Why African Americans should strictly oppose the war on guns
In the aftermath of the tragedy in which eight people, including six Asian women, were killed at massage parlors in Atlanta, Democrats are likely to use the unfortunate event as a rallying cry for more gun control as they have the bully pulpit in national politics in Washington.
We have seen significant measures from the new administration, including the White House statement on the anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting along with the urging of Congress to enact firearms restrictions. Congress has already passed a measure on universal background checks for private and public gun sales across the country.
Other recent mass shootings are likely to raise calls for more firearms restrictions. But these events have occurred in a tumultuous social and political climate where many are feeling more concerned about securing their personal safety and property. It is also ironic that the segment of the population that could be most likely to object to stricter gun control is African Americans, a core constituency of Democrats.
While gun sales overall were initially falling in 2017 after President Trump signaled a more favorable Second Amendment stance, they started to increase among African Americans, who anticipated a threatening rise in right wing radicalization. But sales dramatically rose in 2020 amidst the pandemic and raging social unrest in the wake of the killings of unarmed African Americans. They spiked again during the first weeks of the new administration. Over two million firearms were purchased in January, the third highest monthly gun sales, according to federal data.
What is notable is the changing demographics of the buyers. Whereas increases in gun sales in 2017 were primarily among existing owners, the gun sales among new owners, primarily African Americans and women, accounted for nearly 40 percent of gun sales through the first quarter of 2020. Mark Oliva of the National Shooting Sports Foundation said gun sales among African Americans rose almost 60 percent through last fall. “We have never seen a year over year increase in gun sales that large with African Americans,” he said in a recent media interview.
That is why efforts by Democrats to legislate the Second Amendment out of existence may land on deaf ears among African Americans who usually support a gun control agenda. African Americans are now becoming more receptive to the idea of responsible and legal gun ownership as a realistic defense against rising crime and violence from the far right.
The killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by a gang of white vigilantes, one of whom was a retired police officer, has in part sparked such trends. The initial refusal of state prosecutors to indict the men was widely viewed by African Americans as a prime case of sanctioned violence harkening back to the days of the Klu Klux Klan and lynching, where the state assisted in the violence or turned a blind eye to the perpetrators.
Nonetheless, the argument for more gun sales for defense is fraught with ambivalence. Many African Americans view the widespread availability of firearms as a major catalyst for the urban violence in cities like Chicago and Baltimore. They doubt whether putting more firearms on the streets, even legal ones, can solve the problem and wonder if it would make black gun owners more likely to be victims of law enforcement.
Some even wonder if the Second Amendment even truly applies to black gun owners when dealing with law enforcement. They were alarmed by the dismissal of charges against a police officer indicted for the killing of Philando Castile, a legal gun owner, who was shot during a traffic stop after he said he had a gun permit and a gun in the car. “He was seeking to show an officer his permit when he was killed, so having a gun is not an escape from being killed,” said historian Gerald Horne.
Yet draconian restrictions on firearms in reaction to mass shootings is not necessarily beneficial. Given the history of police brutality against African Americans, notably with black gun owners, restrictions could set them at a disadvantage when it comes to their Second Amendment rights for their own defense. As Cam Edwards wrote in the National Review, stricter gun control will probably end up causing more harm than good. He said that the vast majority of such enforcement will be for nonviolent possessory offenses, and the vast majority of defendants will be young minority men from inner cities who would face prison for such offenses.
At a time when the federal government has signaled an intention to end the miserable failure of the war on drugs that brought along with it mass incarceration, family breakdown, and entrenched poverty, it could now replace it in the form of this shiny new war on guns. For many African Americans who seek to exercise their legal Second Amendment rights, the timing could not be worse for their own protection.
Shermichael Singleton is a Republican strategist and political analyst who is one of the founders and the hosts for the firearms show “Guns Out TV.”