Black Steel: Should More Blacks Join the NRA?
Is the NRA the problem or the solution for black America
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not necessarily reflect those of Loop 21.
To let media and movies tell it, black people know a thing or two about guns.
From 70s blaxploitation film icon Shaft, to rapper Tupac's star turn as the murderous Bishop in "Juice," to whoever is playing the “black cop” on Law & Order at the moment, the image of a black man with a gun in hand is tattooed to our collective memories and consciousness.
But in life off the big and small screen, what may look glamorous, is deadly real. As gun violence and mass shootings--like those that recently took place in Aurora, Colo. and Oak Creek, Wis.--become a part of the daily existence of so many communities, a surprising conversation is beginning to take place at kitchen tables, in barbershops and bars in many black communities: do we arm or disarm?
“If you look at the history of gun control in America, it is an exercise in racism,” insisted Rick Ector, National Rifle Association member, gun safety advocate and founder of Legally Armed In Detroit. “Any time there is talk about a new gun law, they are really talking about adopting the strategies and techniques that racists from years ago created. The first gun laws in this country were designed to keep newly owned slaves from participating in any kind of revenge against their slave owners.”
Ector, who is African American, also believes that that kind of mentality leads states to enact lax gun laws when the cities in them are predominantly white or don’t have a large black population.
“When you look at the U.S. as a whole, gun control laws are the most strict and severe in cities where black people are concentrated,” he said. “Outside of those areas, gun laws are nowhere as strict.”
Chicago’s gun violence problem has been widely reported. But what complicates the picture is that Chicago is supposed to have some of the most strict gun policies in the country, only now making it legal for people to own handguns as of 2010. Gun stores aren’t even allowed within the city limits.
“Here’s what you have when you have areas with strict gun control: you have criminals in those communities, who are going to have firearms, legal or not,” says Ector. “So what happens is, people who can legally have guns, but don’t, are in a sense held hostage by the people with illegal guns. What we need to do is strike down these gun laws and allow law abiding people defend [themselves].
But gun laws aren’t always what keeps guns out of the hands of black people. Some just don't want to own a firearm.
Atlanta-based journalist Rodney Charmichael, a music editor for the alternative weekly paper Creative Loafing,recently shared with its readers a string of events within the last month that included his house being ransacked and his grandmother being shot.
At the time of the interview, Charmichael did not own a gun.
“I think it's a consciousness thing,” he said. “I think when you have a gun, you kind of, in your mind, knowing that you have it, you feel the need to want to use it. You draw and attract experiences to your life where now you have to.”
A 2002 study stated that only 30 percent of black adults in America owned guns. Add that to studies that say young black males die at the hands of gun violence more frequently than any other race, and it may be a call for something to change.
“I think any group of people who are only 50-60 years into freedom would be fools to not arm themselves,” says rapper and former Outkast protege "Killer Mike," who has made his stance on gun laws very clear in the past. “Just in the last 120 years, there has been a riot in Atlanta and "Black Wall Street" was burned down in Oklahoma. I feel that being a minority population you should be smarter and enjoy every privilege in this country.”
One of them being able to join the NRA.
Killer Mike is a member, and so is Rick Ector. Both men represent the tiny percentage of black members who fill the NRA's membership rolls.
The NRA does not have the strongest relationship with the black community. Even though the gun rights group has fought on the behalf of many black gun owners, many in the black America remain "freaked out" by the connection director Michael Moore implied between the NRA and the Ku Klux Klan in his documentary, "Bowling For Columbine."
“The NRA doesn’t openly recruit black members, but that’s not to say they exclude them,” said Ector, who wrote about attending a NRA convention and having a great experience. “They aren’t going out of their way to get them, which is unfortunate because many of their conventions take place in cities with large black populations.”
Killer Mike agrees and disagrees.
“I’m not going to their conventions. They are weird and cooky,” he said. “But I am participating in a program that protects my rights to gun ownership. They aren’t the KKK. They don’t have a problem with black men joining.”
Considering that they also allow people like controversial rocker Ted Nugent to speak at their rallies, and that most of their 4.3 million members are often portrayed as militia members living in the backwoods of America, blacks may have reason to hesitate before they sign on the NRA membership dotted line, but Ector feels that that type of fear is counterproductive.
“Yes, some of the speakers who participate at the conventions are on the extreme right politically and our community tends to be Liberal and Democrat, so there could be a political issue there that exists,” he said. But I think gun rights transcend political ideology. If we take that out of gun ownership, we may be onto something.”
Killer Mike adds, “There are Liberals and Conservatives that don’t want black men having guns. But as long as you are allowed, black people should participate in the full American experience and live out every right they have, and one of those is gun ownership.”
With studies saying that Blacks are six times more likely to die of violent crime than whites, and that 29 blacks have been killed by police in 2012 so far, there is an argument to be made that black people are being preyed upon and should be more vocal in the gun rights debate. Whether you're for arming or disarming, something has to be said, because either way, we are a target.