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Blacks and Gun Control: A tale of two opinions


A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every Black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.

—Ida B. Wells


As has become commonplace, after the recent mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured—notably the worst incidence of U.S. domestic terrorism to date (aside from the mass killings of Black slaves and other disenfranchised groups in this nation)— the conversation surrounding gun control has once again been thrust into the forefront of political discourse.

Should there be reform by way of more strict background checks? Should weapons purchased at gun shows be placed under more scrutiny? Should private sales be more heavily regulated?

Most Americans would answer a resounding: YES.

On record, 90 percent of Americans are in support of these expansions to existing gun legislation. African Americans, however, are constantly and conspicuously left out of the conversation, though they—not the victims of mass shootings—account for the majority of firearm-related deaths in this country.

Blacks are more than twice as likely to die from gun violence as Whites, according to a new study that surveyed more than a decades’ worth of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2000 and 2010, the death rate due to firearm-related injuries was more than 18.5 per 100,000 among Blacks, but only nine per 100,000 among Whites. For Hispanics, it was just over seven per 100,000, and for all other races it was just below 3.5 per 100,000.

Most African Americans buy into the anti-gun rhetoric almost reflexively. But one must wonder about the likelihood that it plays into a larger ploy: the concentrated effort to disarm the Black community, just as has been the goal since the emancipation from slavery. From the slave patrols during that era, to the horrid and tragic injustices throughout the Civil Rights Movement, and even today with what could almost be described as “open season” on unarmed African American men—the impetus of the Black Lives Matter movement—it’s baffling, to some, that more Blacks don’t take full advantage of their Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

As simply put by Ricky Riley in his article “White & Black Guns: A History of Gun Control for Black People,” he states “We, Black people, can’t carry out our freedoms the same as Whites. We have to self police our actions so that the real police don’t show up to escalate things that don’t need to be escalated.”

That, in a nutshell, is part of the very serious issue at hand. Blacks have essentially been scared out of exercising their rights. But can they be blamed? When they can be shot down for no reason at all, (i.e. Bettie Jones who was shot by police “accidentally” for simply opening her door to direct police to her neighbors domestic violence dispute); for playing with a toy, (i.e. 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 22-year-old John Crawford, III); or altogether dying by “mysterious circumstances” at the hands of police, (i.e. Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray); it doesn’t come as a surprise that many African Americans opt to stray away from anything that might lead them to be viewed as a “reasonable” target.

Just this week, protests have arisen in Baton Rouge, L.A., after 37-year-old Alton Sterling was fatally shot during an altercation with police.

This leads Americans to hold divergent attitudes about gun ownership. About 41 percent of White households own guns, compared to just 19 percent of Black households, according to a 2014 Pew survey. And White Americans (62 percent) are more likely than Black Americans (54 percent) to say that gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger personal safety.


A survey taken of the employees at OW found that only two owned a gun—but for varying reasons. Some employees expressed a dislike for guns overall, while others cited having young children in the home as a deterrent to gun ownership. The employees who were interested in buying a gun explained that they would feel safer having one in the home, but haven’t taken the steps to procure one just yet.

To be sure, gun violence against African Americans is not a mainly a police/civilian issue, nor is it mainly a Black/White issue. Scores more Black people are killed by other Black people than either of the former. Which explains their attitudes towards gun laws and gun reform. In essence, most Blacks are much less focused on the infringement on their rights than they are with making their communities safer places to grow, live and work. And, most would agree that fewer guns on the street overall would be the best way to accomplish that.

But does this way of thinking come at a cost?

Gun control laws at their very core were created to be racist. The original purpose of these laws was to keep weapons out of the hands of slaves, and later, even freed Black people, to quell the irrational fears of Whites. In essence: gun laws were made to make sure that Black people didn’t kill White people.

As very poignantly put by historian Clayton E. Cramer in his article “The Racist Roots of Gun Control” he states, “Gun control advocates today are not so foolish as to openly promote racist laws, and so the question might be asked what relevance the racist past of gun control laws has. One concern is that the motivations for disarming Blacks in the past are really not so different from the motivations for disarming law-abiding citizens today. In the last century, the official rhetoric in support of such laws was that “they” were too violent, too untrustworthy, to be allowed weapons. Today, the same elitist rhetoric regards law-abiding Americans in the same way, as child-like creatures in need of guidance from the government. In the last century, while never openly admitted, one of the goals of disarming Blacks was to make them more willing to accept various forms of economic oppression. The analogy of disarming those whom you wish to economically disadvantage, has a certain worrisome validity to it.”

