In the wake of mass shootings, there has been a narrative about who should and should not carry a gun in America. Politicians and high-profile gun groups like the NRA routinely rally to support gun owners and the Second Amendment.
But does their support include all gun owners? The silence is deafening when it comes to people of color and their gun rights.
Three high profile examples come to mind: Philando Castile, Jemel Roberson, and EJ Bradford.
In July 2016, Philando Castile was pulled over while driving in Minnesota. He was a licensed gun owner, and during the stop, disclosed this information to responding officer Jeronimo Yanez. When he reached for his license per the officer’s request, he was shot and killed by the officer. The usual smear campaign ensued – his driving history of minor civil infractions was trotted out before the public. The officer was discharged after being acquitted of criminal charges.
But where was the outrage from the NRA for the death of a licensed gun owner? Rather than vilify the victim, where was the support from the gun community? A spokeswoman from the NRA went so far as to blame Castile in his own death.
Last month, Jemel Roberson was shot to death by a police officer in a Chicago area bar. There was no question as to whether he was a good guy with a gun – he was a security guard at a bar who had just managed to subdue a shooter. As he had the gunman pinned to the ground, the clothing that he was wearing bearing the label “security” did not save him from an officer’s bullet.
Emantic “EJ” Bradford was killed by a police officer in Hoover, Alabama earlier this month. He was shot three times in the back while fleeing a mall shooting. Reports indicate that when the shooting began, EJ pulled out his gun and was assisting other shoppers to safety.
What did the three men have in common?
All were African American. All were licensed gun owners. All were killed by police. And each of their deaths was met by stony silence by the NRA and others who push the narrative of “more people should have more guns.”
It leads to a greater systemic question – do African Americans have the same gun rights as white people?
Statistically, 32 percent of gun owners (or have a firearm in their household) are African American. After the election of the current presidential administration in 2016, that number rose. As hate crimes increase around the country by 17 percent, it is logical to conclude that people who are the traditional targets of hate crimes may seek lawful protection through firearm ownership.
What is being done to educate police officers to not shoot first and ask questions later? How are white shooters who massacred people in houses of worship like Dylann Roof and Robert Bowers able to be taken into custody peacefully, while law abiding gun owners of color are killed for less? Would the officers responsible for killing Roberson and Castile been less likely to pull the trigger if the two men were white?
One solution is to increase implicit bias trainings for police departments and encourage de-escalation techniques. As one writer put it, officers should exercise “awareness and restraint.” However, it’s quite disingenuous of the NRA to claim to be the voice of all gun owners, while only selectively using that voice to protect solely one race of gun owners.
With their large budget and bully pulpit, the NRA could meet with law enforcement to encourage them to use restraint in dealing with armed situations since the demographic of gun owners is varied. Additionally, the NRA should encourage their members not to try to be “heroes” in a situation, knowing that it could potentially create confusion for law enforcement in a tense environment. If it is not interested in building these bridges, then the intent of the organization is clearly to further the gun ownership and safety of white gun owners.
The NRA claims to be “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization.” If that is the case, then the NRA must support gun rights for all, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or religion. If it doesn’t do so via words and deeds, then it needs to change its mission statement to reflect the truth – white gun owners only.