How race permeates the politics of gun management

Watch CNN Films’ “The Price of Freedom” non-commercial on Sunday, August 29th at 9:00 pm ET.

Do you remember the murder of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man. In July 2016, two police officers stopped him in suburban Saint Paul, Minnesota. When Castile buckled himself into his seat and reached for his ID, he informed one of the officers, Jeronimo Yanez, that he had a gun – one he was allowed to carry by law. Presumably familiar with the horrors the police wreak on black Americans, Castile just wanted to ward off any trouble. But Yanez lost control and hit Castile with five of the seven shots he fired. Castile died later that night.

Rather than quickly condemning the shooting, as was the case with police officers killing white gun owners, the National Rifle Association first sought refuge not to say anything.

As Emory University Professor of African American Studies Carol Anderson writes in her new book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, “The NRA broke its silence only after excessive pressure from Afro-American members to lobby Prompted weapons manufacturers to make a lukewarm declaration that the Second Amendment “regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation” is applicable. “

The NRA’s superficial response to Castile’s death shed light on the way race permeates gun control politics.

When Congress actually passed a ban on assault weapons decades ago (a ban that was allowed to expire in 2004 in particular), there was general concern about guns in the hands of people of color – especially black Americans. Our modern Congress is now paralyzed as we increasingly face another dimension of the issue: the weapons of whites and the consequences of their controversial right to possess them.

Or as Yohuru Williams, history professor at the University of St. Thomas, says in the new CNN Films documentary “The Price of Freedom”: “Throughout our history, the fear that African Americans will have access to firearms and use them to the detriment of whites could is ubiquitous. “

Black self-defense

To understand this story, one must look back at the social and political piety that helped fuel the contemporary US gun rights movement. Think how in the 1960s fear of the Black Panthers played a role in motivating conservative politicians – and even the NRA – to push for new gun control laws. The Panthers, which were founded to challenge the brutality of the police, campaigned for blacks to defend themselves through gun ownership and “copwatching”.

It came as no surprise to anyone that the backlash against this vision of protection was quick. In 1967, in response to the activities of the Panthers, the then Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, named after Republican MP Don Mulford, who repealed a California law that allowed people to carry loaded firearms in public.

Two members of the Black Panther Party meet on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, California on May 2, 1967.Reagan later said of the bill that it would bring “no hardship for the honest citizen”. We can assume that this citizen was white.

“The Mulford Act criminalized the open carrying of firearms and was specifically designed to incapacitate and disarm members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense for demonstrating in public – the open carrying of firearms to highlight police violence against Black and brown people in California, “says Harvard University historian Caroline Light in” The Price of Freedom “.

Crucially, the NRA’s position on guns regulation was noticeably separated from the full second amendment until the late 1970s – when more and more (white) people began to view guns as a means of protecting themselves and their status, although unthinkable today arguments, as pointed out by Professor Adam Winkler at the UCLA School of Law.

Another gun rights attorney

How far away that seems now.

Despite a resurgence in black gun possession, the face of gun rights advocates has changed these days – rural white conservatives are now among the vocal supporters as the increasingly conservative and gun-friendly legislature and citizenship had relaxed restrictions on practically every aspect of the purchase , Regulated Firearms Ownership and Carrying in the State, “writes Jonathan M. Metzl, professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, in his 2019 book.” Dying of Whiteness: How Politics of Racial Resentment Kills America’s Heartlands. “"Judas and the Black Messiah"  and the enduring strength of the Black Panthers

“Politicians, commentators and advertisements supported by the corporate gun lobby have openly touted relaxed gun laws as ways for white citizens to protect themselves from dark intruders,” explains Metzl. “In the meantime, black men who tried to demonstrate their own right to be openly were attacked and imprisoned instead of being hailed as freedom-loving patriots.”

Compare this to the rhetoric of the 1990s when former President Bill Clinton said, when he signed the 1994 Act to Control and Prosecute Violent Crime (which included a federal ban on assault weapons), “Gangs and drugs have ripped our streets and undermined it our schools. “

It is the difference between overcoming the supposed specter of black crime – seen in gangs and their associated weapons – and protecting the property of white conservatives.

In other words, the US gun ownership hypocrisy is a carry-over of something undeniably fundamental: the country’s struggle to strengthen a racial hierarchy.

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