He goes on to say, “Racism is so intimately tied to the history of gun control in America that we should regard gun control aimed at law-abiding people as a “suspect idea,” and require that the courts use the same demanding standards when reviewing the constitutionality of a gun control law, that they would use with respect to a law that discriminated based on race.”

But the debate over gun violence has become so polarizing that many lawmakers—particularly at the federal level—have simply done nothing,

evidenced by the Republican-controlled Senate’s recent vote down of four amendments—two from each party—that would have limited gun purchases, including those by suspects on FBI watchlists.

“If you are on a ‘no-fly list’ then you definitely shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” said Philip Smith, founder and president of the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA), a civil rights organization focused on the self-preservation of the Black community through armed protection and community building.

Smith asserts that Blacks have been “brainwashed” into believing that they don’t need guns.

“There’s this misguided belief that someone else is going to protect us. Even dating back to the days of slavery, lynchings were happening and we still believed that someone was going to protect us. Until we learn to protect ourselves, nothing is going to change. Until Black people embrace gun ownership and send a strong message that if you hurt our communities there will be a toll to pay, we are expressing a limited view of ourselves and the value we place on our family and our community. Criminals are going to have guns anyway. So, by not taking the steps to protect yourself, you really are putting yourself at the mercy of someone else, and you’re like a sheep to be slaughtered.”

But Smith believes that attitudes toward gun ownership in communities of color are changing for the better. Membership in NAAGA is nearly 12,000 and a whopping 65 percent are women. “We are not extremist or political,” he says. “Ninety-nine percent of members are just ordinary people, and of course you’ll get the ‘yahoos’ who are gun toting at the coffee shop, trying to cause a scene and etc., but that’s a very small percentage.”

Smith encourages everyone to join the club which boasts free membership, and follow and support the organization on social media. For more information, visit

Looking to garner a different perspective, OW spoke with Senior Lead Officer Christopher Baker, 30, of the LAPD. “I support anyone that feels the need to exercise their right to legally own a gun. I think there is more than enough evidence, though, to say that although there are gun laws in place, we always need to do a better job with how we track and enforce them.”

Baker shared that he, being a product of inner-city Los Angeles, was never enamored with guns. “Outside of my service weapon I don’t own a gun at home. I have a child and gun violence already does enough to plague the inner city. The first time I ever held or shot a gun was in the police academy and I think that is fairly common among officers my age. Some older officers may collect guns and shoot for sport, etc. but it’s an expensive hobby, and honestly they kind of represent a different culture.”

When asked if a utopian society would be one where no one outside of law enforcement owned guns at all, Baker cautiously—and perhaps wisely—shied away from answering.

As we know, states with higher population of minorities tend to have stricter gun laws, California being no exception. This week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed six gun-control bills into law, including a requirement that ammunition purchasers undergo background checks and another that will require owners to turn in high-capacity magazines. The governor vetoed  five other measures, including one that would have expanded restraining orders to take guns from those deemed dangerous, and another that would have required owners to report lost or stolen weapons to authorities. The action is somewhat consistent with the governor’s mixed record on gun control. The laws will take effect next year.

“My goal in signing these bills is to enhance public safety by tightening our existing laws in a responsible and focused manner, while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Brown said in a statement to lawmakers.

Rightfully so, the youth are being asked to get involved in the conversation. High school students in Los Angeles County have a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship by submitting a short film or video on the impact of gun violence.

The Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles and the Violence Policy Center in Washington. D.C. this week extended their contest deadline one month to Aug. 1.

“In light of the increased national attention on the issue of gun violence, we want to give high school youth in Los Angeles County a platform to share their experiences and offer solutions,” said 0Daniel Healy, director of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles.

The Tony Borbon Youth Scholarship Video Contest is open to all high school students in Los Angeles County. Films or videos may be three minutes long or less.

The contest runner-up will receive $500.

The winner will be honored at a gala on Sept. 1.

Tony Borbon was a firefighter and activist who founded the VPCGLA and dedicated his life to preventing violence.

Regardless of what side of the gun control debate African Americans chose to sit on of course boils down to personal choice, but to quote Aldous Huxley, “that men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”