women in the United States. Congressional Republicans have gotten so intent on defunding the group that they collectively grilled Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards earlier this week. (The hearings are a result of accusations against Planned Parenthood after a series of highly edited videos claimed that the organization is selling fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing, and investigations have found no evidence that the organization broke any laws.) The optics of the hearing alone were telling: a line of mostly men demanding answers from a woman they had already judged as guilty—interrupting her, condescending to her, acting as if her affiliation with an organization dedicated to sexual health and, yes, providing abortion was so shameful she deserved a big scarlet A affixed to her chest.
Between the cross-examination of Cecile Richards, the threats to shut down the whole government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded (which sounds familiar because it is familiar, having happened in 2013), and now another mass shooting to add to a list so long it could be an entire article unto itself (yesterday's Umpqua Community College shooting was the 45th campus shooting this year alone), this week has been quite an education in the priorities of the American right wing. Giving women the resources to decide for themselves when and if to have children, thereby freeing them to pursue education and economic stability and—vitally—equality? They would rather shut the government down. And taking swift and serious action against the fact that the U.S. body count from both gun violence generally and mass shootings specifically is higher than that of any comparable nation? They won't even consider it.
What makes this all the more frustrating is how easy it is to see the social gains that accessible birth control and legal abortions have brought: More women are graduating from college and grad school than at any point in American history. Many more women are in the paid workforce than before contraception and pregnancy termination were legal rights. When a woman isn't tied by a child to an abusive man, it's easier for her to leave him—and studies show that even now, women in abusive relationships who end their pregnancies are much less likely to remain in those relationships years later than women who are not able to terminate. Similarly, poor women who end pregnancies they do not want are less likely to still be in poverty years later than poor women with unintended pregnancies who could not access abortion—the women who are unable to terminate end up worse off, poorer, more vulnerable. The entire life course of so many American women can be credited to birth control and abortion rights. That women around the world today die much less often from having baby after baby? That infant mortality rates are down and more kids (especially girls) are in school? Birth control access and safe abortion get a share of the credit for that, too.
What have guns done for us lately?
I suppose they've provided a psychological cushion to those who are convinced that the enemy is coming (whether that enemy is the federal government, ISIS, or the unsavory guy down the street remains unclear). They can probably make you feel like more of a man—or more safe as a woman, should you need to defend yourself. They are admittedly useful for hunting, if you want to know where your food comes from, and prefer the honesty and authenticity of being the one to kill what you eat.
You hear a lot about how guns are necessary for protection. Yet you're statistically more likely to get shot (or have a family member get shot) with your own gun than to fend off someone else with it. A gun in the house means death by suicide increases. Police officers who are killed on the job are usually felled by guns.
Guns in a home make women particularly vulnerable—women in abusive relationships with male gun owners are more likely to be murdered by their partners than women whose partners are abusive but don't have easy access to a deadly weapon. Children accidentally shoot themselves and each other when there are guns in their homes, and we don't even know how often because no one countsand the headlines barely register outside local news. Disgruntled dads even kill their whole families with the help of a stashed-away firearm.
Another thing you hear is that, despite the glut of tragic headlines, mass shootings aren't any more frequent now than they were in the past. But mass shootings have occurred three times as often after late 2011 as they did before it.
There is a political party in the United States that refers to itself as "pro-life." Guess where they stand on a woman's right to make her own reproductive decisions. Now guess where they stand on guns.
The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful political lobbies in the United States—they've spent nearly $1.8 million this year alone on lobbying for laws that favor their agenda. They're more powerful than a sitting president flanked by the grieving parents of dead six-year-olds and the thousands of churchgoers whose brothers and sisters were cut down right in the sanctuary by a white supremacist. They're more powerful, even, than the many Americans who support totally reasonable gun control efforts—things like background checks, curbs on the kinds of weapons built for mass killings and not for sport hunting or home protection, and not selling guns to abusers. These are very modest requests. No one is trying to take away gun rights wholesale—they're just placing a handful of basic regulations on accruing items that serve the singular purpose of killing living things.
But the gun lobby won't budge. And neither will their patrons in the "pro-life" Republican Party.
And so this week, here we are: The president of a group that provides comprehensive health care to some of the most in-need women, saving and improving countless lives along the way, is called to testify before our "pro-life" Congress for her work. On the other side of the country, the lives of 10 people are over, and the lives of their friends and family and loved ones have been irreparably changed because of one guy with a gun—whose acts come after similar slaughters by another guy with a gun, and another before him, and another before him.
It's almost enough to make you think that the term "pro-life" doesn't quite fit.
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