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.

View comments (65)
Read the Terms of Use


ACLU believes that gun laws and gun rights, such as they are, have to apply equally. To that extent, ACLU has been involved in many gun rights court cases over the years on the pro-gun side, because the nature of the case was discriminatory - e.g. when states deny the right to keep and bear arms to non-citizens. This is just another example of that.

Personally, I would love for ACLU to recognize 2A as an individual civil right. But they're explicit about their framework, and within their framework, what they're doing is perfectly consistent.


Cowardly anonymous commentator clearly either didn’t read or understand the article.


Not just the second amendment but the entire constitution.


Dear anonymous (first commenter), this article clearing states the way the police (government) in practice enforced the 2nd amendment looks to be racist. The article doesn’t say the 2nd amendment was written as racist, it just appears to be lawful (safe for whites to carry) and not for blacks (higher risk for blacks to carry). Please sign up for a community college English comprehension course. To bad your kind are against tax funded college education as this kind of misunderstanding wouldn’t happen as much.


Writing from Britain; this whole story is beyond weird. But until America becomes a civilised country- which it certainly isn't with its existing gun laws, these incidents will continue to happen.


We’ll be happy to repel your next attempts at imposing your ideas of ‘civilization’.

BTW, our regards to the Cornwallis’s

Johnny (Rotten)...

For a gun-toting nation, Americans are surprisingly passive.


The original purpose of gun control laws was to prevent Native Americans and African Americans from owning and carrying firearms. This was particularly true during the Post Civil War period when the South passed laws that implemented a may issue concealed carry permit programs. Northern states also followed suite with the full intent to disarm minorities and immigrants. The local sheriff or chief of police would routinely and arbitrarily deny applications for carry permits by African Americans. We still see elements of this system in place in different states such as California or New York City or New Jersey or Maryland, etc.


The ACLU's official position on the 2nd amendment is that it refers to a collective right, rather than an individual right, to keep and bear arms. It's pretty hilarious to see the ACLU criticizing another organization for failing to fight for a right the ACLU doesn't believe exists in the first place.

If this is a problem you people actually care about, you could fight for minority 2A rights. You are the ACLU, after all. But you won't lift a finger fighting for minority 2A rights because you don't really care that they are being deprived of this right to the point that they're being killed by police for exercising it.

I guess at least you're extending your view of the 2A equally - fight for no one's right to keep and bear arms, no matter what.


Sounds like a perfect opportunity for the ACLU to step up its 2A practice!


Stay Informed