When you see someone asserting their second amendment rights on a national level in the U.S., the person doing it is usually white and male. The image of a Black person advocating and asserting their legal rights to gun ownership isn’t really shown, and one might assume that gun ownership in the U.S. is a domain for white people. It’s not that proponents of guns for self defense in the Black community don’t exist; it’s just that they are rarely seen or heard from. This has created a narrative of gun culture being white.

I’ve long been a proponent of responsible and legal gun ownership. For some reason, the gun narrative promulgated in the U.S. seems to be one where you’re either a loose cannon who wants a limitless supply of guns for nefarious reasons, or you’re a reactionary whose answer to everything is a ban on all guns. This is the kind of person who wants gun control that is so strict that the populace will essentially have zero access to legally owning firearms or having them as a form of self defense, home protection, game hunting or recreation. Neither position is a rational one, in my opinion.

Negroes with Guns

What solidified my views was reading Negroes with Guns in college, written by Robert F. Williams. Everything in the book made perfect sense to me. It aligned with my innate views on self defense and self preservation. It is your duty to defend yourself, your family, your property and your livelihood. Who else has a vested interest in doing that but you? Self preservation should come naturally to anyone who values their life and the lives of their loved ones. I was always taken aback by how laissez-faire many of my left-leaning friends and acquaintances were on matters of self defense. They existed in a world based on ideals and not reality. I knew one thing was certain: should something bad ever happen to them or their loved ones, they would be defenseless.

Robert F. Williams and his wife Mabel
Robert F. Williams and his wife Mabel. Image: Negroes with Guns

We’ve seen the horrific massacre of nine Black people in cold blood at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. Following that massacre, Black churches have been targeted with arson. This is only happening to Black churches. These acts of terrorism harken back and remind African Americans of the horrific white supremacist terror they endured, which included church bombings, systemic arson and other acts of violent intimidation and aggression. The heightened concern is real and palpable; I see it. People are tired of just sitting around, hoping and praying that nothing bad happens to them as their government does little to help and protect them. You need to be prepared for the possibility of one day having to defend yourself and your loved ones from white terrorism and aggression. White supremacy doesn’t take days off.

African American Gun Clubs

Gun ownership is on the rise among African Americans because they feel they need protection. This has given birth to African American gun clubs, one of which is the National African American Gun Association. Of course, this isn’t just due to white supremacist attacks on Black places of worship. However, these attacks only solidify the reality that it is wise for Black folks to arm themselves. Self defense is an inalienable right.

I recently spoke to Philip Smith, the founder and president of the National African American Gun Association, to survey the landscape of African American gun ownership and his thoughts in general.

Atane Ofiaja: How did the group come about?

Philip Smith: It started in February 2015, in honor of Black history month. I moved to Atlanta from Vallejo, California many years ago. When I came to Atlanta, I noticed that gun culture was a part of life here and that it was mostly white. I saw few people like me when I went to shooting ranges.

Are more African Americans getting permits and arming themselves in self defense?

Yes. They want guns for safety and protection.

How do you get the message out to African Americans who tow the Democratic Party line of gun control and disarmament?

At this point, mostly by word of mouth and website exposure. There has been a surge of interest in the last few weeks nationally. Gun ownership with us has nothing to do with political affiliation.

African Americans are arming themselves in growing numbers
African Americans are arming themselves in growing numbers. Image: African American Gun Club

Do you think many African Americans tend to support gun control because of Democratic politics steering this discourse?

Yes I do. However, Black people of all party affiliations and walks of life own guns. We have lawyers, doctors, teachers, plumbers, blue collar, white collar, and just about everyone you can imagine. Many of us realize that we have to protect ourselves, and that we should not let outsiders dictate how we do it or mislead us in the process. It is your right to protect yourself. This is something Black people need to understand. You can’t sit back and expect someone else to protect you. You must do that yourself. We want to protect ourselves. We have relied on not having guns in our communities for too long. It’s not really a political statement, it’s beyond that. People don’t want to be robbed or carjacked. They want a fighting chance. They don’t want to be victims. There is a lot of interest in gun ownership from single Black women, in particular. It’s not about politics or what Democrats are saying. This is about Black self empowerment.

How has the response to your group been so far?

People have been very receptive, especially online. It continues to get bigger and bigger. We initially started with 30 people, and then it went up to 350 people nationwide with 100 people in Atlanta. We want chapters across the country. We want to emphasize legal and registered gun ownership, along with gun safety. We want to hold educational seminars with guest speakers and that sort of thing. Former military and law enforcement are welcome. We don’t want to alienate people; we are inclusive.

The Emanuel AME massacre in Charleston is fresh on our minds. What are your thoughts on concealed carrying in places of worship?

I generally like to say no to guns in church, but I can’t help but think that if someone had a gun, they might have had a chance to defend themselves; just maybe a chance to survive or kill the shooter.

Before I let you go, what is the social narrative and perception of Black people with guns?

The social narrative of Black people with guns is not a good one; Black men in particular. It’s never about legal ownership, protection, self defense, hunting or recreation. That has a white face. The image of a Black person with a gun is one of criminality. We want to change the narrative of guns in Black hands being thought of as a bad thing. Black people with guns are viewed like boogiemen. It is up to us to change that narrative. We are regular, law abiding citizens. I’m just the average brother walking down the street.

For more information, visit the National African American Gun Association here and on Facebook.