The nation awoke on June 12 to the worst case of a single person committing mass murder with a gun in its history.
A gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub that serves a predominately LGBTQ clientele. Most of the victims were also Latino.
Compounding such a horrific loss of life is the fact the man who committed the murders may have been motivated by a complex mix of ISIL-inspired terrorism, anger toward American culture, bigotry, homophobia and internalized self-hatred because he may have had gay tendencies. He also had legal access to assault weapons with high capacity magazines. All of this formed a lethal combination.
However, as disturbing as the Orlando massacre was, it was only one of 91 gun-related mass murders in 2016 alone (mass murder is defined as four or more victims including the gunman). Moreover, within the last 10 years, there have been 371 deaths from mass gun shootings. Overwhelmingly, the shooters’ weapons of choice were high-powered, semi-automatic assault guns and rifles.
As seen in the massive loss of life and injuries at the Orlando nightclub, such weapons are meant to inflict death or devastating wounds. Without easy access to assault weapons, it is unlikely the carnage of Orlando, Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech would have left so many dead and maimed.
This tragedy should be seen as both terrorism and a hate crime, just as the mass murder of nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina was a hate crime. All of which adds another dimension to developing strategies for greatly reducing mass shootings in the United States.
There are concrete steps that public officials and the public at large can take to reduce the frequency of such disasters:
1. As a country, we must recognize that mass shootings are only a fraction of gun violence in the United States and we must look at gun violence in its totality. More than 35,000 people die each year from guns from a range of incidents including suicides, inner-city violence and accidents. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 in the United States are also 17 times more likely to be murdered by firearms than children in other industrialized nations.
2. Federal, state and local officials must approach gun violence, including mass shootings, as a public health emergency similar to how we are reacting to the opioid/heroin crisis. Such a declaration would prompt a national mobilization to prevent gun violence and greatly reduce the number of victims of gun violence.
3. Embracing a public health approach to gun violence would also necessitate more research on the causes and population-based impact and result in recommendations for addressing the crisis.
4. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) recommends Congress lift the ban that prevented the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from initiating research on gun violence, and should authorize funding for such comprehensive studies.
5. Sensible gun laws must be implemented, especially those that restrict access to assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
6. The country must change the culture of hate that now proliferates in social media, radio and on cable television. The Orlando massacre was driven by hate just like the mass shooting at Emmanuel AME Church and the shooting of six Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
NASW offers its condolences to the family and friends of the victims and the survivors. We also empathize with the pain of members of the LGBTQ community, which has experienced yet another hate attack. It is up to all Americans to stand up for an end to mass murders and all forms of gun violence. It is also up to all Americans to recognize that hate speech and intolerance are the precursors to hate crimes.
Social justice organizations must become proactive in advocating for sensible gun laws such as a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, as well as strengthening background checks for gun purchasing. Organizations must also support Congress lifting the ban on CDC’s ability to conduct research on gun violence, and ensuring they have sufficient funds to carry out comprehensive research.
For more information on Gun Violence, please visit Doctors for America and the coalition to end the ban on CDC gun violence research. NASW is a member of this coalition. For more information on the nature of hate crimes please visit The Southern Poverty Law Center. And to learn more about NASW’s involvement with gun violence prevention contact NASW Social Justice and Human Rights Manager Mel Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NASW FLORIDA CHAPTER
The National Association of Social Workers – Florida Chapter (NASW-FL) is devastated by the attack on the Orlando night club. This senseless act impacts the lives of all Americans.The blame for this tragic act will encompass terrorism, guns, mental health, hatred and isolation.
Teachings of dignity and worth of a person in our homes, schools, religious organizations and in laws passed by state legislatures, city and county commissions and school boards are critical for healthy people and healthy communities.
As professional social workers we are guided by the NASW Code of Ethics that tells us we must treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion mindful of individual differences. We agree not to practice, condone, facilitate or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status or mental physical disability.
You may ask where do we go from here, what do we do next? Moving forward NASW FL encourages communities to come together. Our ethical standards offer this path, to recognize the central importance of human relationships. We should seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, organizations, communities and our country.Jim Akin, ACSW Executive Director National Association of Social Workers – Florida Chapter
NASW NEW YORK CITY CHAPTER
The Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Collective, Coalition on Race, Diversity and Intersectionality (CRDI) and Latinx Social Work Collective of the NYC Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers joins in solidarity with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community as it mourns and honors the victims of the Orlando shooting at Pulse Nightclub, which claimed 49 lives and injured 50 others.
The chapter expresses sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and calls for the tragedy to be identified as what it is, a hate crime against the LGBTQ community. The erasure of the Latinx and LGBTQ community cannot continue and social workers are called now – more than ever – to take a stance against gun violence which claims the lives of so many in this country.
Last year, the National Association of Social Workers released recommendations on addressing racism, gun violence and mental illness and they can be found here: https://www.socialworkblog.org/advocacy/2015/06/6628/. The NYC Chapter echoes these recommendations and the call for chapters and social workers to organize in an intentional manner to stop the violence, particularly violence aimed at those most vulnerable: LGBTQ communities of color.
