Giving Up the Gun

In Boston’s most dangerous neighborhoods, criminals routinely use women to traffic and hide illegal guns. Can Operation Lipstick, a new education campaign, make a difference?

There was an undercurrent of frustration in the room. In Boston, it’s impossible to discuss crime without addressing injustices of race and class; hundreds of gun-related homicides in the city’s poorest neighborhoods remain unsolved. While officials responded in force to the marathon bombings, there has been little public attention paid to the spike in shootings since then, 145 and rising at press time, according to the website Blackstonian. Many women I spoke to later pointed out that the alleged murderer of a white South Boston resident, Amy Lord, was arrested within a few days, while whoever gunned down three women of color in their car on Harlem Street a year prior still walks free.

“With the marathon bombings and Amy Lord and even Aaron Hernandez, [the police] are getting information,” Odom told me later. “They say the reason why we have so many unsolved murders is because people don’t talk. But it’s hard for us to really buy into that. You mean to tell me that there’s all these unsolved murders and there’s no information?”

As Rollins and Odom wrap up each session, they ask the women to sign a pledge promising that they won’t hold, hide, or buy guns. They tell them to take out their phones and text their friends a link to an anti-gun-trafficking site, and implore them to ask, “Where did the gun come from?”—a Citizens for Safety slogan—after every shooting.

Yet these simple measures only begin to address the complex ways in which gun violence seeps into other issues that women face, particularly poverty, domestic violence, human trafficking, or child abuse. The Q & A sessions I witnessed after each presentation seethed with emotion, but they didn’t talk about the factors that draw women into the gun trade in the first place. Right now, the sessions rely on a video of one woman gun trafficker sharing her story, instead of having women like Melissa speak to the groups. “The biggest challenge will be to identify those voices, those people who are willing to come forward and admit that they had done something wrong,” Chipman says. LeAnne Graham, a 28-year-old from Dorchester, told me the workshop she attended felt like a “clap campaign,” mere cheerleading. For a program like this to really take hold, she says, “it’s got to be at a moral level, and it didn’t seem like it was addressed.”

David Hemenway, the Harvard School of Public Health professor whose research provides a backbone for much of the LIPSTICK program, concedes that there are limits to what public health campaigns can accomplish. “We’re interested in the community and what we can do about that at the community level rather than the individual,” he admits. “It’s not like we’re not interested in the individual, but the focus is on populations.”

Robinson contends they’re just getting started. “This message needs to be integrated into all the violence-prevention work already being done,” she says, adding that LIPSTICK is bringing its training sessions into domestic violence shelters and to women involved in sexual trafficking. “If you’re talking about violence-prevention work in the urban communities, you’re talking about gun trafficking and straw purchasing. Right now they’re not talking about it that way, but they need to be.”

Rollins, too, acknowledges where things now fall short. “I know that there are a lot more layers with it, but it’s just the beginning,” she says. “We’re getting people involved, and a lot of these women don’t have faith, they don’t have support, they don’t have nothing.”

Ultimately, though, the impetus to change has to be individual, and personal. For Melissa, it came in the fall of 2011. She was in an abusive relationship with a long-term partner. After another violent episode, their 12-year-old daughter came to her and told her she wanted a gun. “She wanted to get a gun so that she could protect us. So that she could protect me from him,” Melissa says.

Within months, Melissa had left her partner. She moved into the Elizabeth Stone House women’s shelter, where she met a domestic violence counselor—Ruth Rollins—who suggested that she attend a LIPSTICK meeting.

Now she writes notes to herself whenever she hears about a shooting on the news, and asks about the origins of the gun. And she’s working to ensure that her daughter learns an entirely different lesson about gun trafficking than she did as a teen. “I don’t want her to think the only way for you to handle a problem is using a gun,” she says. “If my child gets hold of a gun, I can’t blame anybody else.”

  • MrApple

    So how about instead of dumping more laws on the law abiding citizens of this country we enforce the laws already on the books. Let’s arrest the women in this article for “straw purchasing”, gun trafficking, and hiding unlicensed firearms. OR we could just come up with more laws for them to ignore while restricting those that obey the laws. Your choice.

