Does the Second Amendment Protect Only White Gun Owners?

The most common refrain from gun rights supporters in the wake of mass shootings or other gun violence is that the best response to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Yet in recent weeks, we have seen two Black men, a group already disproportionately victimized by police use of lethal force, shot and killed by police while protecting those around them with guns they were legally allowed to carry.  

It turns out that not only are unarmed African-Americans more likely to be shot, but those who seek to follow the advice of the National Rifle Association and others to arm themselves may only make themselves more vulnerable. It is especially troubling that gun rights proponents have largely been silent when police kill Black people for lawfully using their guns.

For example, the NRA and President Trump — despite their embrace of the social media bullhorn — have not condemned the police for killing unarmed Black people. Moreover, they have yet to denounce police officers who kill Black people for possessing guns they’re legally entitled to carry. 

The police killings of legally armed Black citizens, and the refusal of leading gun-rights proponents to sincerely defend the victims, raises the same troubling question that both Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panther Party also confronted when they tried to exercise their rights to bear arms: In practice, do Second Amendment rights protect only white gun owners? 

The most recent example is Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford, Jr., a former Army recruit and a licensed firearm owner in Alabama, an open-carry state. The police department has yet to release the video of the incident, but we now know that Bradford was carrying his gun at a mall on Thanksgiving night when someone else began shooting — the kind of situation where gun proponents often claim that being armed will save the day.

Bradford responded by drawing his gun and “directing shoppers to safety,” reported The New York Times. But when the police arrived, witnesses say they shot him “within milliseconds.” The police department initially asserted that Bradford was the mall shooter and lauded his killer as a hero.

But it was wrong.

The department has since admitted this statement was “not totally accurate” in at least two ways. First, the officer shot the wrong man, and the mall shooter was actually still at large. Next, police admitted that Bradford had not “brandished” the gun but simply had it in his hand when officers approached. An independent autopsy has revealed that Bradford was shot three times from behind.

President Trump has had nothing to say about this tragedy. The most to come from the NRA is spokesperson Dana Loesch tweeting her surprise that the police have refused to release the bodycam footage. But even that statement took more than a week. As Black Alabamans and racial justice allies protested in the days following Bradford’s death, the organization said nothing about the reality of race in America or about how Black men are denied the right to bear arms that others enjoy. 

Instead of acknowledging Bradford, a real-life good guy with a gun, it tweeted a quote from its executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre: “To preserve our values and protect our freedom, America needs the good guys to step up like never before.”

And Bradford’s death isn’t even an isolated incident. 

Just two weeks prior, police officers killed Jemel Roberson, a Black security guard and registered gun owner, who responded when several men began shooting at the Illinois nightclub where he worked. When the police arrived, Roberson was doing his job: He legally had his gun out and had subdued one of the men with his knee in the man’s back.

It didn’t matter.

The officers shot and killed Roberson, even as witnesses warned them he was a security guard. Roberson has widely been lauded as a hero, and even the police department later conceded Roberson was “a brave man who was doing his best to end an active shooter situation.”

But again, gun rights proponents have been quiet. 

When Philando Castile was killed in 2016 after telling the police officer who stopped his car that he had a gun and a license to carry one — the recommended procedure for announcing the presence of a gun to an officer — gun rights advocates were again silent. The NRA said nothing about Castile’s case for more than a year.

When Loesch finally did offer a statement, she stopped short of criticizing the police officer, cryptically saying that “… there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently.” She suggested that an NRA Carry Guard card could have prevented his killing. But the officer shot Mr. Castile while he was reaching for his driver’s license and registration, so it’s not clear how having an NRA card in his wallet could have possibly helped. 

This equivocation is unprincipled. Whatever one’s view of the appropriate scope of the Second Amendment, it ought to extend to all equally, without regard to race.

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Anonymous

Hey spelling Bee champ (*research), maybe you should read the article huh? Makes some solid points that you should probably understand. Although, if you are unaware who the ACLU is then maybe all hope is lost. Not exactly an unknown org.

Anonymous

You do know that the NRA backed that gun control as well as the GOP that ran the state.........

Anonymous

Oh yeah, back when St. Reagan was governor...

Chris

Anonymous, if you knew your history you would know that the second amendment was established with race in mind. The southern states pushed for it to be able to quell any slave uprisings that might occur.

Anonymous

Your point aside about California's laws being racist (Since I'm not familiar with that law I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing with you statement about that), if you read the Second Amendment word for word and pay attention to the phrase that comes first in this Amendment because it's the more important one, you will see that the Founders fully intended for gun ownership to be regulated through a militia whose purpose would be to defend the nation against invasion as they hated standing armies.

Anonymous

So the police actually shot the wrong guy? So how is this a racially charged incident? He wasn't, by the author's admission, shot because of his skin color. Misleading Editorials like this is the very reason people have stopped trusting in the ACLU to defend the civil rights of the American people. You come across the very same as the white nationalist. Seems you are just as racially charged as the people you point the finger at.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels

Everybody is a racist, except these latté lappers won't admit it. It's not fashionable to be a racist these days.

Anonymous

The premise of this article seems kind of strange. According to the ACLU's page on the Second Amendment, they believe that the right to bear arms is a collective one. Under that view, the Second Amendment does not apply to any gun owner of any race.

You say that "Black men are denied the right to bear arms that others enjoy"; does the ACLU now believe (for the first time) that they have a right to bear arms? Does the ACLU believe that the permit system in Hawaii, where permits to carry guns are technically available, but literally every applicant is denied, is constitutional? Does the ACLU plan to support the plaintiffs in Young v. Hawaii, who are arguing that the law violates the Second Amendment? They won 2-1 at the 9th Circuit and are waiting for the court to decide if it will go en banc. There's still time for the ACLU to file an amicus brief in support of Young. Does it plan to?

The closing paragraph states that "whatever one’s view of the appropriate scope of the Second Amendment, it ought to extend to all equally, without regard to race". But the ACLU's position on the scope of the Second Amendment means that they don't believe it extends to anyone, regardless of race. How can these both be true? How can the ACLU chide Second Amendment groups for not standing up for rights that the ACLU itself doesn't believe in? How can they dismiss the silence of "gun rights proponents" when the ACLU's civil liberties proponents have been silent on individual gun rights for its entire existence? Why does the ACLU take the most expansive view of every civil liberty, except the Second Amendment?

The ACLU's website still says that its Second Amendment position is "currently under review and is being updated by the ACLU National Board in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in D.C. v. Heller in 2008". It's been 10 years since Heller, 8 since McDonald, and 2 since Caetano v. Massachusetts. How much longer does the ACLU need?

Happy To Explain

There is no logical inconsistency to believe the following two things simultaneously:
1. There is/ought to be no individual right to bear arms for private citizens, and yet,
2. If there were/we agreed with such a right, it would be disgraceful how asymmetrically it is being applied in this country.

There is, however, logical inconsistency in the people who DO believe in and fight for individual gun rights for private citizens: the NRA and gun's rights activists that the article criticizes are criticized not based on the premise of who should have private gun rights (a premise they don't share), but on the premise of how a "right" should be applied (to everyone equally - a principle that presumably they do both share).

Hope that helps!

tyler

What s/he said.
As a 40 year NRA life member, I am furious that the organization today ignores most of the Constitution and American history in its clumsy defense of the Second Amendment. I want my NRA back. Not all gun-rights advocates are alt-right kooks.
As a 40 year ACLU member, I am furious that the organization continues to ignore the plain language of 1/10 of the Bill of Rights. I want my ACLU to do its entire job. Not all lovers of freedom and American values are gun-banners or "collective right" advocates.
— cranky old Leftie

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