Wednesday, January 6 was the culmination of the lack of unity and the aggression that plagues American society today, and absolutely underscores why gun violence matters.
Let us flash back a bit for perspective. The onset of 2012 was a monumental time in America. The Trayvon Martin incident sparked outcries for racial justice. The nation’s economy healed from the effects of the 2008 recession. The Presidential Election loomed near in November. But by the end of the year, conversations from the dinner table to Capitol Hill were centered around a rising phenomena affecting everyone from young children to seniors: gun violence.
In August of 2012, Army veteran Wade Michael Page fatally shot six and wounded 4 more in a deadly rampage in the small town of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This reckless and violent act was not isolated in magnitude; just two and a half months prior, over 70 were wounded and 13 were killed at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In December, 27 more, including 20 children ages 6 and 7, were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But the mass shooting in Oak Creek was different- it was targeted at our community. The shooting, which occurred at a Sikh temple, sent shockwaves throughout the South Asian community across the world. For the first time, we mourned a senseless act of gun extremism perpetrated on our own. But despite the horrific act, South Asians in America have hardly moved to mitigate the far-reaching effect of gun violence.
Gun violence does not discriminate, yet it is disproportionate. It is widely known that individuals of color have significantly higher risks of death from gun violence. For instance, despite comprising 13% of the population, Black Americans experience nearly 10 times the gun homicides and 15 times the gun assaults as White Americans. Similarly, Latinos are twice as likely to die via homicide as white Americans, and the burden is borne even heavier on Latino youth. Countless studies and research papers have outlined the destructive effects gun violence has on black and brown communities, but our community often remains unmentioned. Why?
Well, for one, there is limited data that isolate the impact gun violence has on South Asians. Even the most extensive databases filled with gun violence statistics, such as those from Everytown for Gun Safety, have no information concerning AAPI populations, much less South Asians. An alternative theory could be that South Asians are not as accustomed to high levels of gun violence. Specifically, study from a University of Sydney database concluded that Americans are twelve times more likely to be murdered by firearms than Indians that live in India. Our first and second generations in the United States may not have grown up in households that emphasized the potential dangers of firearm violence in this nation.
Ultimately, our disregard of the horrors of America’s gun problem seeps into our frame of reference in politics. As a member of Students Demand Action, a youth subset of Everytown, there is very little South Asian representation in membership and leadership. Even in conversations surrounding upcoming elections, we (rightfully) discuss the effects of a candidate on financial status, healthcare, border security, and Chinese relations. Oddly enough, for a community that considers itself ahead of the curve, we lag behind in acknowledgement of a constant domestic epidemic.
But if gun violence hardly affects South Asian communities, why should we care?
Simply put, because it does. Gun violence is a heavily intersectional domestic dilemma. It can strain healthcare systems and workers, reduce workplace productivity, engender racial tensions and injustices, and inhibit progress for LGBTQ+ equality. The nexus of guns and intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant challenge in the struggle for gender equality. Even if gun violence poses a minimal risk to us, what about our coworkers? What about our friends? What about our neighbors? But most harrowingly, what about our children?
The fact remains that the rate of firearm violence is rising. Over 1 million Americans were victims of gun violence in just the past 10 years. Youth and Teens deal with utterly heart-wrenching levels of gun violence. 43 Americans below the age of 19 are shot every day. 3,000 die in a year. In the current state of panic, our youth lives in an America where gun violence has become normalized, but the trauma lingers chronically. The troubling nature of our schools’ safety following Sandy Hook, Parkland, and so many more has given rise to dim witted “solutions” to protect students. Some children must go to school with clear plastic backpacks so that administrations can reduce the risk of a school shooting. Constant active shooter drills reinforce the inevitability of gun violence touching a child’s life. Metal detectors upon entry transforms a former institution of purity, education, and virtue into a prison. The impact of measures that exacerbate the threat to safety is not limited to just students. Teachers in certain school districts are grappling with the fear that an undertrained faculty member right across from them has a pistol in his or her drawer. Schools are meant for learning and anticipation, not caution and fear.
My peers and I at Bellaire High School were just some of the few who were forced to face our fears. On January 14, 2020, a 19-year old senior was fatally shot and killed in a classroom no more than a few hundred feet from where I was during my baseball practice. The commotion was disturbing and horrifying- thousands of students were escorted and rushed out of the building as fire trucks, police cars, and HISD administration rushed to the building. The uncertainty of the situation heightened everyone’s fears, yet no one thought that our school had fallen victim to a shooting.
