Fordham Law


Minority Gun Owners Face Balancing Act, Weighing Isolation and Stigma of Violence

Nicholas Johnson in The New York Times, June 14, 2014

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Standing in a small booth surrounded by displays for rifles, pistols, holsters and other firearm accouterments, the Rev. Kenn Blanchard signed copies of his book “Black Man With a Gun: Reloaded.” Amid the sea of thousands of white faces that descended on this city for the National Rifle Association convention in late April, Mr. Blanchard, an N.R.A. member since 1991, offered his reasoning for why he was one of the few black visitors.

“We still culturally have a fear that we’re going to be that lone guy out, and you don’t want to be the lone guy out,” he said, estimating that one in 100 people at the convention was black. “The exposed nail gets hammered.”

With his blog and podcasts, Mr. Blanchard is an avid proponent of gun rights and founder of the Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club, a national pro-gun organization for African-Americans. And he was one of very few African-Americans comfortable enough with the N.R.A. to be hawking wares here.

 N.R.A. Campaign Leads to Expanded Self-Defense LawsAPRIL 12, 2012 At a time when gun issues are volatile nationally and sales are increasing, minority gun owners — whether black, Asian or Latino — may feel that their weighing of the practical pros and cons of gun ownership comes up against the conservatism and unyielding stances of the N.R.A. and some other gun advocates. Mr. Blanchard said it could be a difficult balancing act.

Blacks are less likely than whites to own a gun. In surveys from 1973 to 2012, an average of 27 percent of African-Americans nationwide said they owned a gun, compared with 47 percent of whites, according to data from NORC, a research center at the University of Chicago. Even so, their attendance at the N.R.A. convention was minuscule compared with their rate of gun ownership, let alone their presence in the population at large.

Chuck Gueno Jr., 57, an African-American retired Marine at the convention who likes to shoot competitively, said the N.R.A. had “a stigma of being the good old boys, and people of color might be a little intimidated.”

Part of the stigma around guns among African-Americans can be traced to high rates of gun violence, particularly affecting young blacks and those who live in poor, urban communities. Blacks die from gun violence at more than twice the rate of whites, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Organizations like the N.A.A.C.P., the National Urban League and the National Action Network have spoken out against gun violence affecting African-Americans and other minority groups. Compared with the white community, “in the black community you find a greater propensity of people who know someone who has been shot, who know someone who has been killed,” said Marc H. Morial, the president and chief executive of the National Urban League.

High-profile killings of young, unarmed black men, like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, have further alienated many minorities. The N.R.A. has supported so-called Stand Your Ground statutes and laws around the country, which offer legal protection to people who use force in the name of self-defense.

In a Gallup poll taken in January 2013, 49 percent of nonwhite respondents said they were dissatisfied with the nation’s gun laws and wanted them to be stricter, compared with 32 percent in 2012.

For Chad Ross, 36, who served in the Marines and runs the Facebook page “The African-American Gun Club,” Mr. Martin’s death was a prime example of why “a lot of black people have a bad taste in their mouth about the N.R.A.,” he said. “Most blacks thought that Zimmerman had murdered that boy, and most N.R.A. types thought George Zimmerman was in his rights.”

Of course, not all blacks are so conflicted.

Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County, Wis. — a speaker at the N.R.A. convention who has encouraged his constituents, regardless of their race, to arm themselves for protection — said many blacks were not aware of their history with guns in America.

“The reality is self-defense, and the firearm played a key role in the freeing of the slaves,” Sheriff Clarke said. “So what I’ve seen as my role is just to re-engage the black community with their history and let them figure it out for themselves. But right now they are being fed a lot of propaganda.”

Eric Morris, an African-American who runs Black Wolf Hunting Club, an organization based in Killeen, Tex., said he got the “deer-in-the-headlights look all the time” when he told people that he was a hunter. He said his goal in founding the group was to get more blacks and other members of minorities interested in hunting. “When have you ever seen a picture of a black father and son or a black father and daughter out shooting cans?” he asked.

Other blacks cited recent events in explaining their involvement with the N.R.A.

R. Malcolm Jones, 33, a filmmaker who lives in Miami, said that he owned a gun for sport and personal protection, and that Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case had prompted some blacks to buy guns. “It’s only natural — when people feel like they are not being protected, they are going to take matters into their own hands,” he said.

Nicholas Johnson, a law professor at Fordham University and author of the book “Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms,” said blacks today were less influenced by the anti-gun views of many black leaders. “We are out of that stage where people look to the black political class as their savior,” Mr. Johnson said.

There are signs that gun proponents are gaining ground among minority groups. The scene at the Gun for Hire shooting range in Woodland Park, N.J., which was celebrating its first anniversary just days before the N.R.A. convention, was decidedly diverse. While most of those in attendance were white, black, Latino and Asian-American patrons also queued up to shoot and enjoy the hamburgers, hot dogs and handgun-shaped chocolates.

Ainsley A. Reynolds, 42, an accountant and N.R.A. member who lives in central New Jersey and is a regular patron at the range, said blacks like him also had to fight lingering stereotypes about who owns guns in America. “Typically, when you say ‘black’ and ‘guns,’ you are thinking about gang members and carjacking as opposed to law-abiding citizens like myself,” he said.

Alexander McLucas, 43, who works at a large communications company, joined Mr. Reynolds at the range. Mr. McLucas said he was considering joining the N.R.A. but added that the organization could do more to reach out to minorities. “We need some kind of middle ground to let the N.R.A. know that there are positive, young black males who use firearms properly,” he said.

The N.R.A. appears to be listening. It has added a diverse cast to its roster of N.R.A. News commentators, including Gabby Franco, a Venezuelan Olympic shooter, and Chris Cheng, an Asian-American who worked at Google and won the History Channel’s “Top Shot” competition in 2012. But perhaps the best known of the organization’s commentators is Colion Noir, an African-American “urban gun enthusiast” whose online video series, “Noir,” began on May 11.

Mr. Noir, who has a prolific social media presence, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. In a profile in The Los Angeles Times, he acknowledged that he did not fit the N.R.A. stereotype of “old, fat white guys.”

But Carl T. Rowan Jr., 62, a black N.R.A. board member and son of a longtime newspaper columnist, warned that despite the presence of Mr. Noir and others, the organization would not pander to potential members. “This is like any membership group — it has to be people who care about the subject matter,” Mr. Rowan said. “We’re not different than the Sierra Club or Greenpeace or any other group. We’re looking for the people who care about what we do.”