*This post is part of the ACSblog Symposium on Policing and Race Relations.
Alton Sterling was murdered because he was selling CDs at a gas station and police thought he might have a gun. Louisiana law allows any person over the age of 17 to openly carry a firearm without a permit. Philando Castile was murdered during a traffic stop because he informed a police officer that he had a concealed carry permit and was, in fact, lawfully carrying a firearm. The National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun rights organization, has been silent on both murders.
There is really no mystery in the NRA’s silence. Though it peddles an interpretation of the Second Amendment that provides an absolute right to carry nearly any gun, anywhere, anytime, that interpretation comes with a notable asterisk: under no circumstance should a person of color be allowed to own or carry a gun. In fact, much of the NRA’s appeal to its members is couched in the need for white gun owners to protect themselves from these dangerous others. The NRA’s pitch is premised on the idea that good, wholesome white people need guns to protect themselves from violent criminals who will invade their homes or accost them on the streets. The NRA is fomenting this white panic despite the fact that the U.S. is experiencing historically low rates of violent crime.
In addition to its more official pronouncements, the NRA’s leadership seems incapable of disguising its racist id. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre believes that to solve our gun violence problem we must get guns out of the hands of “thugs” by “direct(ing) every federal jurisdiction to round up every felon, drug dealer and gangbanger with a gun.” No need to limit the availability of illegal guns by closing the gun show and private seller loopholes or cracking down on strawman purchases—just throw more young black men in jail. NRA board member Ted Nugent, eschewing the subtly of LaPierre, has defended South African apartheid (explaining that “not all men are created equal”) and has called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” He’s also proven himself comfortable with casually using racial epithets and invoking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
The NRA’s racial appeals, hypocrisy and double standard on gun rights would be troubling enough, if that was as far as it went. Unfortunately, the NRA insists on using its political weight to oppose nearly all common sense measures to curtail the availability of firearms, whether through a more robust and comprehensive system of background checks or limits on the types of guns that can be sold. At the same time, it exploits its members’ fear of potential gun control measures to drive up firearm and ammunition sales, a service to the gun manufacturers for whom the NRA is a front. The result is a nation that has an estimated 357 million guns. That’s more guns than people. With less than five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has somewhere between 35 and 50 percent of the civilian owned guns.