Black Americans do not have the same Second Amendment protections as their white counterparts, and it threatens their personal safety.
The failure to protect the equal rights of black Americans has a long history, and with guns, the recent cases of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have shown the police to sometimes react to black gun owners as suspicious rather than Americans exercising their constitutional rights.
“The two shootings give a strong sense that the Second Amendment does not apply to black Americans in the same way it does to white Americans,” David Graham wrote for The Atlantic.
Not everyone agrees with Graham. A trio of firearms instructors in Minnesota who teach conceal-carry courses, with “a deeply felt optimism about the reasonableness of police,” spoke with Leon Neyfakh of Slate.
They emphasized respect and compliance during any interactions with a police officer, as well as quickly informing the officer of whether the license holder has a weapon. Then, asking how the officer would like them to proceed.
They didn’t see race as a factor that could affect the interaction.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. The instructions and the advice are the same,” Mike Briggs, the owner of Minnesota Fire Arms Training, said.
However, Briggs said that Castile “did everything you’re supposed to do” in his police interaction, and thought “the officer had a short-circuit.”
The best advice can still put black gun owners at risk.
With regards to race, advocating for the Second Amendment and equal protection under the law can be difficult. Would-be black gun owners have sued the state of Illinois for denying them conceal-carry permits as black Americans have led a surge in conceal-and-carry permits. Some liberals have argued for gun control based on a belief that racism could cause unequal protection for black gun owners.
The NRA, Graham noted in The Atlantic, has yet to comment on the recent shootings, and did not respond to comment requests. Though the NRA, and the Second Amendment more broadly, have seen legal victories on the state and federal levels in recent years, respect for the Second Amendment has been uneven. Black gun owners aren’t as visible in the debate over conceal-and-carry across states, or aren’t the typical demographic of gun owners, which tends to skew rural and white.
However, more Americans have embraced expanded Second Amendment rights in theory if not in practice.
More Americans identify with the Republican stance on gun control than the Democratic belief in more gun control, according to the Pew Research Center, but extending Second Amendment protections for black Americans has been lacking.
“The history of gun ownership in the United States is dramatically different for African Americans,” the National African American Gun Association noted. The group, founded in 2015, promotes African-American gun ownership and training for self-defense and sport.
Citing the necessity of guns for self-defense against racist attacks during Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Movement, the NAAGA advocates “self preservation of our community through armed protection and community building.”
The reality of gun ownership, however, presents a difficulty. Assumptions about the legality of a gun owned by a black American compared to a white American can present a danger to African Americans who legally exercise their rights. If the police are already suspicious of a black gun owner, the interaction can be more hostile than it would be for a white American.
“Experts on implicit bias said that negative stereotypes of black people would suggest that they are at a greater risk of having their actions or intentions misinterpreted when they carry guns,” John Eligon and Frances Robles wrote for The New York Times.
That’s a problem for black gun owners and police departments alike. The breakdown of trust in the police for equal application of the law can make African Americans less likely to call the police when necessary. The reluctance to talk to police can make officers more standoffish and less polite when they lack cooperation in black communities. The results, as the country has seen recently, can end in tragedy.