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 (63)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

This whole exercise seems rather silly in that the ACLU doesn’t acknowledge, support, defend or tolerate the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, so why advocate for it applying more liberally to blacks, or members of other US Population minorities - whom you have conveniently left out of your article... Since ACLU doesn’t support arms in private hands for anyone?

And let’s get back to the racial overtones in this article. Let’s face it, you’re clearly advocating for a special privilege and recognition for black people over Hispanics, Asicans, Original Americans, South Americans, Pacific Islanders and European Americans. Why is that? Do you feel Black people are superior and deserve special treatment over the rest of society?

You owe it to the readership to address these racist beliefs espoused in your article.

So, it appears in the first scenario that you put forth to advocate for the racial preference to be given to black people in the USA, over other races, that the good guy with the gun was subsequently killed by subsequent bad guys with guns - and badges. This will no doubt be excused by the department and if it goes to trial, legal precedent will surely acquit the murderers of Mr. Bradford.

The 2nd example you cite - Mr. Castille, may not have been spoken about loudly by the NRA, but there were plenty in the 2nd Amendment advocacy community calling for his murderer to be punished. Severely.

The problem here goes deeper than the race baiting, superficial spin put forth. The problem is one that dates back to the beginning and the professional law enforcement lobby’s reliance on sovereign immunity, and special laws written to accommodate bad behavior by law enforcers. If you really wanted blacks to get a fair shake in the US legal system, you would focus on the unfair , special privileges given to police officers in the cases of use of force. They should have to be investigated by independent, unrelated bodies not involved in law enforcement and based on those findings prosecuted - or not, solely on whether or not the common law, statutory law or constitutional law was violated as a result of their use of force. Then you would see a fair treatment of all people.

EJC

Privelege for blacks over other minorities is not implied anywhere in this article. The problem is that blacks are disproportionately being murdered by police officers. That two "good guys with guns" were murdered in "shoot first ask questions later" style, when they were trying to save others from the active shooter, one doing his job, because they were black, when a white person, even if he is actually the shooter, would more likely be talked down. You obviously recognize this disparity, so I don't understand where you are getting that anyone is advocating that racial preference be given to blacks over other minorities. I do agree with you that, "unfair , special privileges [are] given to police officers in the cases of use of force. They should have to be investigated by independent, unrelated bodies not involved in law enforcement and based on those findings prosecuted - or not, solely on whether or not the common law, statutory law or constitutional law was violated as a result of their use of force." Do you disagree that this affects black people more than white people, and other minorities, though?

Anonymous

@EJC:

"Privelege for blacks over other minorities is not implied anywhere in this article. The problem is that blacks are disproportionately being murdered by police officers. That two "good guys with guns" were murdered in "shoot first ask questions later" style, when they were trying to save others from the active shooter, one doing his job, because they were black, when a white person, even if he is actually the shooter, would more likely be talked down. You obviously recognize this disparity, so I don't understand where you are getting that anyone is advocating that racial preference be given to blacks over other minorities. I do agree with you that, "unfair , special privileges [are] given to police officers in the cases of use of force. They should have to be investigated by independent, unrelated bodies not involved in law enforcement and based on those findings prosecuted - or not, solely on whether or not the common law, statutory law or constitutional law was violated as a result of their use of force." Do you disagree that this affects black people more than white people, and other minorities, though?”

it is most certainly implied from the vary categorization of the article on your site as “Racial justice”, and further alluded too throughout. How many non blacks are murdered by law enforcement as compared to blacks?

Really, to be accurate, we should separate out justified vs. unjustified killings. There really isn’t a way to 100% accurately categorize the latter, as over time the justice system has enacted multiple hurdles to law enforcement accountability. Did Vicki Weaver get justice? Murdered for wielding her infant baby. She wasn’t talked down. How about Salvatore Culosi Junior? murdered by police officer.

I wholeheartedly disagree that any one race is disproportionately represented in killings the same way I disagree about misrepresentation in traffic stops. In the latter, you almost never see the color of the driver’s skin. Are people killed unjustifiably by agents of the state in the USA? yes. should blacks get special treatment because of it? No.

Racism exists in the United States, but what used to be the last refuge of a scoundrel has morphed into what you charge someone with when you disagree with them. You have to be the first to allege racism because a counter charge of racism is never accepted publicly. The merits of the first charge of racism is meaningless, it only matters that you establish the proclamation as the article did. But the article’s superficial looking at 2 incidents was deliberately brief enough to read, inflammatory enough to enrage and virtue signaling enough to store the millennial feeling pot. The problem with the article premise is that there are numerous people and groups in the 2nd Amendment community who have disagreed with both of these killings, That would be a better story; why the NRA and ACLU are silent about these unjustified killings and others in the gun community rightly think that any approach by police will have to be defended against, or they might die. it’s a frightening prospect.

If we even entertain the discussion that blacks are overrepresented in unjustified killings, then we need to have the discussion about why that is, which will inevitably lead to representation of blacks in violent crimes as juxtaposed with other races. Is that a discussion ACLU wants to have? or is the premise that this should be excused and agents of the state should overlook this behavior for the black community, but no other community ( there are areas where whites, hispanics, blacks all are overrepresented in both violent crime and unjustified killings within the USA ).

