I have been, and always will be, a supporter of the right to bear arms. I believe that everyone, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, should be able to defend themselves from any untoward threats. This is particularly true for African-Americans, as we have been victims of unprovoked violence for centuries. Lynchings, rapes, bombings and mass shootings were, and still are, common acts of violence perpetrated against us. Many of these killings were completed with full impunity, as the American Criminal Justice system sat by and did nothing. Sometimes they were even complicit in these acts. It was only through armed self-defense that we were able to protect ourselves and our communities. The problem myself and many black gun owners have is that our second amendment rights are not fully protected by the law.
African-Americans have always struggled for equality under the law, and this is especially true when it comes to the right to bear arms. The pre-Civil War “Slave Codes” of many Southern states completely banned black people from owning firearms. Colonies such as Virginia prohibited free black people from owning weapons. Florida even created an “Act to Govern Patrols” that allowed white citizens to enter the homes of black people and confiscate any weapons they found. This is in violation of the fourth amendment. Black people were also prohibited from joining militias, which was the entire purpose of the second amendment. This was to prevent a possible slave rebellion. After the Civil War, the “Black Codes” were enacted, and were used to strictly prohibit black gun ownership.
This trend continued into the 20th century when those in power enacted some of the most blatantly discriminatory gun control laws. The most obvious example is the 1967 Mulford Act. In 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was created to protect the Oakland’s black community from repeated harassment and violence perpetrated by the local police. The group acted as an armed oversight committee, actively stopping the police from making illegal arrests. Huey Newton himself carried around a law book to inform officers of the laws that they were violating.
This angered Don Mulford, a GOP assemblyman who represented Oakland. In 1967, Mulford proposed a law to prohibit Californians from openly carrying firearms. In response, the Panthers travelled to California’s Capitol Building and protested with their firearms. They eventually entered the building with weapons in tow and walked into the assembly chamber. They were later forced by the police to leave the premises. Shortly after the protest, they were arrested on charges of “conspiracy to disrupt a legislative session.” The Mulford Act was later passed with the full support of the NRA, and was eventually signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan.
Even today, African Americans struggle to maintain equal protection under the second amendment. A recent example is the death of Emantic Bradford Jr. Bradford was an army recruit with a concealed carry permit. While shopping in a Georgia mall, shots rang out. Bradford pulled out his weapon and directed shoppers to safety. As police entered the scene, they shot Bradford in the back three times. They told the media that Bradford was the shooter, and praised the killer as the real hero of the situation. It took a full day for them to admit that they had shot the wrong man and that the killer was still at large. They also admitted that they lied about the circumstances of the shooting, as Bradford had not brandished his pistol at officers. He was simply holding it with his back turned when they shot him.
Philando Castile was another black man whose second amendment rights were ignored by police. During a routine traffic stop, Castile told the officer he had a license to carry, and a concealed firearm on his person. The officer still asked for his identification, and as he reached for it he was shot and killed.
It should be obvious by now that many African-Americans do not have the same rights to bear arms as others. Instead, we have the right to be relinquished of our firearms and our lives, usually at the same time. We are not allowed to defend ourselves from tyranny, as the Founding Fathers once did. We are not allowed to open carry our firearms as the Alt-right is allowed to do. However, we are allowed to be shot to death by the police and white bystanders with guns. We are also allowed to be arrested for legally possessing a firearm. This is because blacks are never seen as responsible gun owners. Instead, we are seen as an “armed suspect,” even when we aren’t suspected of committing a crime. As such, we will never be seen as true “patriots” like the Bundy militia.We can never be the “good guys with guns” that the NRA loves to talk about. We will always be seen as criminals, terrorists or militants.
If being a defender of black gun rights makes one militant, then I wear the label proudly. In the words of Robert F. Williams, “The Afro-American militant is a ‘militant’ because he defends himself, his family, his home, and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system – the violence is already there, and has always been there.”