More on Guns and Race

Published by the Author on June 14, 2010 at 12:01 am > Gun Related News > More on Guns and Race

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…

ALSO READ:  Research Shows Gun Show Restrictions Don't Prevent Crime or Suicides

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.

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  • James

    I'm Asian American and a member of the NRA. I've personally experienced many forms of racism growing up, but I have never let it bother me. The NRA is a very large organization, and there will be some "bad apples". In my humble opinion, the NRA as a whole is simply a big group of gun enthusiasts that defends the right to bear arms. Gun is an "equalizer", everyone is equal when you own a gun regardless of race or gender.

  • JD

    Through more years carrying a gun than I care to remember I have observed that almost all legal gun owners are level headed considerate people who respect guns and our gun rights. I doubt one can find another group this large to be as trust worthy as gun owners are.

    People will undoubtably not understand this statement if they are not gun owners too.

  • Cory

    Dude, I am sorry that you get pulled over for being black. I hate police who act like that.

  • Ben Voiles

    I am the writer of the letter you responded to in this editorial. I guess I should have mentioned that I live in the deep south but I didn't want to reinforce the opinions so many people have of Southerners in general.

    I was very impressed with your article and you are probably right that racists are just a small minority but they a very visible and vocal minority. My Dad is a lifelong conservative and gun owner and my brother is a retired Marine. Then both have teased me about being in what they consider an extreme right wing organization. What I would like is to read one editorial by the NRA not only denouncing rascism but explaining how it is hurting the NRA and all gun owners. The other thing I would like to see is for the NRA and other firearm groups to actively reach out and try to recruit minority members, expecially young people. I think NRA youth clubs in minority dominated intercity neighborhoods could be one of the greatest social programs ever devised.

    Thanks for listening. Ben

  • JD

    Ben I am puzzeled about the picture you pose of the south being racially profiled as a geographic region of something less than other parts of this country. In reality from my stand point a southern heritege is as much to be proud of as anyone elses' area of domain. I beg your pardon if I offend you or anyone else for that matter but racism exists in every area and it affects every person in some way or another regardless of our skin color or our dress or our homes. I am white & I feel it directed at me at times myself. I really believe that some people in every race feel they may be slightly above another human in some way and some people feel inadequate in some measure themselves towards others too

    regardless of their color or creed.

    This superior and inferior feelings is the very basis of racisim and is the problem

    that causes the unrest and tension among us all. Today we are overcoming much of this with a simple heart felt caring for others. I do think the introduction of target guns in the inner city schools as a competitive sport is a tool that can mend the feelings of many. Kids are not born racists they learn it by association. I can not think of another sport that can be learned by most everyone regardless of sex or race and it will be a skill that can be beneficial throughout ones life. How many of us throw a football regularly in our later years? When one learns to be a skillful marksman he will learn a responsibility to himself and to others and he will have the respect of others as well as having the ability to defend his family & himself against aggressers. Yes Ben you have a good idea about the NRA taking an interest in the inner city schools & the summer youth groups and organizations that may be created to

    advance shooting opportunities for city youths.

    Oh how satisfying it would be to help with a project benefitting youth and accomplishing it with a simple interest in firearms.

  • Lynda

    Thanks, Eric, for your article. It's doubtful a person could go to any organization, including religious ones, and not find some racists. Ignorance flourishes everywhere. No organization, unless racism is one of its tenets (the KKK for example), is all racist, obviously. However, to rid our nation of racism is a constant daily battle. I can't tell you how many racist emails I've received in the last two years from people who know I dislike that kind of thing. Don't know why they do it. To get my goat, maybe. Or perhaps they simply do not see the harm. I do respond to each one so as to leave no one with the thought I might agree; but it is painful to know that I even have to deal with this. But we must always give a reasoned answer to racist remarks. Of course there will always be those who think that any remark against President Obama's policies is racist. That is rot, too. I try to always remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It continues to serve me well.

  • Fred

    Excellent article Eric. It is so sad that the actions of a few can do such damage. But, it has always been so in our history and in the history of the world. What you do through your blog and other websites is well respected and noble work that is very much needed in our country. Perhaps if the real truth about our history and the contributions made by everyone of different race, creed and color reaches people, the tide will continue to turn. That's why the message that you are sending is important my friend. Thanks for what you do Eric and keep up the GREAT work.