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OPINION: State Lawmakers should be more concerned with protecting children from gun violence rather than “queerness” and “wokeness”

By Thom Barranca

             According to the CDC, gun violence became the leading cause of death among American children in 2020.[i]

That’s right, move over cancer; the thing that should terrify parents most is now, undoubtedly, firearms. The fatigue we as a country must feel from the intense sadness that comes along with every school shooting is hard to imagine. Yet, when faced with this statistic gathered from the CDC, can any of us really act surprised?

            Well, you might find it comforting to know that at the state level, recently, there has been a renewed interest in protecting the safety of children across the United States. Hundreds of bills have either been introduced or passed into law that claim to be protecting the rights of parents or protecting children themselves. One would assume, by applying some simple logic, all of these new state and local laws would be aimed at regulating the purchase and sale of guns or, at the very least, keeping guns out of schools. After all, gun violence is not like cancer. It is easily preventable and has been proven to decrease in jurisdictions where gun laws are strict and more heavily regulated.[ii] Sadly, in some inexplicable twist of political agendas, state lawmakers (mainly Republican lawmakers) have decided instead to focus much of their efforts on protecting children from licensed physicians, books, teachers, sports, and drag queens. That’s right, America, children are dying at an unprecedented rate from gun violence, yet state legislators have decided to spend their constituents' hard-earned tax dollars on waging a culture war. 

I. Some helpful background

            If you’ve been paying attention to the news in recent years, you may have noticed a massive increase in legislation aimed specifically at transgender children.[iii] Across the country, the “trans scare” has really taken hold of state legislators in a way that feels unwarranted and even, at times, irresponsible.[iv] It started with bathroom assignments a few years ago, then we began to see greater attention paid to trans-athletes, and now lawmakers are attacking trans children at their very core through bans on gender-affirming care.

            For anyone who is unfamiliar with gender-affirming care, I have linked some great resources here and here so that you can understand why the decision to ban this type of healthcare is deeply irresponsible and completely ignores the well-being of the children themselves. Anyone who looks at the science and the research can see why this type of care can be life-saving for children who identify as transgender and who are struggling and medically diagnosed with body dysmorphia.[v] Yet in six states (Florida, Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and South Dakota), this type of necessary health care has already been banned, and there are 16 more states with similar bills currently circulating.[vi] Republican lawmakers proudly present these bills claiming they are trying to protect children. It’s interesting, however, because it’s unclear what they are trying to protect children from.

            Transgender individuals are known to suffer from higher rates of depression and suicide than the average person. They are also more likely to be bullied, raped, abused, and even murdered for being trans.[vii] Studies have shown that when children who identify as trans have access to gender-affirming care at a younger age, they are less likely to experience these harms.[viii]Their ability to integrate into society and their feelings about themselves and their place in the world all greatly improve. So, in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence, any legislator who supports this type of blanket ban on health care should ask themselves, what exactly they are trying to protect trans children from?

            Typically, when one discusses popular republican talking points, we often hear claims that republicans are the more fiscally conservative of the two parties. Interestingly however, despite trans children representing an extremely small portion of the general population, a great deal of time and tax dollars have been spent in these state legislatures passing bills that regulate a statistically tiny portion of the state’s citizens. With figures gathered from the Williams Institute at UCLA, the percentage of individuals who identify as transgender between the ages of 13-17 are as follows: In Florida, 1.3%; in Arizona, 1.54%; in Tennessee, .74% and in Utah, .83%, South Carolina, 1.14%. When you consider these numbers, it's important to understand this tally only represents the number of children who identify as trans; these numbers indicate that there's likely an even smaller subset of those children seeking access to gender-affirming care. It begs the question, why would a state focus so much time, attention, and resources on disrupting the lives of such a small constituency of individuals? I assumed legislators had more pressing issues to concern themselves with, perhaps even gun violence. Instead, it seems state legislators are more inclined to use the power of the law to dictate how medical professionals should administer care to their patients. A gross overstep of governmental power and a move that should make anyone question how republicans hope to remain the party of small government after implementing these laws.

