I don’t believe I’d be here had [my grandfather] not pulled his two revolvers on two cars of Klansmen, hungry to lynch.


by Donnie Moreland

The first time I held a gun, I was afraid. The scenario was all too awkwardly cinematic to not be memorable. It was on a vacation with my mother to my grandparents’ South Carolina home. Sitting in their entertainment room, my grandfather entered with two guns. A magnum revolver and shotgun. He told me to follow him. 

My first thought was that not making up the guest room bed shouldn’t afford such a punishment, but I followed him out to his deck and beyond his few acres of land. Under a soft summer rain, he handed me the revolver, positioned me and told me to shoot at the stump of a tree he had chopped down. I loosened my body, aimed and fired. Pull after pull, of the trigger, my fear turned to excitement and that excitement to power. 

RELATED: ‘How We Fight White Supremacy’ honors the many ways Black folks resist

My grandfather is a staunch gun ownership advocate. Coming from where he’s from and when he was there, it makes sense, as it does for many of us—then and since. In fact, along both of my parents’ family trees, folks tend to lean more towards pro-gun ownership than otherwise. Until recently, I’ve been fairly indifferent. Maybe more pacifistic than not. But I understood why we, meaning my people, favored our right to protect ourselves. 

Hell, my great grandfather, on my father’s side, fended off the Klan on our family plot of Kelly, North Carolina land with his gun. I don’t believe I’d be here had he not pulled his two revolvers on two cars of Klansmen, hungry to lynch. 

I’m not the first to suggest something about the lived experience of Black folks and firearms. They are one way we’ve protected, killed and been killed, peacocked, migrated and negotiated space. I’d go so far as to say that the story of munitions is less an American story, and more the story of Black (and Indigenous) folks. How we’ve been shaped, moved and been moved by firearms and how they’ve fit into emotionally pragmatic translations of survivalism and resistance. But, no matter the debate, they will remain present if we remain here. So what is the meaning of a bullet, in that revelation?    

The Master’s Tools   

While Black self making and the gun share a strange relationship, white self making’s dependency on gun ownership contextualizes principal geopolitical attributes of our associations with firearms. The development of firearms, as weapon technologies, is a matter more of Euroasian geographies than of any matter to do with conquest. 

As anthropologist Jared Diamond attests in his work Guns, Germs and Steel, technology—especially technologies which would be used to promote violent expansions of empire—is consequential of the necessities of food production per population density, geographical dimensions and ease of technology diffusion. 

According to Diamond:

“Eurasia (effectively including North Africa) is the world’s largest landmass, encompassing the largest number of competing societies. It was also the landmass with the two centers where food production began the earliest: the Fertile Crescent and China. Its east–west major axis permitted many inventions adopted in one part of Eurasia to spread relatively rapidly to societies at similar latitudes and climates elsewhere in Eurasia… It lacks the severe ecological barriers transecting the major axes of the Americas and Africa. Thus, geographic and ecological barriers to diffusion of technology were less severe in Eurasia than in other continents. Thanks to all these factors, Eurasia was the continent on which technology started its post-Pleistocene acceleration earliest and resulted in the greatest local accumulation of technologies.”

Diamond contrasts the technological developments of people’s geographically isolated, due to water, cartographically inhospitable and large landforms-such as those in Africa, the America’s—to determine that: “All these effects that continental differences in area, population, ease of diffusion, and onset of food production exerted on the rise of technology became exaggerated, because technology catalyzes itself. Eurasia’s considerable initial advantage thereby was translated into a huge lead as of A.D. 1492—for reasons of Eurasia’s distinctive geography rather than of distinctive human intellect.”

Though Diamond’s cartographic illustration of technological developments map a story of circumstance, more than specific cultural aptness for design, the story of European expansion has been marked by some kind of ethnic ingenuity wherein the religiosity of colonisation offered a lens to view self, in reflection of technologies. Thus, due to some presumption of divine order, these technologies were exploited and a suggestion of otherness—especially in Africa and the Americas—for cultures without the presence of guns and mass transport. 

However, and as Diamond contests while contrasting the evolution of New Guinean technologies to Euroasian, specifically European, “The New Guineans whom I know include potential Edisons. But they directed their ingenuity toward technological problems appropriate to their situations…” But the creation of whiteness sustains a lie of being, which operates under a mode of ahistoricity which precludes contemporary American-ness that suggests something about guns and other war technologies as a marker of civic virtues, civic religions and nationalism. 

