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

I wonder when the ACLU will start taking civil liberties seriously and join the NRA in defending our second amendment civil rights?

Anonymous

This article is good except it is disingenuous. The ACLU is broadly silent on protecting the entire constitution and all the amendments, which includes the 2nd. Their position, demonstrated through action, is to disarm American citizens and lawful residents through revocation of the 2nd amendment and place complete faith in the Police. The irony is the ACLU, through deeds and words, informs us the Police can not be trusted to protect and serve because the are biased, murderous and oppressive and unresponsive.

Anonymous

Why not embrace the full constitution and help do something about it. The ACLU has fallen victim to becoming the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party rather than a group that cares about constitutional rights the same way as the NRA went towards the republicans.

Millions of gun owners are not complying with unconstitutional gun control. In CT, CA, and NY millions decided to #resist and compliance with “assault weapon” bans is in the single digit percentages. It’s dangerous to support a “civil rights” group that can’t count to 10 without skipping 2. Which right will you ignore next?

Anonymous

How many gun rights has the ALCU supported? Less we forget that both Heller and McDonald supported by the NRA were African American. Just as the ALCU picks their battles with regards to the rights they choose to support the NRA must pick as well. And what are we really talking about, the NRA didn't provide press release? Why not critizes organzitons that focus on race relations? What gun rights has the NAACP supported?

Anonymous

Wow! They shot a BLACK MAN with a gun. I guess this means that BLACK MEN are not permitted to carry guns. Why did they shoot a BLACK MAN? C'mon people! This is a racist article meant to incite racial hatred to divide us. Can you not smell the coffee???? They did not shoot a BLACK MAN; on the contrary, they saw a man with a gun and shot him. In other words, the police messed up and should be held accountable. It has nothing to do with BLACK MEN. GET OVER IT!!!!!!

Anonymous

The fact that police are racist in their approach to black men with legal permits to carry and use guns doesn't mean the Second Amendment is racist. It shows how racists twist laws to serve their own bigoted ends.

Anonymous

I am incredibly disappointed in the ACLU for decrying the second paragraph in a document they claim to be ardent defenders of, except when it suits their biased agendas.

The ACLU recognized the importance of defending civil rights, even those they disagree with, when they defended free speech even for those with a horrendous and vulgar message in v. Skokie. They recognized the fundamental principles behind the issue outweighed the individual message

Yet they turn a blind eye to Poll Taxes and civilian disenfrsnchisement in states like California, which ban ALL black people from defending themselves with a firearm. Open carry, banned. Concealed carry, de-facto banned (as evidenced by Young v. Hawaii). A right that cannot be enforced is no right at all.

As Warren vs. DC shows, Joe Lozito experienced, Koreans undergoing hatred, bystanders hearing Kitty Genovese suffer, and countless others who have been "mugged by reality": it is not the right or innovation for anyone else to take action to defend you except yourself. Legally, practically, and psychologically.

Is the ACLU selectively color blind? Do they refuse to acknowledge that the ability for law-abiding black people to arm themselves, for defending themselves and their families, was eliminated via the Mullford Act EXPLICITLY because Sacramento politicians got scared of the Black Panthers "copwatching"? Shouting legal advice to young black people being harassed and arrested? This was before the age of cellphones and "ACLU Justice Watch app", mind you.

Or that the explicit reason for banning the ability for lawful citizens to carry a licensed firearm concealed, is because "it would have a 'salutary effect in checking tong wars among the Chinese and vendettas among our people who are of latin descent.'?

I'm incredibly disappointed in the willful failures if the ACLU to defend the whole in part and the mental gymnastics they've employed to justify that position.

I may disagree with your rights, but at least I have the conscience if character to defend the ability for law-abiding and respectful to enjoy them. Regardless of my personal opinion on those activities and pastimes.

Anonymous

It's not just about guns. AmeriKKKa has always been an institutionalized racist society on every level since Day 1. So what else is new?

Anonymous

I am a African American 60 year old female who received a citation for “disorderly conduct” in the village of Flossmoor for simply warning off a male subject who decided he was gonna beat me up because I refused to move out of my parking spot as he instructed me to do. I was cursed out by this guy then he threatened to destroy my vehicle and beat me up! Now I must take time out of my busy schedule to address this unfair nonsense which isn’t the worse of this situation, I think about the terrible message that has been sent to the youngester who tried to assault me! The killer is I didn’t draw a weapon, I announced I was concealed carry, armed and would shoot if he didnt freeze! He froze and backed off, then called the police to report he had been frightened and alarmed by someone threatening to shoot him, without hearing my story I’m given a citation for “disorderly conduct”! Then after hearing my side and seeing my credentials I’m told it’s just a citation, just show up and tell your story it’ll be thrown out! Why did I receive a citation? Why didn’t the person who tried to assault me receive a citation or worse? I think either some police municipalites don’t respect LCC black or white or they have not been properly trained, but as for NRA I’m a member and depending on the outcome we’ll see what they come up with... I however plan to move out of that town, my tax dollars can be spent and appreciated elsewhere.

Anonymous

A very good read. Informative

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