II. A state-by-state policy comparison


a. Tennesse 

           According to statistics gathered by Everytown for Gun Safety, Tennessee ranks #29 in the country for gun safety laws, which translates to a 22.6%-gun death rate per one hundred thousand residents. That’s one of the highest gun death rates in the country. What’s ironic is that legislators in Tennessee have recently weakened the state’s policies, eliminating the carry permitting requirement and allowing nearly anyone in the state to carry loaded firearms in public, concealed or open, without a background check, permit, or safety training.[ix] Funnily enough, in addition to their bans on gender-affirming care, Tennessee is one of eight states who have recently begun to introduce legislation aimed at Drag Brunches.[x] That’s right, America, gun violence in Tennessee somehow poses less of a threat to the safety of children than the dangers involved in attending a Drag Show. The residents of Tennessee should probably ask their representatives why the legislature is less concerned with the high rates of gun violence and more concerned with preventing less than .74% of children in their state from receiving access to healthcare or why the topic of Drag Brunch is even on their radar. Is this really how Tennessee taxpayers want to spend their hard-earned tax dollars? 


b. Arizona

           In Arizona, the statistics of gun violence are not much better, with Arizona having a gun death rate of 18.3% per 100k residents; for some perspective, New York, home to New York City, has a gun death rate of only 5% per 100K residents. That should make the state of Arizona wonder what they are doing wrong, considering that gun ownership in the state of Arizona is surprisingly low, and yet they are ranked number 42 in the country for gun safety laws.[xi] Meanwhile, in addition to passing a blanket ban on gender-affirming care, Arizona has also joined the fold of states who want to prevent children from attending Drag Brunch. Republican lawmakers continue to make the claim that Drag performers are inherently sexual and inappropriate for children, yet there is no evidence to support these claims. Certainly, the type of drag show a person is likely to encounter in a nightclub is markedly different from the type of drag show a person is likely to encounter in daylight hours while eating bacon and eggs. Drag queens may be known for crass jokes and adult humor, but they are also performers who know how to read a room. Arizona republicans are simply falling victim to a national culture war that is placing vulnerable communities in harm’s way. 

c. South Carolina 

         When discussing South Carolina in terms of gun safety, it is best to directly quote our friends at Everytown for Gun Safety[i]

"South Carolina has weak gun laws—missing 39 out of 50 key policies—and suffers the fifth-highest rate of  homicides in the nation. Despite lending the name of its largest city to the gap in federal law that allows gun sales to go through while a background check is still underway, South Carolina has still not closed the Charleston Loophole that armed the mass shooter who attacked worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in 2015.”


         Meanwhile, the South Carolina legislature has been busy voting on many laws aimed at the Public Education system. This is the direct language of House bill 3827[ii]:




         It is a bit perplexing as to why suddenly, multiple states are worried about the morality of school curricula. Politicians have demonstrated they rarely care about education at all, often underfunding it and allowing the systems to crumble. Yet in South Carolina, there are currently five separate anti-gay education bills circulating through their chambers.[iii] That’s five more bills than there are bills that regulate gun safety, which appears to be a major issue in South Carolina. Not to mention South Carolina is one of the more recent states to ban gender-affirming care within their borders. They have plenty of time to outlaw queerness but apparently no time for lowering the high rate of homicides; funny how government works sometimes. 


d. Florida 

         In one of America’s self-dubbed “freest” states, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand what makes Florida so free lately. In addition to banning gender-affirming care for trans children (remember that’s less than 1.5% of its residents), Florida is ground zero of America’s culture war aimed at limiting queer narratives and stomping out “wokeism.” As far as gun violence goes, Florida ranks among the national average for gun deaths per 100k residents, which is somewhere around 13% per 100K residents. Not to mention that Florida has been home to two of the most well-known mass shootings in recent history: Parkland High school and Pulse Nightclub. Despite these unfortunate events, the state has slowed its progress on sensible gun safety laws and instead doubled down on its decision to wage a culture war against queer people and any curriculum that teaches students about the existence of structural racism.

        We’ve all heard by now about the infamous House Bill 1557, which the Florida legislature dubbed The Bill to Protect Parental Rights in Education.[xii] A name that suggests that Parental Rights in Education were previously being infringed or were in some way under attack. The naming of the bill is certainly a clever way to gain the support of an angry mob that wasn’t necessarily there beforehand. Reading this ambiguously worded piece of legislation, it’s hard to know what is or is not allowed in the classroom. In fact, in recent months, Florida teachers have begun removing all of the books from their classrooms entirely because they are uncertain what books do or do not meet the standards of this vaguely worded statute.[xiii] Hot on the tail of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill came the “Stop Wokeism ACT,” which a Federal judge compared to George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel, 1984.[xiv] The court found that the language of the law was often confusing, sometimes employing double or triple negatives, and did not adequately distinguish between permitted and unpermitted speech or between conversation about a topic and indoctrination.[xv] Essentially, Florida tried to play word games again, remaining purposely vague as to obscure the true purpose behind the bill. In addition to all of this legislative hoopla, Florida has also become known as one of the states to ban the largest number of books in the country, having banned 577 books from public schools and libraries so far. This is all to say that Florida’s legislature and elected officials have been working really hard to stamp out queerness and “wokeness” within their state, yet what have they been doing to protect children from school shootings?