Rev. R Vincent Warde

I'm a 2A activist and I would like to point out that there are many of us upset by every incident you mentioned. Is race a factor in these incidents? It would seem so on the surface. We certainly must be open to the possibility.

That said, there are other factors too. A major factor is police training, When the word "gun" is used as a command to open fire during range training, it conditions cops to kill anyone who isn't obviously a cop and has a drawn weapon. Many departments have stopped using the word "gun" and have replaced it with the word "threat" - which conditions cops to look at more than simple gun possession before firing. When people like the Milwaukee police chief threaten people who are licensed to carry, one wonders how committed some departments are to preventing incidents where such people are shot.

So, why does the NRA - clearly the largest gun rights group - tread so carefully around this issue? Well, it's not racism. The NRA has many black members, is actively seeking more and over 6% of the NRA board is black. Not as high as it should be, but approaching the percentage of the US population that is African American. These black board members were elected with a ton of votes from white members. So, if not racism, what is it? Well, a huge chunk of the NRA membership is composed of law enforcement.

It's time for law enforcement to be held accountable for their training and any racism in their ranks. There are well over 15 million Americans licensed to carry and minorities are the fastest growing group in the carry community. The status quo is simple unacceptable.

Rich

Dear NRA.....
Stop "negotiating" excuses to INFRINGE on OUR RIGHTS... If there must be background checks, let's try this idea... Are there any ‘legislators’ that are interested in a UnConstitutional Background Check?
Since SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED means exactly that..

Let’s try a “Background Check” that DOES NOT INFRINGE on anybodies RIGHTS…A FULL, IN DEPTH background check for ALL Politicians, Bureaucrats, and ALL government employees, and set MINIMAL INTELLIGENCE, JOB SKILLS AND CHARACTER QUALITIES that must be met before they can run for office, be appointed or hired.

That way, WE, THE PEOPLE, get a much better class of politicians and bureaucrats, as well as EMPLOYEES that can be trained to do the jobs they are being hired for.

Any bets on how hard the political class will fight to prevent it?

THAT would be a Background Check that nearly ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS will support and I don't much care if the illegals and their sycophants don't like the idea.

Rich

ACLU boards another place of moderation..

There is no such thing as "gun violence". This is a focus-group-driven buzzword and talking point to create an imaginary bogeyman as the main anti 2nd Amendment propaganda tool. There are PEOPLE who commit violence with guns, but there are many more people who commit violence without them.
And, since the term "gun violence" is a catchword/cliche, the title suggests an unattainable goal. People have been robbing and killing other people, using the weapons of the day, since the beginning of man on this planet, which identifies the real issue - controlling criminal impulses in humans, not the otherwise legal instruments they use to commit crimes.
Anyone who doesn't realize and/or acknowledge this isn't thinking, s/he is 'feeling', and our liberty cannot depend upon what anybody 'feels'.

Anonymous

So the ACLU’s contribution is to shame the NRA? Where’s its action to stand up for these people? You charlatans are simultaneously asking for donations to ”reclaim our civil liberties” and working to undermine them on the same page by trying to make “gun rights supporters” sound like some racist other group that’s one and the same as the NRA rather than a diverse group of people trying to preserve their civil liberties, as you ought to be doing. Where’s your work to correct the injustices you point out in this article?

Sergei Solyanik

It is unfortunate that ACLU chose to not defend people against violations of their Second Amendment Rights, the one and only right from the original Bill of Rights that they for some reason consider “collective”. If they didn’t decide to take up these cases, they could have helped make sure that Second Amendment applies to everyone.

Now, the premise of this article is ludicrous. It puts NRA and all gun owners in the same bucket, as if all gun owners speak with one voice. I have seen many gun owners who consider police shootings unacceptable and aren’t shy about saying so, in person and on social media.

All that said, NRA - which I am not a member of - focuses on systematic violations of gun rights by government bodies. Police is one government organization which has historically been supportive of gun rights. For example, in this election season voters enacted a package of gun control laws, and police leaders across the state spoke uniformly in opposition. This is why NRA does not take positions critical of police. Police brutality towards people of color - however reprehensible - is NOT a violation of their gun rights.

int19h

In this case, we have police targeting a person solely because they had a gun. There's reasonable assumption that they wouldn't be so quick to do that if the person in question were white. I would dare say that it does make it a 2A issue, it's just that NRA doesn't care about that one. Just as they don't care about the intersection of 2A and "War on Drugs".

Anonymous

After reading the article I don't see how the author either answers or disproves their question posted in the headline. Though the author does point the NRA's (as well as trump's) deficiencies in speaking out about Black "good guys with a gun" who were killed by law enforcement. In my opinion the headline is misleading, one might even say "clickbait". If the ACLU is looking to promote all civil liberties (including the 2nd amendment) as they should, then the ACLU should clean up it's act when it comes to this kind of (opinion) reporting.

Pages

Stay Informed