Two men were brutally killed by police this week for carrying guns. One told the officer he had a legal license to carry, and the other allegedly had a concealed gun in a state where carrying without a license is legal. But don’t expect outrage from the National Rifle Association.
The country’s largest gun lobby has fought tirelessly in recent years to expand gun ownership to all Americans, successfully securing the right for people to legally carry both open and concealed firearms virtually anywhere they want. In Louisiana, where Alton Sterling was shot Tuesday night at a convenience store, a license is not required to openly carry a firearm. And in Minnesota, where Philando Castile was shot on Wednesday during a traffic stop, people with permits can carry weapons, openly or concealed.
Before he died, Castile specifically told the officer Wednesday night that he was armed and had a license to carry, but was shot and killed anyway. “He tried to tell you he was licensed to carry and he was going to take it off. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend is gone. He don’t deserve this,” his girlfriend said in a Facebook Live video she recorded after the incident. Her young daughter witnessed the entire thing from the backseat.
The night before, Sterling was restrained and pinned to the ground after an officer yelled: “He’s got a gun! Gun!” An officer shot him in the head several times before another officer pulled the gun out of his back pocket.
More than 1,000 people were fatally shot by police officers last year. Each police shooting could easily play into the NRA’s narrative of government tyranny — a chance to call for arming civilians to stand up against an oppressive state that is literally killing them and their families. Each shooting could be a chance for the group to call for more “good guys with a gun” to protect themselves if they are stopped with a busted taillight and the situation escalates.
But the NRA has not addressed either shooting. Instead, the group shared news this week of a Pennsylvania homeowner who shot a man after an apparent home invasion and a Colorado man, a “good guy with a gun,” who stopped a robber until police arrived. Both incidents occurred in rural neighborhoods — the Pennsylvania town where the home invasion occurred is 100 percent white.
While the NRA loves to highlight these stories about using guns to punish criminals, they are exceedingly rare. Less than one percent of homicides in the U.S. occur during a home invasion and the rate of burglary in the U.S. has been steadily declining. Meanwhile, the reality of gun ownership in black communities, especially in cities, is much different.
While 61 percent of white Americans think gun rights are more important than gun control, 60 percent of African Americans hold the exact opposite position. Black parents are nearly twice as likely as white parents to say they worry about their child getting shot. Black parents worry more about shootings than about drug or alcohol use or depression. And 82 percent of African Americans say they “frequently worry about interactions between the police and young men of color.”
The fear isn’t unfounded. Four in ten African Americans have been personally impacted by gun-related violence. More than half of black millennials have said that they know a victim of police violence.
When black people decide to arm themselves in self-defense, as the NRA encourages people to do, the group doesn’t rally around their cause. The group has vehemently defended Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, especially when black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. It did not come to the defense of Marissa Alexander, who also shot a gun out of self-defense. Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, fired a warning shot after her husband threatened her, and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The NRA was silent.
The NRA was also silent during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, when the government used militaristic SWAT teams and tanks against civilians. Instead of calling out the government, the NRA only mentioned that gun sales increased during the unrest.
Still, the NRA wants to sell firearms to black people, who remain overwhelmingly supportive of gun control. The organization has put forth some clumsy attempts at minority outreach. At its annual convention in Louisville this year — where there was hardly a non-white face in sight — the group attempted to market to black people, highlighting videos in which black gun-owners discussed the threat of foreign terrorists coming across the border and “Islamic sleeper cells” in every major American community.
“I’m the National Rifle Association of America” the black NRA gun rights personality Corlion Noir declared in one such video, “and I’m freedom’s safest place.”
The lobby also invited black Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke to speak alongside Donald Trump and Wayne LaPierre during its major leadership conference this year.
The first words he uttered? “Let me be clear on one thing. Blue lives matter, police lives matter, cops lives matter.”