Final Thoughts

            Needless to say, this article could go on for a lot longer. I could talk about the state of Texas or Oklahoma; we could also dissect what the real motive is behind this culture war. We could talk about the constitutionality of many of these bills or the lack thereof.  We could talk about the very real and very dangerous societal harms these laws are inflicting on vulnerable communities beyond the enforcement of the laws themselves. There is much to discuss, but the throughline remains: a veritable swarm of lawmakers are performatively “protecting” children in the United States, and much of it has clearly been part of some sort of thinly veiled conservative agenda. This “protect” children (except for trans children) movement demonstrates that when politicians get fired up about something, they really can enact sweeping change when they want to. Could you imagine if lawmakers in the wake of Sandy Hook, Parkland, or Uvalde had decided to protect children from school shootings in the vigorous way that conservatives are attempting to protect children from drag queens? The outsider looking in might wonder why it is that state republicans, in the face of repeated incidents and glaring statistics, have decided instead to focus their efforts on minute percentages of trans children and banning books. What if we lived in an America that made gun safety the number one priority when it came to protecting children? Wouldn’t that be the surest way to keep children safe, considering the leading cause of death among children is, in fact, gun violence? How is it that parents are more concerned with talking about sexual orientation in the classroom rather than preventing school shootings? 

          It is hard to imagine a free country where the government is responsible for telling children what books they can and cannot read, what performers they can and cannot watch, what their teachers can and cannot say, and what gender they can or cannot be. Conservatives are blindly legislating themselves away from a country that encourages freedom and into a country that encourages fascism, and they're dragging us all with them. 



[i]  Jones Dustin, Firearms overtook auto accidents as the leading cause of death in children, NPR (April 22, 2022 4:58 PM ET)

[ii] See, Fact Sheet: Weak Gun Laws Are Driving Increases in Violent Crime, Center for American Progress

(State laws requiring permits to purchase a gun are associated with 60 percent lower chance of a mass public shooting occurring. When a mass shooting occurred, states with a large-capacity magazine ban had 38 percent fewer fatalities and 77 percent fewer nonfatal injuries.)

[iii] Migdon Brooke, Amid tidal wave of anti-trans legislation, Democratic states race to become refuges for gender-affirming care, The Hill (February, 16 2023 12:47 PM ET)

[iv] See example, Advocating for the LGBTQ Community, The American Medical Association (“Policies excluding transgender individuals from restrooms and other facilities undermine well-established treatment protocols for gender dysphoria, expose individuals to stigma and discrimination as well as potential harassment and abuse and impair their social and emotional development, leading to poorer health outcomes throughout life”)

[v] Body Dysmorphia, NHS: “BDD can seriously affect your daily life, including your work, social life and relationships. BDD can also lead to depression, self-harm and even thoughts of suicide”.

[vi] Belloni Ganny, Transgender Youth Care Targeted in Culture Battle Sweeping US, Bloomberg Law (Feb 21, 2023, 5:35 AM)

[vii] Virupaksha H.G., Suicide and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Persons, National Library of Medicine (Dec. 2016)

[viii] Green, A. E., DeChants, J. P., Price, M. N., & Davis, C. K. (2021). Association of Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy With Depression, Thoughts of Suicide, and Attempted Suicide Among Transgender and Nonbinary Youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 70(4). 2


[x] Brown Melissa, Tennessee Senate Passe Bill on ‘Male Female Impersonators’ Amid Drag Show Debate, The Tennessean (Feb. 9, 2023, 9:41 a.m. CT)

[xi] Id.

[xii] Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Historic Bill to Protect Parental Rights in Education, Florida (March 28, 2022)

[xiii] Natanson Hannah, Hide your Books to Avoid Felony Charges Fla. Schools Tell Teachers, The Washington Post (January 31, 2023 6:00 a.m. EST)

[xiv] Vile R. John, Stop W.O.K.E Act (Florida)(2022), The First Amendment Encyclopedia.

[xv] Id.


[ii]  H. 3827, South Carolina General Assembly 125th Session, 2023-2024



Thom Barranca

Is the Creative Director and Founder of The Margins. He is currently a 3L at New York Law School, formerly a junior editor of the Law Review, he also sits on the Dean's Leadership Council. During his time in Law School Thom has worked with the NYCLU, The Center for HIV Law and Policy, and Legal Outreach. He also has a background in creative writing, and a few of his poems have been published in small independent journals. 

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