A recent survey by the Pew Research Center states that for the first time in decades, a slim majority of Americans now favor “gun rights” over “gun control,” and a major ingredient in this development is growing African American support for gun ownership.
According to Slate, the Pew study shows that African Americans’ views on gun rights have swung dramatically in just the past two years, with 54% favoring “gun rights” over “gun control.” It is nearly double the percentage as in December 2012.
What prompted the change of heart in the African American community? Salon believes it has to do with the somewhat recent public awareness of police killings such as with Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddy Gray, Tony Robinson, and others.
Incidents like these prompted Samuel Mosteller of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—Martin Luther King’s former organization—to argue that more African Americans should “exercise their Second Amendment rights,” according to Salon. This is so that they might protect themselves better against police violence.
Salon writes that an April NPR story suggests that African Americans are also arming themselves to deal with the relative lawlessness of the neighborhoods many of them inhabit. In Detroit, for example, average police response time is nearly an hour.
Police are absent or overwhelmed, or they are part of the problem of violence, so in that case it makes good sense for citizens to be armed. Both arguments suit the NRA just fine, writes Salon. The gun lobby works tirelessly to arm ever more Americans, according to Slate, and expand the laws that enable us to carry guns in public spaces.
They drum up extreme levels of fear that support its radical agenda. However, Salon states that more armed citizens will not make police work any easier and if anything, they will only make it more challenging.
There is good reason to believe that police shootings owe a lot to the fact that so many of the citizens they “serve and protect” are already armed. With more than 300 million privately owned guns in America, police must presume that the citizens they pull over, even for routine traffic stops, could have a gun.
They must always be on edge, always fear the worst. This is evident in police shootings where police shoot first and ask questions later. In the case of Tamir Rice, police were on the scene for just a few seconds before shooting. What happened to shouting “Put the gun down!” or issuing other warnings? A similar situation happened in the case of John Crawford, who was shot in a Wal-Mart because he had a realistic-looking BB gun.
It was reported afterwards that the officers involved in this incident had only just been trained for responding to “active shooters”—i.e., mass shooters, like at Columbine and Sandy Hook—and “were taught to be aggressive,” according to the prosecuting attorney.
Race was likely a factor in these cases (Rice and Crawford were both African American). “But police error in similar incidents is compounded by the fact that they must fear armed citizens all the time,” writes Salon.
Some gun rights proponents would also like us to know that police are poorly qualified, especially in comparison with gun owners – an argument that is sure to degrade the situation even more. Some pundits even disparage the police. The often-quoted Fox News contributor John Lott made the claim in a recent column, when he criticized the New York Times for poor coverage of concealed handgun permit holders.
“Police are the single most important factor for reducing crime,” he wrote, “but even police commit crimes on very rare occasions.
“Even more law-abiding than police, however, are permit holders,” said Lott. He explained that “firearms violations among police occur at a rate of 6.9 per 100,000 officers. For permit holders in Florida, it is only 0.31 per 100,000.”
Salon: “Of course, one might simply point out, this disparity can be explained by the fact that police officers are called upon to use their weapons far more often than are armed citizens—so they have many more occasions to make mistakes; their weapon use is not limited to the firing range.”
(Updated Salon article credits)