Believe it or not, I've never been an anti-gun zealot. I've fired a gun before, once, at camp (it had a shooting range) -- it didn't really make an impression on me one way or the other. I'm a huge fan of Top Shot
I did some pro bono
work for the Brady Campaign, even interviewed for a job there, but I withdraw my name from consideration immediately afterwards -- I knew I didn't have the true fire in the belly to work there.
I also know enough of the scholarly literature to be quite aware of checkered past gun control has had vis-a-vis the civil rights movement -- David Graham provides some of that history in this incisive piece
. There were many periods where efforts to take away guns blossomed because, simply put, black people were using them to defend themselves against racist whites. The NRA has, of course, expended quite a bit of time excavating this history in order to argue that more guns, not fewer, are the solution to violence besetting communities of color.
And yet today, it is beyond clear that the Second Amendment is meaningless for black gun owners. There is no right to bear arms if you're black, and the "defenders" of gun rights like the NRA have virtually nothing to say
when black people are victimized for exercising that right.
After all, if there is a right to open carry, then a black man seen with a gun is not only not committing a crime, there's not even probable cause to believe that they have. If a state allows concealed carry, then telling an officer that one has a concealed (and permitted) handgun can't justify even heightened anxiety, let alone fear for one's life. But everyone knows that black men cannot actually draw on these "rights". It doesn't matter if the gun is permitted
, out of reach
, or even real
. A black man possessing a gun is always going to be viewed as a valid target, no matter what the law says.
And as for the NRA -- of course they're not going to stand up for these
gun owners. In the NRA's world, black people don't get to own guns, they're the reason
one owns guns. When they talk about guns being essential to American liberty, they don't envision an armed black population evening out the balance of force in a police encounter -- that's what justifies
force in a police encounter. When they blather about a well-armed citizenry as a bulwark against tyranny, they don't have in mind Black Panthers exercising their open carry rights at the capital; they imagine Clive Bundy making an ass of himself.
Anyone who's read and takes seriously works flowing from the Black Power movement has to acknowledge the theoretical purchase of the idea that vulnerable populations are the ones who lose out when majoritarian dominated institutions gain a monopoly on the instruments of violence. But practical experience has made it abundantly obvious that this theoretical argument has no practical value. "Gun rights" has long since settled into a contented status quo accessible by whites and whites alone.
And that's unsustainable. If as a society, we feel threatened when a black man walks around openly carrying a firearm, that should mean that nobody has the right to openly carry a firearm. If possession of a gun by a black man is sufficient to justify a police shooting, then possession of a gun by anyone justifies it. In short, if we can't guarantee gun rights for everyone -- and we can't, it's clear that we can't, and gun rights organizations have no interest in changing it so we can -- then they don't belong to anyone. The status quo is racist, murderous, and toxic to rule of law. It is not sustainable. And eventually, it will fall.