Nathan W. Jones chairs the Bay Area Chapter of Black Gun Owners Assn. But until a few years ago he wasn’t even interested in guns.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. And George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, sending racial justice protesters onto the streets. And white supremacists destroyed the US Capitol during the January 6 riot.
Suddenly it seemed as if America was on the brink. And with Friday’s overthrow of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court that emboldened a militant group of white Christian nationalists, we clearly still are.
“I had visions of mobs dragging people through the streets and something just changed,” Jones told me. “We cannot rely on someone else to come and rescue us. We have to be.”
So while on Thursday many were apoplectic over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the right of gun owners to carry a loaded gun in public — defying gun control laws in California and New York at a time when shootings are increasing in threw the limbo – it was Jones pensive.
On the one hand, he wants to make it easy for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves “if and when the time comes.” But on the other hand, he’s a 50-year-old realist who knows that fear and hatred of black people runs deep in the United States, especially when we’re armed.
“There’s no overt racism when we go to the shooting range, but we know how people look at us,” Jones said of the dozens of black members who gather to shoot. “We know what people think.”
California Democrats are scrambling to draft and enact new legislation this week that would somehow salvage the requirement — assuming local law enforcement keeps enforcing it — that residents get a permit before carrying a concealed weapon.
“Our state will continue to lead the fight to keep our people safe,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday. In fact, we have one of the lowest bullet death rates of any state.
But the governor and lawmakers could fail, and the Supreme Court decision could stand. And then California could be forced to face a reality that has long made many self-proclaimed liberals uneasy: Black people — possibly many of us — legally carry guns in public.
Lest you think I’m joking, remember how California began its journey to some of the toughest gun control laws in the country.
It was 1967 when members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense protested in front of the California Capitol. Armed with the handguns and shotguns they normally use to protect black neighborhoods in Oakland by “surveilling the police,” they announced that the time had come for “blacks to arm themselves against this terror before it was too late.” is”. And then they went in.
“We have a constitutional right to bear arms,” they shouted as they walked the halls of the Capitol.
Lawmakers were so freaked out that they quickly passed the very law the Black Panthers had been protesting—the Mulford Act, which banned the open carrying of loaded guns without a permit. Governor Ronald Reagan hastily signed it.
Over the next few years, the Mulford Act, which the National Rifle Assn. supported, inspired a number of gun control laws in other states and in Congress.
Of course, the NRA is very anti-gun control these days, although their attitude toward blacks doesn’t seem to have changed much.
Still, Americans have been stocking up on guns at record rates in recent years, and it’s blacks – especially women – who have been buying them the most. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, there was a 58% increase, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Emmanuel Choice, who runs a black gun club in Los Angeles, has observed this trend in Southern California. Blacks not only buy guns in large numbers, but also strive to receive the training to obey the law and use it safely.
“This is not a country where people walk around with guns haphazardly,” said Choice, which says Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling was short-sighted and reckless. “The only thing I want to say about California and its concealed carry requirements is that you have to get a lot of education.”
Jones said he’s also noticed a huge surge in interest in his Bay Area club over the past six months, often from black people seeking camaraderie and an alternative to the NRA.
Most who follow say they bought a weapon for self-defense, Choice and Jones agree. Many are coming forward after being sparked, pardon the expression, by high-profile racist incidents, including last month’s massacre of black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY
But even before that, during the height of racial justice protests in 2020, blacks armed themselves and formed self-defense and community protection groups in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Detroit, among others.
“Black people are choosing to be prepared more often and in greater numbers,” Choice said. “There’s a concern I haven’t seen before. And there is a willingness to step up.”
But this is not 1967.
That meme that’s been floating around on social media for a few weeks — the one that half-jokingly suggests that Republican politicians might be called upon to support gun control if more black people started packing heat?
Thing is, black people are already packing more heat, both legally and, unfortunately, illegally. But gun control laws are still weakening — the rare exception being the bipartisan law President Biden just signed into law.
And the other really weird thing is that race is now actually being used as an argument for relaxing gun laws.
Judge Clarence Thomas, in his opinion for the conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. vs. Bruen Fall, became philosophical about how important the right to bear arms was to the self-protection of Black South people during Reconstruction.
And as Congress in 1868 “Reaffirmed that freedmen are entitled to the full and equal benefit of all laws and procedures affecting personal liberty [and] personal security…including the constitutional right to own and bear arms’.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of progressive organizations including the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid, the Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services filed an amicus brief in the case, urging the court to rule exactly as it was done.
your argument? That gun control laws in New York, like California, disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic people who carry guns in self-defense. They complained of clients being “stopped, interrogated and searched” and deprived of their livelihood for “exercising a constitutional right”.
“We represent hundreds of needy people whom New York is criminally indicting for exercising their right to own and bear arms,” they wrote. “For our clients, the New York licensing requirement makes the Second Amendment a legal fiction.”
How all this will develop remains to be seen.
LA Gun Club leader Choice doubts that more black people in Los Angeles will start carrying guns in public. although this is becoming common practice in California without a permit. It would just draw too much attention.
“I don’t think I’m going to go to Roscoe’s to sit there with a handgun,” he said.
Also, most Black people simply want to get home safely each night and avoid taking risks that could result in injury or death.
“No. 1 is the police. I never want to interact with them. And they don’t give you a break when they stop you, so you’re always under suspicion,” Choice explained Want to argue with them about the new verdict of… Please! Are you kidding me?”
But for Jones, that’s part of the problem.
His gun club – like Choice’s club – is full of black professionals. Doctors, even police officers. Law-abiding citizens with wives and husbands and children and deep ties to their communities.
“Even so, we know all eyes are on us,” said Jones, a business owner. “And that’s also how we know we can’t be the group that has an accidental discharge. We cannot be the group that is unsafe with our firearms. We need to have more control and know what we’re doing better than anyone else because all eyes are on us, waiting for us to make a mistake.”
Jones sees it as part of the Black Gun Owners Assn. to challenge the preconceptions held by many Americans about who can and cannot carry a gun. But he laments that this is the reality, even in liberal California.
“It’s like, ‘We’re all for equal rights and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ but they’re still uneasy about the idea of black people being legally armed,” he said.
According to Jones, if the Supreme Court ruling stands, more black people could start carrying their guns in public — especially if the white supremacists and Christian nationalists in our midst do the same.
In our polarized political environment, this is a dangerous scenario that seems increasingly likely. Just as likely as some black people who are mistakenly shot by police while legally carrying a firearm. When society is armed to the teeth, bad things are bound to happen.
However, Jones feels he has no choice but to be a gun owner.
“What we need to do,” he said, “is redefine the idea of black people with guns and what that means.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-27/supreme-court-scotus-ruling-california-black-gun-owners What the Supreme Court ruling could mean to Black gun owners