In a recent interview on MSNBC’s “Weekends with Alex Witt,” Charlamagne tha God championed the Second Amendment and urged Black people to arm themselves. He urged Black people to legally purchase firearms, train, and be prepared to use them to defend themselves and their families. His remarks came following the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery who was killed by two vicious white men as he jogged in a Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood.
Charlamagne’s sentiment on guns is one that I have long held. It is one I repeat on a regular basis.
In fact, following Arbery’s death, I issued a statement urging Black people and people of color to take seriously their Second Amendment rights. I was urging people who look like me to take seriously shooting, training, and the protection of our rights. I put this statement out because the police cannot always get to you on time, and the world is not a just place. I also released these remarks because we cannot assume that everyone who wears a police uniform is just and fair. The high number of people killed by police (1,099 people were killed by police in 2019 proves my point.
Consequently, my message to Black people across the country is the same today as it was a year ago: the only person you can count on to protect yourself and your family is you. God gave you the right to use whatever tools are available to defend your rights. Nothing—including gun ownership—should be discarded. I encourage gun ownership to my wife, my son and daughters, your sons and daughters and all Black people. I wish the Black woman in Baltimore, Korey T. Johnson who was recently chased and followed by a deranged brother, had a gun to protect herself. She found no safety at a hotel or from the police. My heart goes out to her and her running buddy.
The challenge is for Black people, Black media and allies to normalize gun ownership. We should be highlighting and showcasing responsible gun owners. We should be looking to Black organizations such as the National African American Gun Association, which offers firearms training, self-defense training and other services. They understand the cultural nuances of gun ownership and speak directly to our needs. We should be looking to people like Marchelle “Tig” Davis, a Black woman who owns My Sister’s Keeper Defense and teaches women how to shoot, stay safe and defend against threats. We should also be considering the perspective of people like attorney Colin Noir, who is a gun rights advocate with a plethora of online resources ranging from reviews of firearms, commentary on gun laws and educational content. We should also be talking about Black Freedom Fighters (see Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, Deacons for Defense and Justice, Robert Williams, etc.) who embraced gun ownership and protected their families and community in the process. Even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a concealed carry permit in 1956.
To go one step further, some even speculated that the gun ownership was central to Black people and their supporters surviving the sixties.
Instead, when it comes to Black people, much of the narrative around guns is associated with gun violence in Black and poor communities. I empathize with people who have been traumatized because of gun violence. I feel for those whose only experience with guns has been violent or negative. It is tragic and it is painful. But the narrative around guns and Black people must include the full range of experiences.
I want to challenge my community to seek out responsible gun owners and talk to them about why they chose to arm themselves. Further, even as groups attempt to reduce gun violence, we should be careful not to villainize responsible and legal gun owners or people interested in gun ownership.
The last thing that any of us need is more laws that will criminalize us.
Further, when we talk about gun ownership, we should be clear about two things. First, gun ownership in the Black community is not a new or novel concept. In “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible,” Charles E. Cobb Jr. debunked the myth that all civil rights advocates were anti-gun. Many carried weapons and openly questioned notions of non-violence at all costs. While beloved leaders faced threats on their life, families, and homes, and others were assassinated or faced assassination attempts, some advocates wanted to arm themselves. This is not a revolutionary response: it’s a rational one. You defend what you care about.
Additionally, in “Force and Freedom,” Kellie Carter Jackson offers a historical analysis highlighting the tactical use of violence among antebellum Black activists. Carter Jackson’s book details how African-American abolitionists contemplated the limitations of non-violence when it came to provoking social change. I am not suggesting that we become violent, but I am suggesting that there is a long precedent for considering arming ourselves.
My main point here is that the notion of gun ownership among blacks as “radical” is one that is advanced by people divorced from history and by people who benefit from Black people’s refusal to embrace all of our rights. Black people have always wrestled with how to protect themselves and their families. Today is no different.
Next, as we advocate for increased gun ownership among Black people, we must simultaneously change the criminal justice system to support and protect Black people. This means hiring district attorneys who look like us. It also means changing laws that make it illegal for people with felony convictions to own guns. Once a person has completed all components of their sentence and repaid their debt to society, they should have not only their voting rights restored but also their right to legally own firearms. Again, many of these laws specifically and disproportionately target Black people, and revoking a person’s voting rights or gun ownership rights does little to ensure public safety.
There is no question that Black people are over-criminalized. There is no question that we are profiled and harassed at a rate greater than most. To further ensure our protection, we must elect leaders who see our humanity and are committed to upending racist systems that dehumanize and ensnare us in the criminal justice trap. As we pursue avenues to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as gun ownership, we must also seek to change laws to ensure that the exercise of our rights does not become yet another tactic to criminalize us. We must elect anti-racist and progressive-minded district attorneys, sheriffs and elected officials who not only look like us but support the second amendment. Until we have people in office who are not primed to pathologize us, no one is safe.
Every human being has value. With that value comes a God-given right to defend oneself. Black people are not exempt. We must increasingly pursue all means available to protect our person and our families. We must also work to elect leaders who understand and support this. Gun ownership may not solve everything, but it will give us a fighting chance. Like the tools in a toolbox, each one has a distinct and designated purpose. No one tool will work for every situation or problem. But you can get a heck of a lot farther when you have options. Gun ownership is no different.
Michael Render, professionally known as Killer Mike, is an activist, Grammy Award-winning rapper, one half of the rap duo Run the Jewels, and host of the Netflix series, “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike.” He and his wife, Shana, own the SWAG Shop barbershops in Atlanta. He is also co-owner, with Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris and Noel Khalil, of the historic Bankhead Seafood restaurant in Atlanta.