Vic Mensa Wants Gun Control Opponents to Embrace Their Humanity
Gone are the days when children can go off to their academic institution without fear. In the past six years since the death of 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, more than 187,000 students nationwide have been affected by school shootings. Most recently, 17 lives were taken at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and after dealing with yet another devastating travesty on American soil, students and rappers alike have taken to the streets to protest gun control laws in the United States.
On Saturday, March 24, Vic Mensa joined fellow allies, survivors and protesters too young to bare arms as they took part in the "March for Our Lives" rally in Washington, D.C. While reflecting on the "electric, impactful and pertinent experience" with XXL, the Chicago lyricist made sure to praise those who have witnessed fatal incidents while simply trying to learn across the country.
"The strength, bravery and courage that these high schools kids from everywhere—from Parkland, from Chicago—exhibited, it was really inspiring, and it gives a real honest, human face to what people wanna view as a political issue, when it’s really just a human thing," Mensa tells XXL.
The "We Could Be Free" rhymer joined Common, Kanye West and a host of activists as they marched with the children to protest America's debatable laws. And though the tally of people who attended the nationwide rallies has still yet to be tallied, Vic Mensa believes the number could be in the ballpark of 1 million.
Mensa phoned XXL to reflect on March for Our Lives, his stance on gun control, conversations with the survivors of the Parkland shooting and his talking points in a potential gun control debate with Killer Mike.
XXL: What were some of the more memorable moments at March for Our Lives in Washington D.C.?
Vic Mensa: Every time Emma Gonzalez speaks, I listen. And there was another young woman [Samantha Fuentes] who spoke who was injured [during the Parkland shooting]. You could see it in her face; [while] she was speaking, she threw up on stage. That was pretty hardbody.
I wanna take a moment to speak on how powerful it was to have Jennifer Hudson close the show. That was important on a lot of levels, because Jennifer Hudson knows as well as anyone how much this epidemic of gun violence in America is tearing us apart—she lost her whole family in Chicago. You could feel that in her song, and that was just a moving moment.
Why did you feel it was important to go to Washington, D.C. and rally?
I spend a lot of time thinking about these things, and people matter to me. I don’t give a fuck about politics, politicians, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans—I’m none of those things. But I’m a human being. I’m a person. And for better or for worse, I’m an American, so the American people matter to me.
Do you feel these marches will push change and make for stricter gun laws?
I think it was a great step. I don’t have a crystal ball—I’m not a senator; I’m not in Congress. I was just trying to play my part. And I saw of lot of people this weekend playing their part, and living with purpose, direction and intent, and acting upon it. And that’s what we can do, for those of us that are not in the position of power to create or pass legislation. We can act and live with purpose and intent, and place pressure on the people who are supposedly in office to act upon our best interest.
Certainly. I noticed you were around a couple other artists as well—were you able to share your thoughts with any of them?
There were a couple of us from Chicago out there that day. It was a beautiful thing because, obviously, those of us from Chicago, we have a special connection to gun violence, being from one of the most violent cities in the nation—and potentially on Earth. So yeah, [Common and I] did speak on how it was necessary to be there. Being in that moment, a lot of things are understood, you know? We know that we’re here standing for the same thing. We all have our own personal stories attached and our own reasons. I’ve lost my people—I’m sure he’s lost his people—but this was bigger than any one person, any one loved one, any one artist. This movement in general is something that affects us all regardless of race or creed.
Kanye was expressing something similar to what I just said. It interests him and moves him because it’s not a black-or-white thing. It’s a human thing. And Kanye was telling me that he feels like the way that this march was put together, this type of action needs to be the future of music festivals, and entertainment needs to take on a role like this. [We should] have elements of this type of organization, and this type of expression at Coachella and Lollapalooza.
What exactly is your stance on America's current gun control laws?
I believe that the carnage we experience in this nation is 100 percent a direct result of greed, and our form of capitalism in which everything is for sale. There’s a price on everything, including the lives of children, the lives of black men in Chicago, the lives of the elderly. Everyone’s life is for sale in America. I think this whole situation is misconstrued, and it gets complicated having a lawful and constitutional conversation when really, bottom line, this is about a dollar. And a lot of people in America have been indoctrinated and miseducated by the people who speak for them, by the people in power, to believe that they need these weapons that are built, sold and marketed to kill.
What’s forefront on my mind concerning gun control is banning assault rifles, banning the AR-15s and all similar weapons. And I rebuke those that say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” ’cause that’s just an idiotic argument. Obviously, human beings kill and are violent, but the damage that you can do with your hands or a knife—or even a pistol, for that matter—is so minuscule compared to the havoc that you can wreak with these weapons of war.
The fact that people can obtain semi-automatic weapons so easily is disturbing.
I gotta do more to learn how to ride a motorcycle than I do to have a gun, and I am a gun owner. I’ve been catching some heat—no pun intended—for speaking my mind on this issue, being that I [caught] a gun charge last year. And I wanna speak on that, because I’m not a patriot. I’m not in love with, attached to, or even have concern for the contradictory specifics of American law. I think that it defeats the purpose of law for a law in one part of a united nation to not hold weight in another part. So the fact that I can have a legally-owned weapon in Illinois, and then go to jail in California for having that same weapon, I don’t find that to be lawful in the first place. The fact that people are sitting in prison in Texas or Kentucky for marijuana while people are making billions of dollars off of it in California, I find that to be unlawful. I don’t give a fuck about that. I care about people, you know? I care about people’s lives. And point, blank, period, people are dying at alarming rates because [of] the stupid laws surrounding these weapons.
