These women have proven it's easier to get a gun than a stripper's licence
So far this year, in the state of Tennessee, 149 people have been killed and 349 injured as a direct result of gunshot wounds, according to figures taken from Gun Violence Archive. Although this may seem shocking, it is perhaps not entirely surprising. During 2014, more people died from gunshot wounds than in car accidents. Just last month, a 29-year-old man walked into a Waffle House in Antioch, TN, and used an assault rifle to kill four complete strangers.
Claiming the unwanted honour of being in the top 10 states in the country in terms of gun deaths, Tennessee has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the entire country. There are currently just short of 60,000 'carrying a concealed weapon' permits active in the state, and over 46 per cent of households live in a house with a gun. Given Tennessee's dubious record, you might think that authorities would be keen to crack down and reduce the threat that guns pose to their citizens by controlling who can get their hands on them. But, as two exotic dancers proved, it’s easier to get a gun than a stripper’s licence.
In an obviously orchestrated video, two women identifying themselves as Mary Jane Watson and Miss Pepper Pots set up a table on a sidewalk outside their place of work and offer a man the chance to purchase a $15 session inside the club, or an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle - the same weapon used in the Waffle House shooting - for $1100. When questioned over whether such a deal is even legal, they explain that they can do a private firearms transfer for cash, without asking any questions or doing a background check on the buyer.
In Tennessee, knowingly selling, or offering to sell a gun, to anyone that is prohibited by state or federal law from owning, possessing or purchasing a firearm, is against the law. However, it’s incredibly hard to really know a stranger's criminal background, especially given that transfers by non-firearms dealers are not subject to background checks. According to a 2010 report by U.S. Department of Justice, "individuals prohibited by law from possessing guns can easily obtain them from private sellers and do so without any federal records of the transactions" in many states.
The video's attention then turns to what these same women must go through in order to obtain a licence to dance. They explain: "Well, first of all, we have to get a background check. Then we have to go get our fingerprints done. Then we have to get two recent passport photos done. Then we need to go to the S.O.B office to turn all of our paperwork in, have everything put on file, and then wait two weeks. And only then are we deemed safe to give you a couch dance."
The video was not originally meant to necessarily criticise gun laws; instead, it was made with the intention of drawing attention to what the women's employer, Deja Vu Showgirls, considers to be unnecessary regulation of their business. Speaking to WSMV, Watson said that the state’s Sexually Oriented Business laws were becoming increasingly strict, stating: "I'm like, ‘man, is this what this is supposed to feel like?’" She added: "I didn't think I was doing anything wrong, but they definitely make you feel like that."
The stunt has sparked debate, with former State Rep. Joe Carr arguing that the video callously played on the trauma surrounding previous shootings. "I think this is kind of tragic with what happened in Florida in the school down there and what has happened in a number of schools over the past few years," he told WSMV. "It should not be minimized by sensational antics by a handful of women in front of a gentleman's club."
However, others have been quick to support the message, with one Twitter user commenting that: "But the ladies made the point. There are more restrictions and regulations to become a stripper then there is to purchase an AK-15. There is something wrong with that!!" Others highlighted the fact that only in April 2018 did it become legal to sell wine on Sundays in the state, but buying a gun from a stranger on any day was totally legal.
America’s gun laws, as well as veneration of the Second Amendment, are bound to continue to prove contentious and hotly contested. But the reality is that gun control does appear to work, and the states with the strictest gun control laws are also those with the lowest number of firearms deaths. In Alabama, Alaska and Louisiana, where gun control is lax, the rate of deaths by firearms is more than four times higher than those in New York, Connecticut, Hawaii or Massachusetts, all of which have stricter laws.
So, while this video may have been created to spread awareness of a very different issue - arguably with an underlying commercial motive - it’s hard to deny that it also holds a message that is relevant to a much wider America. And no matter what you think of exotic dancers or strip clubs, the fact of the matter is that they rarely kill anyone.