Nathan W. Jones leads the Bay Area Chapter of the Black Gun Owners Assn. But until a few years ago, he didn’t even like guns.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, sending racial justice protesters to the streets. And white supremacists ransacked the United States Capitol in the January 6 uprising.
Suddenly it seemed that America was on the brink. And with the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade on Friday, emboldening a militant spectrum of white Christian nationalists, we clearly still are.
“I had visions of crowds dragging people through the streets, and something just changed,” Jones told me. “We can’t count on anyone else to come and save us. It must be us.
So on Thursday, when many were apoplectic over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the right of gun owners to carry a loaded gun in public – throwing out gun control laws in California and New York in limbo at a time of increasing shootings – Jones was thoughtful.
On the one hand, he wants to make it easy for law-abiding citizens to be able to defend themselves “if and when the time arises”. 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 go shoot. “We know what people think.”
California Democrats are scrambling to craft and enact new legislation this week that would somehow salvage the requirement — assuming local law enforcement continues to enforce it — that residents obtain a permit before wearing a concealed weapon.
“Our state will continue to lead the fight to keep our people safe,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday. In fact, of all the states, we have one of the lowest rates of gunshot deaths.
But the governor and lawmakers could fail and the Supreme Court’s decision could stand. And then California might be forced to confront a reality that has long made many self-proclaimed liberals uncomfortable: black people — potentially many of us — legally carrying guns in public.
Lest you think I’m being facetious, remember how California began its journey to have the toughest gun control laws in the nation.
It was in 1967 that members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense staged a protest at the California Capitol. Armed with the handguns and shotguns they normally used to protect black neighborhoods in Oakland by “watching the police”, they announced that the time had come for “black people to arm themselves against this terror before let it not be too late”. And then they went inside.
“We have the constitutional right to bear arms,” they shouted as they wandered the halls of the Capitol.
Lawmakers were so panicked that they quickly passed the very bill the Black Panthers had been protesting against – the Mulford Act, which prohibited the open carrying of loaded weapons without a permit. Governor Ronald Reagan hastily signed it.
Over the next few years, Mulford Law, that the National Rifle Assn. supported, inspired a slew of gun control legislation in other states and in Congress.
Of course, these days the NRA is very much opposed to gun control, although its stance on black people doesn’t seem to have changed much.
Yet in recent years, as Americans have stocked up on guns at record rates, it’s black people — especially women — who have bought the most. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, there was a 58% spike, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Emmanuel Choice, who runs a black shooting club in Los Angeles, has watched this trend play out in Southern California. Black people not only buy firearms in large numbers, but are also eager to undergo training to obey the law and handle them safely.
“This is not a country where you want people walking around randomly with guns,” said Choice, who believes Thursday’s Supreme Court decision was short-sighted and reckless. “The one thing I will say about California and its concealed carry requirements is that you have to do a lot of studying.”
Jones said he’s also seen a huge uptick in interest in his Bay Area club over the past six months, often from black people looking for camaraderie and an alternative to NRA.
Most of those who join say they bought a gun for self-defense, Choice and Jones agree. Many are reaching out after being — pardon the phrase — sparked by high-profile racist incidents, including the massacre of black people last month at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY
But even before that, at the height of the racial justice protests in 2020, black people armed themselves and formed vigilante and community protection groups in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Detroit, among other cities.
“Black people are more frequently and in greater numbers choosing to be prepared,” Choice said. “There is a concern that I have never seen before. And there’s a desire to, you know, to step up.
But it’s not 1967.
That meme that’s been circulating on social media for a few weeks — the one that half-jokingly suggests that Republican politicians might be incentivized to support gun control if more black people start warming up?
The thing is, black people are already building up more heat, both legally and, unfortunately, illegally. But gun control laws continue to weaken — the rare exception being the bipartisan bill President Biden just signed into law.
And the other really weird thing is that race is now being used as an argument for relaxing gun laws.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in his opinion for the Supreme Court’s conservative 6-3 majority in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. against the Bruen case, waxed philosophical about how the right to bear arms was crucial to black self-protection in the South during Reconstruction.
And how in 1868 Congress “reaffirmed that freedmen were entitled to the ‘full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings concerning individual liberty.’ [and] personal security…including the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Meanwhile, a coalition of progressive organizations, including the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid, Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services, filed an amicus brief in the case, urging the court to rule exactly as it did. did.
Their argument? These gun control laws in New York, as in California, disproportionately harm blacks and Latinos who carry guns for self-defense. They complained of clients who were “stopped, questioned and searched” and deprived of their livelihoods because they “exercised a constitutional right”.
“We represent hundreds of indigent people whom New York criminally charges with exercising their right to own and bear arms,” they wrote. “For our clients, New York’s licensing requirement makes the Second Amendment a legal fiction.”
It remains to be seen how this will all play out.
Choice, the leader of the LA gun club, doubts that more black people in Los Angeles will start carrying guns in public, although doing so without a license is becoming common practice in California. It would attract too much attention.
“I don’t think I’m going to Roscoe’s to sit there with a handgun,” he said.
Also, most black people just want to get home safely every night and will avoid taking risks that could lead to injury or death.
“No. 1 is the police. I never want to interact with them. And they never give you a break when they arrest you, so you’re always under suspicion,” Choice explained. your seat and want to discuss with them the new decision of… Please! Are you kidding me?”
But for Jones, that’s part of the problem.
A business owner in Oakland, his gun club — like Choice’s club — is full of black professionals. Doctors, even cops. Law-abiding citizens with wives, husbands and children, and deep ties to their communities.
“Still, we know all eyes are on us,” Jones said. “And so we also know that we cannot be the group that has an accidental discharge. We cannot be the group that handles our firearms dangerously. We need to be more in control and know what we’re doing more than anyone, because all eyes are on us, waiting for us to make a mistake.
Jones considers it part of the mission of the Black Gun Owners Assn. to challenge the preconceptions many Americans have about who should and shouldn’t be able to carry a gun. But he laments that this is the reality, even in liberal California.
“It’s, ‘We’re all for equal rights and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ but they’re still uncomfortable with the idea of black people being legally armed,” a- he declared.
If the Supreme Court’s ruling stands, Jones thinks, more black people could start carrying their guns in public — especially if the white supremacists and Christian nationalists among us start doing the same.
In our polarized political environment, this is a dangerous scenario that seems increasingly likely. Equally likely are some black people being mistakenly shot by police while legally carrying a gun. When society is armed to the teeth, bad things are bound to happen.
However, Jones feels he has no choice but to own a gun.
“What we need to do,” he said, “is redefine the notion of armed black people and what that means.”
Los Angeles Times