I recently received an email about guns, the NRA, and racism. Although I’ve addressed guns and race before, I feel compelled to take up the issue once more:
To recap, I’ve previously discussed the intersection of gun rights and racial issues at length. I’ve discussed the untrue myth that gun owners are all a bunch of racists, and the similarly untrue myth that the NRA is a racist organization. I’ve mention how time and time again, the NRA has stood up for the rights of minorities, as other civil rights organizations turned a blind eye. Along similar lines, I’ve written articles about the racist history of gun control laws, and how a lack of gun rights enables hate crime perpetrators to succeed in their attacks. I’ve also discussed my very pleasant personal experiences insofar as guns and race are concerned, in the states of Illinois and Iowa. Finally, I’ve discussed how those opposed to gun rights and armed self defense sometimes themselves play the race card.
Recently, I received an email from a gentleman who states that he has experienced racism from NRA members, and that he has left the NRA as a result. That email, sans any personally identifiable information about that gentleman, is quoted below:
I am a life long gun owner and until a few months ago a long term NRA member.
I have also been married interracially for 30 years and have mixed race children and grand children. I have noticed it for many years but much more so since Obama has been in the spotlight that many NRA members, while denying they are racists, insist on making very offensive racist jokes and comments. The favorites are “coon” jokes. Anybody that knows anything about the black community knows that “coon” is considered much more derogatory than “nigger”. I have heard this kind of talk for years but until Obama was elected I thought it was just a small percentage of NRA members. Now I don’t believe that.
I have not been to a gun owners event for two years that I was not subjected to extremely offensive racist jokes and even threats. Not threats directed towards me or my family but against coons and niggers in general. Here is a mild one. “Everybody go get your guns and dogs, we have to go kill some coons, they are in the White House.” That is one of the mild ones. The last event I attended was a Christmas party last year. Surprisingly, it was a couple of hours before I heard my first racist speech, maybe because it was at my house.
Anyway, after I objected the usual, “kill the niggers, speech, I was told I shouldn’t be offended because they didn’t consider my family “niggers”. Let me tell you I was unimpressed by their reasoning. I still support most of the goals of the NRA but I think the behavior of many of their members is alienating a huge number of law abiding gun owners in this country.
To be clear, as an African American myself, I recognize that racism is a serious problem in our society. I have experienced plenty of first-hand racism since I was a child, and in recent years have been pulled over without cause by racist police officers more times than I can count. I could write pages after page about racial profiling, and how even as an attorney at law there are those who see only my skin color. But I digress…
Getting back to the topic at hand, I am unclear how it is reasonable to impute the actions of the few people he describes to the NRA as a whole. Over 3 million Americans (about 1% of the population) are NRA members. That means that there are NRA members from every walk of life. Some NRA members are from the East coast, while others are from the West coast. While some NRA members are from the deep South, other hail from the Northernmost parts of the county. Some NRA members are elderly, while others are still in high school. There are NRA members who are die-hard conservatives, and there are NRA members who are very liberal. What ties together all those NRA members from different backgrounds is the shared belief that our gun rights are worth protecting.
Are there racist NRA members? Certainly (although, to my knowledge, I haven’t personally met any of them). But there are racist members in any large group, simply by virtue of the fact that the group is large. This is especially true when the group in question (as is the case of the NRA) is one that anyone can join by paying a trivial amount of money on the internet or by postal mail. Blaming the NRA and its millions of non-racist members for the racist statements made by a few idiots is unreasonable.