Feature Profile

The Safety Paradox: Guns and Refugees

by Dana Janbek

Dana JanbekPhoto by Michael Cohen

When it comes to making our country safer, current political rhetoric would like us to believe that guns don't kill, but that temporarily banning refugees and decreasing their numbers next year will have a positive impact on our security. The fact that over 30,000 people die each year from gun violence and not a single American has been killed by a refugee has no bearing on the simultaneous pursuit of pro-gun and anti-refugee policies.

After 49 innocent lives were cut short by a pro-ISIS American citizen who opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, some politicians argued that the growing threat of terrorism inside the United States could only be contained with bans on immigration. References were made to the "tremendous flow" of Syrian refugees, and calls were issued to ban Muslim refugees, although neither Syrians nor refugees were involved in the case. Because the American shooter, Omar, was the son of immigrants, the tragic event was used to call for the overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, implying that the American-born shooter was a foreigner. Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee officials were adamant about shifting the spotlight from the gun violence epidemic in this country and refocusing it on immigration. Given the hostile rhetoric about the dangers immigrants and refugees pose, it is no surprise that in 2017, 39% of Americans oppose or strongly oppose "the United States taking in refugees from the conflicts in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries after screening them for security risks."

Until September 30, 2017, the Orlando shooting was considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. This changed when another American citizen shot to death 59 people in Las Vegas at a music festival. This time, though, the shooter was named Stephen, so no calls for immigration reform have been issued at this point.

When asked about gun control laws the day after the Las Vegas shooting, the White House press secretary replied: "There will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that's not the place that we're in at this moment." But since on average, mass shootings occur daily and affect the lives of at least four Americans each time, this raises the question: When is it the right time to debate gun control?

What is left out of the narrative that follows these two most violent episodes is that both shooters were able to legally purchase multiple firearms. The FBI's prior investigation into the Orlando shooter for radicalism did not prevent him from having access to guns, and the Las Vegas shooter was able to collect over 40 firearms. Clearing refugees for resettlement into the United States is a two-year-long process that involves multiple U.S. agencies. That is about two years longer than it takes an unstable man to purchase guns here.

To safeguard future shooters' second amendment rights, daily shootings that kill tens of thousands of Americans a year are a risk that some politicians are willing to take. Yet, a hypothetical deadly attack by refugees is sufficient to issue bans. With no known deadly mass shootings committed by refugees in this country, the time seems to always be right to pursue policies against them.

The real threat to our security, I believe, is spending resources, time, and energy on travel bans and other irrational policies targeting refugees and others that have no consequences on our safety, while avoiding meaningful reforms on issues like gun control that would have immediate security implications. This essay is not about banning guns. But it is about taking a closer look at what jeopardizes our security every day.

While victims must tragically rest in peace, refugees and other groups will continue to serve as casualties in the mistargeted campaign to make America "safe" again.

Dana Janbek is associate professor of public relations at Lasell College and has been researching the Syrian refugee crisis since 2013. She is co-author of Global Terrorism and New Media: The Post-Al Qaeda Generation.

Supporting information and statistics referenced in this article sourced from The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, U.S. News & World Report, CNN, and The Brookings Institute.

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