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


This is a hit piece, ive noticed sonce dems statrd their a ti 2nd amendment agenda this term ,more a d more hit pieces i really think that they are punishing law abiding people ,accidents happen ,i dont know what to say a the incidents ,but i would not give my guns up if i was african american ,this incident would make me want 2nd amend. More so because it was intended to stop overeaching authorities,which it seems if he was shot in the back,they over reached,but i will say if a cop shows up to active shooter and your gun is out drop it and put hands up while loudly saying good guy . Not foolproof but i mean cmon.then all of this media is just designed to firther drive a wedge ,why does america media want us divided? Couldnt they say" tragedy strick when officer accidently shot wrong man "and leave it at that ?why do they have to have headlines of the second amendment isnt for blacks or second amendment is only for whites ?,why dont they list all the times african americans have used the guns in self defense?ill tell you why ,cuz they cant get peolle to vots in their oppressive laws unless they skew everything ,maybe we should hold the media responsible for all of the mass shootings ,dince yhe study ghat showed direct correlation to media coverage a d celebrity copycat suicides and copycat drivebys from wannabe ganh members.


I've carried CC for over 25 years my biggest fear is being killed by the police . I carry to protect myself and my family .

Rev. R. Vincent...

I'm a conservative, white gun rights advocate - and I share your concerns. As you might expect, I'm an NRA member (it's a lot like belonging to a political party - it doesn't mean you agree with every stand they take). I think it's import for people to know that the NRA is hear from their membership on this issue. As a former police chaplain, I knew a lot of cops - and a ton of them are NRA members.

The NRA is not racist - in fact about 7% of board members are black - and they were elected by the membership. They are however, biased towards the police. This affects the stand they take whenever an legal armed citizen is shot by police, without apparent justification. Something is clearly wrong when so many black men are mistakenly shot. They are a small portion off those licensed to carry, but are the most frequently shot by police. As someone who is concerned with all civil rights, I must speak out about this. Know this, the NRA is most certainly hearing from their membership about this very issue.

As we stand for other civil rights that impact the 2nd Amendment right - such as due process - we do find ourselves on the same side, in spite of the ACLU's stand on gun control. Thank you for the times you have stood up for the rights of gun owners.


As a non-white gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment, I am just as disgusted with the NRA's (of which I am not a member) lack of vigorous defense of the rights of minorities who are shot by police for exercising their rights. (I'd say the same about Trump, but I don't believe anyone in their right mind ever even held out the slimmest hope he would ever voice any support.)

However, where was the ACLU? I get it: the National ACLU and many of their state affiliates believe that Heller and McDonald were wrongly decided, despite the fact that the collective-rights view of the Second Amendment is entire a post-1940 invention of liberal lower federal courts in reaction to the clear reading of US v. Miller, and their attempt to get around it. "Surely they can't mean what a clear reading of the decision says; they must have meant something else!"

Fine, like everyone, the ACLU is entitled to its own opinion. But, like everyone else's opinion (except SCOTUS's), it isn't relevant. The clear law of the land is now that the Second Amendment does indeed protect two fundamental individual rights: the right to keep (as in own) and the right to bear (as in carry - as explained in Heller) firearms for the purpose of self-defense. And, as a self-appointed guardian of the rights of the People, the ACLU is now duty-bound to stand up for those whose rights are infringed, especially if the organization has the gall to criticize others for not doing so. No, I didn't see the NRA out there speaking up for Jamel Roberson or Emantic Bradford, who were both clearly unjustifiably killed by the police for nothing more than being Black while exercising their Second Amendment rights. But then, other than criticizing the NRA for this, I don't see the ACLU doing it either.

When the ACLU gets over its own bigotry and gets around to taking on one of these cases, then I'll consider them qualified to have an opinion on the inaction of the NRA or their racial bias.

Facts Matter

"In stark contrast, Fryer (forthcoming)
finds that, conditional on a police interaction, there are no racial differences in OIS
on either the extensive or intensive margins"


Stay Informed