Mensa’s urging of this action — which has been one of the rallying cries of many gun control activists in the wake of the deadly school shootings in Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida, and Santa Fe High School in Texas earlier this year — comes as part of an emotional essay in which the rapper, who recently took on mental health and addiction issues in “10K Problems,” describes losing childhood friends to gun violence and his own 2017 arrest for violating California’s concealed-carry law.
“My heart sank into my gut as the voice on the other side of the phone fed me words I could hardly stomach. ‘Are they talking about Cam?’ I asked, referring to the barrage of R.I.P. tweets flooding my timeline as I sat in a sweaty recording studio on Chicago’s near West Side. ‘Yes,’ she answered, her voice devoid of emotion. ‘He got shot,'” Mensa opens the piece.
“He got shot. He got shot. These words have reverberated through my eardrums too many times in my 25 years,” he continues. “Too many blissful summers have been stained with the blood of men cut down in a vicious cycle of ultra-violence that rips through my city like a cyclone, tearing apart families and leaving broken homes and broken men on street corners adorned with makeshift memorials for the dead. Later that day, I got a call from Cam’s best friend, Brian, as I bent the corner to the ramp from Lake Shore Drive to I-94. He sounded as if he had spoken these words one too many times, imparting a grim message I have held on to, and passed down to younger generations of loved ones: ‘You are of that age now where you will start losing people you love, and there’s nothing you can do to control it.'”
Mensa, who performed as part of the March For Our Lives protest organized by the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas in March, is a gun owner who has seen too many deaths at the end of a muzzle. In the wake of the recent spate of deadly mass shootings and the echo of Brian’s words in his brain, he asks, “Must we accept the devastation of gun violence as the reality of life an American? Or can we reject that terrible fate?”
The rapper senses the tide turning against the carnage, against what he dubs the “plague” of gun culture in America. While he realizes it’s impossible to completely wipe out that culture — especially in black communities, where he says infrastructure, government spending and support are needed to turn the tide — he writes that mass shootings are something that can be affected by “having some common sense and courage to challenge the billionaires profiting from our sorrow.”
The bottom line for Mensa, who has lost loved ones to gun violence, is that he “vehemently” supports gun control, specifically a ban on the AR-15 rifle. He recalls a moment earlier this year, in which he was asked about the school shootings in the headlines by TMZ while leaving an L.A. nightclub. At the time, he struggled with how to connect the “poverty-stricken violence of my war-torn hometown [Chicago]” with the “white-picket-fence communities being assaulted by disgruntled young men borrowing dad’s guns to cut down their classmates.”
But then he attended the March For Our Lives, where he met activist Matt Deitsch, and suddenly he was able to make that connection for the first time. “Matt greeted me with a handshake and a hug, and launched into a story of how he had been to a festival performance of mine, and listened to my music for years,” he says. “That’s a single degree of separation between myself and the killing spree that claimed 17 lives on that fateful day in February. White, black or brown – we all bleed red.” He decries the “venomous” responses from the NRA to the activism of the Parkland students and acknowledges that some might discredit his voice because of his own arrest last year for carrying a concealed firearm; the weapon was registered for concealed carry in Illinois, but not in California.
“As someone who clearly supports gun ownership, I believe it is time we stop allowing distractions to divert our attention from the single most important piece of gun control legislation currently possible: a widespread ban on assault rifles,” he writes. “Las Vegas, Pulse Nightclub, Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 152 dead. Just four shooters. What do all of these attacks have in common? Long barrel assault rifles with high magazine capacity, commonly referred to as AR-15s.”
In an admittedly imperfect thought experiment, Mensa wonders how many fewer people might have been killed in those incidents if the shooters had been using handguns, or knives. “It seems blatantly evident that this particular class of weapon gives would-be mass murderers an expanded capacity to kill, and that’s why so many have gravitated to the same gun,” he adds, running down the thin arguments listed on the NRA website for Americans owning the weapon of war: self-defense, hunting, competitive shooting, disaster preparedness, and fighting a tyrannical government.
“The truth is that this weapon was not designed for farm use or for garage mechanics looking for an easily customizable collectors item. The Armalite AR-15 was designed to help American troops slaughter the Vietnamese,” he writes, arguing that there can be no meaningful or significant progress made on gun control without a complete AR-15 ban.
The essay ends with a powerful moment from the March For Our Lives when a woman hands Mensa a yellow memorial wristband in honor of her brother, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, who was killed in Parkland, reminding him of the fan he never met, as well as his big brother Cam and other friends killed in a hail of bullets. “My mind spun, until it eventually returned to Guac and the yellow wristband on my arm. The life and death of Guac. He didn’t get a choice. Death was decided for him. It is for him, in his memory, that we must choose life.”