The shooting will remain the most solemn memory of my high school life. Despite being just 15, it felt demoralizing that although I had worked so diligently in the gun violence prevention sphere, it still struck my school. My school fell victim to a tragic act of violence. Despite always finding security and safety in my school, I felt a new source of discomfort whenever I walked through its doors once again. It was truly heartbreaking, and I realized that I still have not truly come to terms with the gravity and magnitude of the situation nearly one year ago.
Too many children are vulnerable to attack on school grounds, and massive school shootings can affect even the most affluent of communities. But for underprivileged children, in areas where schools receive inadequate funding, school is no longer an escape from a dangerous or troubled life at home; it is a continuation. Without implementing effective solutions that are proven to reduce the threat of a gun, we encourage the gun lobby to push forward profit-motivated courses of action that further endanger our youth. We must promote and advance an amplified message that favors the safety of our children above all else.
Is tackling gun violence really that urgent?
Absolutely. The COVID-19 pandemic is a major roadblock for gun violence prevention activists. According to recent data, Americans have bought 17 million firearms in 2020, the most in recorded history. Sales exceeded last year’s total in just August. Accompanying the mammoth rise in gun purchases is a higher risk to public safety. Nearly 300,000 firearms have been purchased over the pandemic without a proper background check. Assuming the worst-case scenario, 300,000 guns may now be in the possession of dangerous individuals barred from legally owning one. Implementing a measure such as a universal background check could patch this loophole by mandating that every gun sold within the US borders must be coupled with a comprehensive background check to ensure public safety. Although not necessarily causal, higher gun ownership has posed a grave menace. Gun violence has increased 8% in 2020, and deaths from firearms are well on their way to reaching 40,000 for the first time ever in this nation. When the pandemic is finally severely mitigated, schools, parks, restaurants, and stores will reopen. It is imperative now more than ever to build a coalition of South Asians that work to reduce gun deaths. Only through the amplification of our voices can we spark change on behalf of our community.
On January 6, 2021, as Congress began to certify Joe Biden as the President-Elect (a sacred tradition of America’s democratic institutions), hundreds to thousands of aggressive terrorists swarmed the Capitol building. The breach- done in the name of hyper-American exceptionalism- was the first since 1814, when America’s wartime adversary Great Britain burned down the Capitol. Congresswomen and men cower in fear for their lives, hiding behind tables, bookshelves, and under chairs. The circumstances eerily mirrored the same terror that thousands of students- constituents of those same legislators- feel every year in their schools. And despite the atrocity, some gun manufacturers saw their stock value soar 18%. The culture of division and harsh polarization has bred violence, and the rise in stock prices following a national tragedy represents the perfect epitome for our lack of progress on gun safety. Through a greater focus on one of the nation’s most pressing and severe problems, we can elect leaders and officials that support popular policies such as Universal Background Checks or Red Flag Laws to preserve the security of our communities. But this continuation of apathy will dissuade a strong, united voice against gun violence, increasing the risk of national security threats.
Are there any remnants of hope? Everything sounds so bleak.
There is so much that warrants hope now. South Asians have led inspiring campaigns across the nation. All 4 Indian representatives in the House of Representatives that have championed gun sense legislation- Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, Ami Bera and Ro Khanna of California, and Pramila Jayapal of Washington- were re-elected. Young Indians are becoming increasingly politically active and conscious, as seen by their participation in protests against gun violence following the Parkland shootings. Most promisingly, the Biden-Harris ticket was elected as the next presidential administration, representing what has been called “the strongest gun-sense Presidential Ticket ever.” And in perhaps a fitting testament to our community, Kamala Harris, a South Asian woman, is one of its highest leaders.
Gun violence has often been ignored from the South Asian community as a direct threat worth concern. But the potential for more disturbing violence inflicted on our community looms inevitable without appropriate action. Through our power of organizing, we have the potential to stem the tide of gun violence. As members of this nation, we abide by the framework of our Constitution. In its first few lines, it insists on We the People to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…” Just as we fight so fiercely for peace and justice for our original nation, we must do so for our current one. This country opened its arms as the land of opportunity to so many of us and our descendants, helping us pursue the unique dreams and visions capable only in America. The least we could do is fight for its protection.
Indiaspora serves as a forum to bring together different perspectives and opinions from the diaspora. Viewpoints presented do not reflect those of Indiaspora.
Milan Narayan is a Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research Youth Fellow and Students Demand Action Leader. He is also an ACLU Advocacy Institute Alum. A junior at Bellaire High School in Houston, TX, he has been passionate and active in the gun violence prevention space for several years. Milan is also an avid Houston sports fan and has played his favorite sport, baseball, since he was 3. In his spare time, Milan enjoys cooking and spending time with his dog.