At the 30th Annual Gun Rights Policy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, last weekend, the president of the Second Amendment Foundation issued a plea to help ensure the survival of his group and others like it: Court minorities or else.
“There’s some facts we have to come to grips with,” Joseph Tartaro said at the second session of the three-day conference co-sponsored by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. “Within the next 20 to 30 years, the U.S. white population will no longer be the majority.”
The day’s topic was “The Gun Rights Battle,” and the 84-year-old had set out to tackle the waning influence of the “visible face” of the pro-gun community, which “seems to be predominantly white and Republican.” The only way to withstand political challenges to the Second Amendment in the future, he argued, is to empower pro-gun African-Americans and Hispanics to educate their own communities on gun rights. His hope is to spark an electoral groundswell that will start in cities and influence national politics. Politicians and pastors are a good entry point, he said, “since all of them are sort of grappling with the serious national crime and drug problem.”
“I know pro-gun white people can meet with urban Democrat politicians at the local, state and federal level for useful conversations when the way has been paved by pro-gun members of the minority communities,” Tartaro said. “The handful of big cities will able to wag the votes in their states, and a few of those states will be able to dominate the Electoral College.”
“And black witnesses are effective at giving testimony at legislative hearings,” he added.
Tartaro admitted that his “urban initiative” wasn’t ready for prime time — he urged interested audience members to approach him for more information — but its tenets include using pro-gun minority community members to attract inner-city teens and adults to free classes in firearm safety, history, and marksmanship. The programs are meant to build a “beneficial long-term alliance” between gun-rights groups and urban communities and their leaders.
“I’ve worked with some of them already in several cities, and the audience reception is always favorable from women and men, from people of all ages, mainly because they are interested in self-defense,” he said.
The ultimate goal appears to be the creation of a pro-gun voting bloc to counter the anti-gun sentiments often held by officials in big cities. Latinos and African-Americans, “along with the new legal immigrants from the Pacific Rim and the Middle East, will swell the influence of the predominantly anti-gun urban Democrats,” Tartaro warned.
Tartaro’s remarks were followed by a speech from Rashad Gray, co-director of the Ohio chapter of the National African American Gun Association, who urged his fellow members of the Second Amendment Foundation “to take this very seriously.”
“Over 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban cores,” Gray, a veteran and firearms instructor, said. “We need all the help we can get.”
Gray, the CEO of the Ohio-based company Urban Sports Unlimited, spoke of “a large constituency” of African-American gun owners in inner cities that few know about because “they never talk about it.”
“A lot of this has to do with the understanding in the community that the laws don’t work for them,” he claimed. “Policy was designed with a history going back through Jim Crow to take away their rights and their firearm ownership.”
Gray, who can trace his family’s gun ownership back generations, said his uncle, a gunsmith, took him shooting for the first time when he was six years old. “I fired a .22 down a city alleyway with a bunch of kids from the neighborhood,” he recalled. “Those were the days, you know? When they let you fire a gun in the city and not get arrested.” More important than the lesson in marksmanship, Gray said, were the words of wisdom he says his uncle imparted: “‘Being a black man and being a gun owner, it’s your birthright.’”
Earlier this month, Farah Stockman, a Boston Globe columnist, wondered why the Black Lives Matter movement, which has brought national attention to the deaths of blacks at the hands of white officers, does not include a crackdown on illegal firearms as one of its objectives. “I don’t understand why gun control is not on their agenda,” she wrote after the shooting death of her friend, Carey Gabay, an aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, adding, “It feels like they’re ignoring the obvious: If there were fewer guns on the street, there would be fewer shootings, including by police.” Her column later noted that the leaders of an offshoot of Black Lives Matter have openly speculated that gun restrictions lead to more, not fewer, officer-involved shootings, “particularly of black people.”
With influential Black Lives Matter organizers indicating a willingness to side with expanded gun rights, could a plan like Tartaro’s be a way that the gun lobby seizes that opening?
Not according to Dante Barry, executive director of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. “Just saying ‘We’re going to give black youth guns’ doesn’t consider the context: What are the conditions these people are living in?” Barry tells The Trace. “This puts more tension out into these communities and makes them more unsafe rather than safer.” He points to virtual reality simulations in which study subjects have been more likely to shoot people with dark skin than light skin. “Offering up this rhetoric — ‘we need to save you from yourselves, we need to save you to protect you’ — without actually providing power and agency over the community itself will ultimately be rejected,” Barry adds.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, gun violence is the leading cause of death for African-American children in the United States. And African-American adults are killed by guns at a disproportionate rate. In the aftermath of the Charleston church massacre in June, FiveThirtyEight analyzed U.S. homicide deaths by racial group and found that African-Americans are killed at 12 times the rate of people of all races in other developed countries. In America, African-Americans are eight times more likely to be homicide victims than whites.
Tartaro alluded to this uncomfortable truth when he expressed his desire to publicize the “beneficial influence of the firearms community as a partner, not an enemy, in urban affairs,” but did not discuss how the spread of legal firearms might affect gun death and injury rates in communities already beset by gun violence.