On both sides of the aisle, spokepersons surrounding gun control are women. Why?

Barbara Bell, Senior Editor

In a Feb. 23 article from Refinery29 called “Moms Are Running For Office To Fight Gun Violence,” writer Natalie Gontcharova describes how gun-violence prevention groups made up of moms are becoming advocates for change and are expressing interest in running for public office to overturn NRA-dominated legislation.

In thinking about the response to Feb. 14’s Parkland Shooting, it is hard not to see how many of the tragedy’s prominent political advocates, whether it be Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Sandy Hook Promise, or the young high school voices of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are coming from underrepresented, non-male voices.

For example, Emma González, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, gave an 11 minute speech at an anti-gun rally two days after the shooting, which took 17 of her classmates’ lives.

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks,” González said in her remarks. “Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shootings in America, but because … we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, told Refinery29 that grassroots activism in the face of the Parkland shooting has “really encouraged women to get off the sidelines on a variety of issues.” This quote is noteworthy not only because it typifies women as passive and silenced, but because this sidelined characterization appears in stark contrast to the male voices of U.S. Florida Senators Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson, and Rep. Ted Deutch, who have dominated the official political discussion surrounding the Parkland shooting.

It’s not just anti-gun violence groups that are playing into the retroactive woman’s narrative. The NRA, too, was selective during Feb. 21’s CNN Town Hall Event in choosing spokesperson Dana Loesch, a woman, as its voice in this debate. Media coverage of Loesch’s appearance was scathing. Outlets were quick to brand her as a traitor, one who “once wrote a motherhood blog” but seemingly overnight became a “vicious, dishonest and radicalized NRA lobbyist.”

I’m not here to judge whether or not Loesch is right.

I argue, however that the NRA has exploited her status as a woman and as a mother. Loesch single handedly bore the brunt of pro-NRA messaging and media attention. She’s been thrown at TV networks left and right, from CNN to ABC, as the new NRA figurehead and in the process, has become the sole face of the pro-gun movement. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Loesch, 39, happens to also be an attractive, smartly-dressed, relatively young professional. But probably not.

The NRA has embraced a message that sharply divides on gender. The fact is that Loesch represents a minority of the NRA constituency and the demographics of female gun ownership in the United States at large. According to the Pew Research Center, gun ownership is more common among men than women, and white men are particularly likely to be gun owners. The center reports that 22 percent of females in the U.S. own guns, compared to 39 percent of males.

It is not surprising, then, that opinions on increased gun control also divide on gender. In a 2012 article published in the wake of Sandy Hook, The Atlantic reported data from an ABC/Washington Post poll that 59 percent of women but only 47 percent of men support increased gun control. In a HuffPost article, “Women Can’t Solve our Gun Violence Problem Alone,” columnist Lauren Sandler writes that this time [in the Parkland shooting] “men are publicly insisting that women need to wage war against arms.”

Last week, President Donald Trump tested the waters with a tweet in support of arming teachers. “Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them,” Trump said. Data from a 2017 National Center for Education Statistics reported that about 77 percent of teachers are women. This proposed policy would assume that women will bear the impact and effects of changing America’s male-driven gun culture. Trump might as well have said: “armed women will protect students.”

Women have already indicated that they will run for office, lead marches, start grassroots organizations, and initiate campaigns in response to the Parkland, Fla. shooting. The reality is that our society (and our gun culture) accepts that women, as mothers, primary caregivers, educators, and advocates, will collectivize. Essentializing women spokespersons without acknowledging the demographics of gun ownership is not justified. America definitely has a gun problem, but do we not also have a representation problem?

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