I had woman hand me this bracelet that I’m wearing right now, and she told me, “My little brother was a big fan of yours, and he’s no longer here, but this is from him.” My heart dropped, because these kids aren’t from some faraway land—that’s one degree of separation. I was talking to Parkland kids at the march that have been to concerts of mine, and just to think that people that have supported me, and express gratitude and love for me are being slaughtered like this, that makes me know that I have to support them and act on that because they are me. That’s the way I see them.
Do you have anything to say to those trying discredit your deeds during this movement?
I ask that they embrace their humanity, because we all have it. After the conservative publication The Blaze posted something about me with my charges, I started reading some of the comments. I saw a comment where they put a photo of one of those kids on stage with his fist in the air from Parkland, they put an Adolf Hitler quote underneath him, and it said “Make the lie nice, make it pretty, and pretty soon people will believe it,” or something to that effect. And I was just like, “Where is your humanity? Have you no decency?”
Even more than just trying to appeal to their humanity, I also would like to dissect, break down and disprove these falsehoods that they hold on to, and this God-given constitutional right they feel they have to own assault weapons. I’m sorry, but AR-15s didn’t exist when the Constitution was written. You could only load one or two bullets at a time in a musket when the Constitution was written—that’s what you have the right to bear. Everything else is a completely grey area, and it’s just not necessary. You can’t tell me you need an AR-15 to hunt—you just don’t. You don’t need that to protect your family; you don’t need that specific weapon to protect a tyrannical government. That argument, it doesn’t stand strong under an interrogation.
What made you come to this particular stance?
I lost close friends—people that meant a lot to me—from bullets to the head. Closed casket. I grew up around gunshots, and I know that fear, that paranoia. And that brings me back to the hypocrisy of these geo-targeted laws. Because we have strict gun laws in Chicago, but all you gotta do is step five minutes out of the city borders and you could buy an AR-15. You could buy a semi-automatic uzi. You could get those things legally, not to mention illegally. It doesn’t work to have gun laws in one place and not another.
What are your thoughts on the influx of school shootings occurring so frequently?
[Pastor] Jeremiah Wright—Obama had to denounce him because of a sticky situation. He said, “America, your chickens are coming home to roost,” and that’s exactly what’s happening. These people have been racking up, getting filthy fat and rich off of selling guns and ammunition, supporting politicians that can support their agenda. And they represent America—they are America. And America’s chickens are coming home to roost. It’s so long you can act out of greed and unconcern for the lives of others before it starts to come close to home.
A school district in Pennsylvania has equipped faculty and students with river rocks in case of another shooting incident. Do you agree with this tactic?
I didn’t understand that—I thought it was a joke. I still don’t really understand that.
It’s not complicated, it’s very simple: the most impactful thing that can be done to curb school shootings is to outlaw assault rifles. What is the one common denominator in all of these incidents? The weapon of choice. It’s been the same weapon since Columbine. And a lot of these weapons are being bought legally by kids in suburban America who wouldn’t even fuckin' know where to buy a gun illegally. So they go to Walmart. That’s the muthafuckin answer. You not gon’ walk into a school and shoot 17 people with a pistol—it’s not happening.
You spoke on the the lack of therapists and counselors available for children in schools. Do you think the lack of mental health care plays a part in these incidents?
I think a lack of attention to mental health care plays a part in a lot of society’s fails.
In many black communities, mental health issues aren’t addressed at all.
Yeah, we’ve had a stigma around mental health in the black community for a long time. It’s a deep-rooted issue because of conditioning, stereotyping and mental health being used against us as black Americans. The labeling of being the “crazy black man” or “crazy black woman,” that’s been a classic tactic used to discredit us, to destroy our families, to tear our loved ones away from us. So it’s understandable that we would avoid anything that could be interpreted as being crazy. But it’s a new day, and it’s time for us to get serious about our health and for us to get serious about healing, ’cause there’s so much pain in our community in particular. And we can’t move forward without healing.
I’ve heard some of the Parkland kids express that they understand they’re just being faced with realities that have been ours for as long as America has existed. But once again, that’s why I feel like this [movement] has to go through, because it affects us all the same way. We all bleed red.
With all this being said, what points would you bring up to Killer Mike if the two of you actually have this debate on gun control?
I would start off by saying I’m a huge fan of Killer Mike as a lyricist, man, activist and voice for our community. I have a lot of respect and admiration for him. Killer Mike’s stances on a lot of things, such as black businesses and black entrepreneurship, I think they’re so necessary. I just think he’s wrong concerning this aspect of gun control in general. Because I also agree with him on other points that concern gun control, but AR-15s specifically, I just can’t understand why it’s necessary. Because there’s no possibility of fighting a tyrannical government with a long rifle—these people have technology way more advanced than that. I mean, they could cut off the water to our communities, and the electricity, in a heartbeat. You know we live in the ghetto; we all live by each other. They could cut our whole community off. Ain’t nothing we could do with an AR-15 when that happens. So I would like to speak to him about it.
See Photos of Kanye West, Common, Vic Mensa and More at the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, D.C.