The Bottom Line on Blacks and Gun Control

Black Panthers/AP /Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0


Although the 2nd Amendment states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of a people to keep and  bear Arms shall not be infringed on,” the history of gun ownership for Blacks in the U.S. is startling and differs significantly from other racial groups.

As early as the mid-1700s, residents in various states,  but particularly the South, were instructed to shoot any Black person carrying a potential weapon.

The only time it was permissible was during hunting under the strict orders and guidance of a slavemaster.

Aside from a general ethos of white folks fearing Blacks who possessed guns, Black codes legally prevented African Americans from being able to possess a firearm.

After the Civil War, nearly 4 million enslaved Blacks were freed and white Southerners devised special laws in an effort to maintain a semblance of control in the face of shifting tides and likely out of fear of retribution.  

Unfortunately, even with the end of slavery in 1865, it was not until the 1900s when Blacks would be permitted to obtain a firearm.

With Jim Crow segregation and rampant racism sweeping the country, some civil rights leaders, such as Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois, encouraged Blacks to meet fire with fire by arming themselves.

According to Dr. Charles Cobb, author of This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, he had the following to say about the role that guns played for Black families in the Civil Rights Movement:

“ I worked in the South, I lived with families in the South. There was never a family I stayed with that didn't have a gun. I know from personal experience and the experiences of others, that guns kept people alive, kept communities safe and all you have to do to understand this is simply think of Black people as human beings and they're gonna respond to terrorism the way anybody else would.”

Armed resistance by Blacks occurred in places like Arkansas in the early 1900s, when former military members took up arms to protect their communities.

However,  the most notable development took place in 1966 with the establishment of the Black Panther Party. This political organization promoted self-defense and self-preservation through exercising 2nd Amendment rights.

Their revolutionary agenda established armed patrols to ensure the safety of community members and hold local law officers accountable.

In the present day, Blacks are more likely to be victims of gun-related homicides than any other group, which has led to mixed feelings about guns within our community recently.

On one hand, the shootings of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Edwards and too many others have left a bad taste in our mouths when it comes to firearms being used for protection and safety.

On the other hand, the number of Blacks who have joined gun clubs and purchased weapons has more than doubled since the election of Trump out of “fear that Trump’s America has resparked old racial flames, emboldening white supremacists and raising tension between races.”

Recent data shows that nearly 20 percent of African Americans own guns with a large chunk of new gun owners being single Black women.

The NRA has continually failed to show support for Black law-abiding gun owners, evidenced most recently by their silence around the death of Philando Castile-- who was legally permitted to carry a firearm but still murdered.

Also, Black gun owners should be aware that we have our own governing body housed by the National African American Gun Association that promotes community building via firearm education and training.

Choosing to own a gun is a deeply personal decision that comes with a lot of power and responsibility.

In the Black community, as evidenced throughout our history, that choice has often been the mediator between our life or death.

It is up to you make an informed decision about whether we need more legally armed Blacks in our neighborhoods during a time when there is a sincere concern for the safety of our people.

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