    • AnnaSumpter

      But that would be too haaaaaaaard…

      They’d have to stop and frisk (and cavity-search) every single one of them, and then the department would get sexual-harassment lawsuits and discrimination lawsuits (these are *criminals*, mind you), and they’d lose every time.

      I think it’s better to strategically place hidden cameras all over and see if you can distinguish patterns of behavior, then just arrest based on how people act and who they came in contact with.

      I mean, unless you want to do away with profiling, which is cool too.

      My main concern is: if females like her are “straw purchasers”, how did they get hold of automatic weapons? Those are bound to the NFA and require a fairly sickening amount of paperwork and background checks, extra taxes and wait periods. In my mind, magically being able to get any of those weapons is criminal anyway, due to the ease with which she received them.

      This also leads me to believe that there are certain dealers who participate in illegal behavior. “Oh yeah, this little black girl came into the shop and she wanted 4 pistols. She handed me the money, so I said, ‘this isn’t odd in the least’, and gave her the pistols without filing the 4473, plus a box of ammo per gun, just because she had a cute smile.”

      Somehow… I don’t think so. Someone wasn’t doing their job, in addition to the girls doing something illegal.

      To wrap up this rant: if we enforced the laws we already have, as you had mentioned, it would curtail disreputable dealers and curb the outpouring of guns into felonious hands.

      • MrApple

        I agree.

  • Gregory Smith

    Too bad Boston Magazine doesn’t care about people who use guns in self-defense. In their liberal oasis, guns are only used by cops and criminals, freaking idiots.

    • Jakob Stagg

      That’s because saving lives is not a headline. Only the gore and magnitude of it is the only thing that sells advertising space. Truth? What’s that?

      • Gregory Smith

        It’s not just that, the media today except for Fox News doesn’t care about being balanced. When was the last time you saw a pro-fat, pro-smoking, much less pro-gun argument presented? This is why the liberal media is dying, they’re a bunch of useless parasites.

  • LeftShooter

    I would hope it’s not true, but this reporter seems like she was lead around by the nose without independent reporting in use. For example, these two sentences: (1) “It (the NRA) has even lobbied Congress to pass a law prohibiting the funding of studies that treat the urban gun epidemic as a public health crisis.”

    [Here the writer takes it as gospel that urban gun violence is a public health issue. Really? Guns have benefits (self-protection chief among them) and public health models do not consider benefits–for example, are the “benefits’ of AIDS or hepatitis ever discussed? The public health model meme is disingenuous with some attributing it to Mayor Bloomberg and his self-financed Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. In any event, race, gangs and violence are real issues that require more work and analysis rather than just lazy disdain for gun owners and gun culture dressed up as public health research.]

    (2) “Despite widespread public support for tighter gun restrictions—a September Gallup poll found 49 percent of the country wanted stricter laws governing the sale of firearms—Congress has refused to take action.”

    [Here what the writer neglected to report is that the same poll found that 37% + 13% = 50% of respondents stated that they wanted gun laws kept as they are or made less strict, respectively–and both of those numbers are growing. Readers can see for themselves: ]
    Next time, Ms. Manos, please don’t drink the Kool-Aid before you write.

    • Jakob Stagg

      One of the major problems with public health studies is the medical industries’ standard of “evidence based medicine”. They are allowed to not release anything that adversely effects their product or service. It is not until after many people die unnecessarily, they are encouraged to be more forth coming. It happens over and over. It’s all about making money, not improving health.

  • Jakob Stagg

    Women can do not wrong. Therefore their contribution is ignored. Since crime and violence is attributed only to the existence of firearms, it is ignored that someone pulled the trigger. Why not look at them and learn something?

  • Jakob Stagg

    That picture is really no way to treat a FS-92.

  • Kent Greene

    Firearms incidents are paid primarily from property taxes, Link t5o You Tube mini-series:

  • Kayla Madison

    Its true that lipsticks are slowly killing the women and this I have noticed after watching this video: which helped me loT!!!!

  • Moolah Normal Page

    Support the Boston Gun Buy Back Program with the Keep the peace in our city apparel! @