The NYC Chapter joins with other organizations and groups in expressing that tragedies of violence cannot be alleviated by more violence. Attempts have been and will be made by political interest groups to promote Islamophobia. These efforts perpetuate violence targeted at the Muslim community and should not be sanctioned by those who are called to protect the inherent worth and dignity of peoples.
In addition, attention must be paid to the role of mass media and its responsibility in condemning further violence against LGBTQ and communities of color rather than perpetuating it. At such a painful and traumatizing time, communities need to remain unified and committed to the prevention of more violence. Social workers can use the tools and resources of the profession to address gun violence in their respective localities and municipalities. Please refer to the article, “An Easy Guide to Contacting Your Elected Representatives About Gun Control” by Nicole Silverberg, which can be found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicole-silverberg/guide-elected-representatives-gun-control_b_8708154.html.
Finally, and very importantly, we ask that you all take care of yourselves during this time. Violence targets us differently and it affects us all. We encourage you to reach out to colleagues, be kind and patient with yourselves and one another. This is a very delicate time. We remain committed to empowering social workers to create change in the world.
*Latinx, pronounced “La-teen-ex,” includes the numerous people of Latin American descent whose gender identities fluctuate along different points of the spectrum.Sandy Bernabei, President Candida Brooks-Harrison, President-Elect Brian Romero, Chair of SOGIE Collective Executive Committee Robert Schachter, Executive Director
NASW WISCONSIN CHAPTER
The tragic mass murder in Orlando challenges us to lead efforts to make our communities more tolerant and safer for all its residents.
The LGBTQ community has had a long unending history of experiencing violence, harassment, and bigotry in our country and world. Although mutch progress has been made, homophobia runs deep, as evidenced by the murderer’s expressions.
It is incumbent on all of us who are heterosexual to act in solidarity at all times with the LGBTQ community and speak out against homophobia whenever we hear it expressed. We also need to be sensitive to the psychological trauma an event of this magnitude can have on the LGBTQ community.
While one of the presidential candidates continues to stoke anger and resentment against people of the Muslim faith, these expressions are the antithesis of who we are as a people and of course counter to core principles of our social work profession. Those of us who are not of the Muslim faith need to speak out forcefully against Islamophobia wherever it takes place.
This same presidential candidate has made similar negative comments about people of Mexican origin, which has resulted in anti-Mexican chants shouted in public school events. We as social workers need to speak out strongly against any public expressions of hatred or prejudice no matter who the target.
As social workers we understand the impact of public policies on our environment. If we had stricter gun safety laws banning the purchase of assault weapons and banning the purchase of guns for anyone who is or has been on a FBI watch list, the Orlando tragedy and many other mass killings in this country may not have occurred.
Furthermore gun deaths in this country could be controlled by requiring background checks at gun shows and for internet purchases and particularly by “smart guns” that can only be operated by the adult purchaser, thus eliminating child accidents, the use of stolen guns and many teen suicides.
Our world and communities are full of challenges and we cannot expect to be able to control or stop all acts of violence and hatred that exists. .However we can speak out strongly against bad public policies and hurtful and prejudicial political expressions. Each of us as social workers, community members and world citizens can do our part to make the world and our community a little more tolerant and a little safer.Marc Herstad, MSW, CISW Executive Director NASW Wisconsin Chapter
NASW ARIZONA CHAPTER
The Arizona Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers condemns the horrific violence of the massacre in Orlando, Florida. As President Obama said, this is an act of terror and hatred. We grieve with the victims, their families, the community of Orlando and our society.
We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ community and offer our support and help through many agencies and practitioners of healing during this difficult time of grief and loss and fear. Horrendous incidents like this leave many victims beyond those murdered. Many must live with dreadful lifelong injuries. Many families will grieve and find ways to reconcile such terrible violence and loss in the lives of loved family members.
Love and justice and solidarity in community will always trump hate and violence, but incidents like this challenge us all to stand together rather than retreat from each other in fear and more violence or vengeance.
Our society also must finally come to terms with itself and confront the violence in our culture and find ways to treat each other with tolerance and dignity while providing for the safety and security of all. Instigating more violence and avoiding gun regulation are not solving our need for freedom and security. Clearly what we are doing is not achieving that goal.
Local NASW AZ President Timothy Schmaltz said:
“We believe it is long past time for a new national and local dialogue on gun regulation where majority of our fellow citizens support universal background checks, limitations on the purchase of assault weapons and high volumes of ammunition, and other reasonable measures to curb future gun violence. Clearly we need to invest much more in mental health outreach and gun control. Many have said before this incident that “enough is enough” meaning that these incidents must stop with changes in our public policy and public culture.”
As social workers, we stand ready to contribute to a society where love and justice prevail. Our work and focus will continue to build a culture where all are treated with dignity, all live in safety, and all people have the basic necessities of life.Jeremy Arp, MSW, ACSW
Executive Director NASW Arizona Chapter