Are Gun Rights the Only Way to Show Conservatives Racism is a Problem?

Both explicit anti-black sentiment and subconscious stereotypes of black people (as more dangerous, more aggressive, lazier, less intelligent) are still enormous American problems, which negatively impact African Americans in all arenas of life — housing, education, employment, policing, courts and prisons, the media, and so on (see The Evidence of Widespread American Racism).

And if the infection of racism is so pervasive, one might muse, could it also affect Second Amendment rights, something held dear by many conservatives? It has in the past, as many gun control policies, some supported by Reagan and the NRA, were racist responses to blacks arming themselves. If black and white gun owners are treated differently today, might the knowledge of a sacred right being violated due only to ethnicity awaken those on the Right who dabble in white denial to the disadvantages faced by black people?

To begin this discussion, a meme comes to mind that read: “It’s only called open carry when the man is white. When he’s black it’s called ‘Oh shit, he’s got a gun!'”

If you felt the pull of a smile at your lips, you’re already partially “woke,” as much as you may not realize it. “It’s only called open carry when the man is white… If he’s black it’s called ‘Oh shit, he’s got a gun!'” is only humorous if you believe there’s some truth behind it. It hints at a world where blacks (exhibiting the same behaviors as whites) are seen as more dangerous, more threatening, more deviant.

Rationalizations that a white person might use in defense have, to put it bluntly, no basis in reality — and rely on black stereotypes. “You’re more likely to be drawn on or shot by a black person”? Not if you’re white. 84% of white people are killed by whites (the “white-on-white crime” epidemic?). Likewise, as the races still live very segregated lives, black people kill other black people the vast majority of the time. With so many more whites in the U.S., a white person’s largest threat is other white people. In 2012, whites were charged with 69% of crimes, blacks 28%. Whites led in categories like rape (65%), assault (63%), and burglary (67%), while blacks led in murder charges (49%, a lead of 1%) and robbery (55%). More minor categories were dominated by whites. Looking at all violent crimes lumped together, blacks committed about 20% of them. And of course, if we look at mass shootings in America, some 64% of them were committed by whites since 1982, verses 16% by blacks, a 4:1 ratio (see The “Black War on Whites” is Another White Myth).

For a white person, it would make much more sense to fear a white man with a gun. (Not that it makes much sense, according to conservatives, to fear anyone with a gun unless he or she starts behaving violently. Conservatives point out conceal carry owners tend to be more law-abiding; as the National Review editor put it in an article celebrating more diversity in gun carrying, “Anybody who is worried about concealed carriers needs his ruddy head looked at.” Really, why fear someone with a gun?)

Yet American society is characterized by the unspoken, unreasonable fear of black people. Surveys indicate about 60% of whites can openly admit belief in stereotypes concerning blacks like higher aggression or greater criminal appetites — but nearly 90% of whites hold subconscious (implicit) anti-black biases. One experiment looked at what whites thought when a white man and a black man came to blows. When the white man pushed the black man first, 17% of white respondents said this was a violent act. But when the black man pushed the white man first? 75% of whites characterized it as violent.

The police are more likely to become physically violent or draw their weapons at blacks than whites in similar situations. Many studies show why. “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing” showed how police officers associate innocent blacks with criminality and aggression. “The Police Officer’s Dilemma: Using Ethnicity to Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals” showed ordinary civilians in simulations are far quicker to shoot armed blacks than armed whites, and decide faster to spare an unarmed white than an unarmed black. “The Correlates of Law Enforcement Officers’ Automatic and Controlled Race-Based Responses to Criminal Suspects” found that during simulations police officers with anti-black biases shoot unarmed black suspects more often. “The Consequences of Race for Police Officers’ Responses to Criminal Suspects” showed police officers are more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed blacks than unarmed whites. Unarmed Americans killed in the first half of 2015 were twice as likely to be black than white. Blacks who were not attacking an officer when killed made up 39% of total deaths in 2012, way out of proportion to a small black population, 13% of Americans (compared to 46% of total deaths being white, who are nearly 70% of the American population).

These things are rooted in the fear of the “dangerous, criminal black man.” This fear exists even in the minds of conservatives (and liberals) who encourage African Americans to arm themselves. It affects liberals, conservatives, moderates, civilians, police officers, whites, and sometimes blacks themselves. So it should be no surprise if blacks who carry are treated differently than whites who carry.

The result of one amateur social experiment, where a black man and a white man each strolled around in public with a semiautomatic weapon in an open-carry state, should come as no shock. Watch the video here, then read on.

Each of these men had the right to bear arms in public view. Why, one might ask, should either of them be stopped by police? (Again, why not assume these are “good guys with guns”?) Yet though they exhibited the same behaviors while exercising those rights, the black man was treated as a much graver threat. This is a fine example of how the law is colorblind but those who put it into practice are not. Americans technically have equal rights, but discriminatory practices persist. Thus Tamir Rice, Jermaine McBean, and John Crawford III were shot and killed while holding toy guns in open-carry states, conceal-carry permit holder Clarence Daniels was attacked by a white vigilante who spotted his firearm, Philando Castile was murdered after reportedly telling an officer he had a gun on him and a license for it, and so on.

Many black gun owners say they are treated differently than white gun owners. “If you have a firearm or you scare the wrong people, you’re going to get shot. You’re going to get killed. The perception of the scary black man still exists,” one leading black firearms activist said. Owners understand that carrying can give them the means to protect themselves against crime in their neighborhoods, but know it can make them a target of the police or white vigilantes who may see a white man as a good guy with a gun but a black man as a “thug.” These feelings come from countless incidents, from the Castile shooting to everyday police harassment of black gun carriers to the story of Mark Hughes, a heavily armed black man marching in Dallas right before the killing of multiple police officers, who was wrongly made a suspect and hunted down.

More voices deserve to be heard:

After Earl Brown, a black man working security with a legal firearm, was killed by police in Lauderhill, Florida, his wife Gloria said, “Honestly, I hear the N.R.A. talking about the right to bear arms. He had the right to bear his that night; they just never told us he wouldn’t have the right to life. It seems like white men and police officers are the only ones who have the right to bear arms in this country.”

After the Castile shooting, a member of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a group of black gun advocates, said, “It terrifies me. Here I am telling black people: ‘Hey, bear arms legally. You’ll have a better opportunity to protect yourself. Maybe the law will respect you more.’”

Philando Castile himself had discussed the dangers with his sister, who reportedly said, “You know what? I really don’t even want to carry my gun because I’m afraid that they’ll shoot me first and then ask questions later.”

This is not to say misunderstandings, tragedies of police or vigilante shootings, do not happen to white gun owners, because they do. Further, these stories and the experiment above are anecdotal evidence, with sample sizes of one or two, not serious studies. According to The New York Times, “There is no data on whether legally armed white or black people are shot at higher rates in the United States.” So while there are many studies showing how blacks are treated differently by white civilians, judges, lawyers, the police, etc., there are no specific studies yet on how black conceal- or open-carry supporters are treated differently. But no matter where we stand on how grave a problem racial discrimination is today, we should all carefully consider the implications of the possibility.

If it is anything like other complaints of mistreatment, studies may soon exist to assure whites that this issue is not simply a confection of black delusions.

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