And keeping the created enemies of whiteness, and colonization, specifically of African’s and their continental/ diasporic descendants suppressed by said technologies and from developing technologies of equal measure, is endorsing a fabrication of world histories and firearms as some otherworldly arm of eugenic presumptiveness. 

Protect Ya Neck

There is a kind of irony when you consider Black folks across the Diaspora—but of my reference, Black Americans—using firearms as a means of perverting the religiopolitics of white gun violence. It’s a physical counter argument to the association of firearms with white superiority, that Black folks—and other parties in contrast of white supremacy—can acquire, operate and reshape knowledge of a technology which is supposedly evidential of white supremacy, against white proponents of racially oriented violence. 

I argue there is something cathartic about the likes of Robert Charles and Christopher Dorner. Folks who transform the symbology of the gun to a vision fulillfing the white psycho-sexual fear fantasy of Afro-barbarism, from something to do with religious sacrality a la The Turner Diaries

But more pressingly is the argument of Black gun ownership, as a resistance strategy—the ultimate subversion of a white supremiscist framework of social order. Whether the Black Jacobins of Haiti, Nat Turner and his rebel party or those enslaved in South Carolina via the Stono Uprising, the history of Black military strategy, to include the use of firearms, is one of the predominant revolutionary modalities which resurfaces in almost every site of new militancy efforts in America. 

Most recently, a Black Militia Group (Not Fucking Around Coalition/NFAC) marching through Stone Moutain State Park in Georgia—a hotbed of white supremacist iconography and member residency—reinvigorated this mode of Black radicalism often argued in our private spaces but, this time, disputed in the public domain. This often contended resolution to white violence is no better argued than in the rhetoric, and propaganda, of the Black Panther Party.

In the May 4th, 1968 issue of the Black Panther, a former weekly publication of the organization, an image of a heavily armed white family is followed with a line to include: “white citizens are arming themselves all over the country and organizing their communities not for self defense, but for the outright slaughter of black citizens.” The image is followed by notes beneath the title Arm Ourselves or Harm Ourselves, indicating locations where white Americans were forming militias in preparation to invade proximal Black communities and surveillance efforts by local police departments against poor, Black provinces. 

Four pages down, an image of a 12 gauge shotgun is followed by the words, “Gun Baby Gun: The Spirit of the People is Greater than the Man’s Technology”. Followed is an image of Huey P. Newton, with the words, “Huey Must Be Set Free” bordering the image before an article authored by Newton, titled In Defense of Self Defense: The Correct Handling of a Revolution presents the Panther’s methodology of radicalism as a matter of social inevitability. 

Black gun ownership as resistance against white terrorism

from a 1968 issue of The Black Panther Black Community News Service

from a 1968 issue of The Black Panther Black Community News Service

According to Newton, “When the masses hear that a gestapo policeman has been executed while sipping coffee at a counter, and the revolutionary executioners fled without being traced, the masses will understand the validity of this type of approach to resistance.” The aesthetic of this publication, partnered with the interior literary detail, projects an emotionally pragmatic absoluticity concurrent with the propagandized militarism of the group’s strategy, where historical violence is condensed, redistributed and weaponized to placate on the interiority of it’s readers, while endorsing a type of critical assessment of public cruelties which supports firearm use as a means of survival, retribution, resistance and a logical conclusion of post-Slavery subjugation. 

One may argue this mode of mobilization as extreme, but when systematic efforts were made to suppress black gun ownership, during the Mulford Act, in response to the Party’s lawful carrying of arms at the California State Capitol in protest, in lineage of the 1875 decision of the United States v. Cruikshank case where it was determined that the Federal Court had no right to protect new black citizens from having their firearms confiscated by the Ku Klux Klan, that you can begin to observe the state of affairs between black folks and systemic abuses-via weapon’s technologies-and absorb the validities of weapon’s oriented military strategy in reaction to a citizen supported police state.

RELATED: A brief history of reactionary white violence in America

The Meaning in “By Any Means”

As stated, my Grandfather owns a gun. My father owns a gun. As do many others, no matter their gender orientations, in my family. I do not. But this isn’t to suggest that I won’t, in a future tense. A firearm is a matter of grave consequence, fatal even, in its use and as black folks we know that-from wounds left over by the hands of others and hands the shade of our own. 

And it is in that consideration where myself, and my partner, invite as much deliberation on the subjects of self defense and violence, proximal to a knowledge of my history of suicide attempts, the presence of a toddler and a question of what absolutely necessitates ownership of one, as opposed to fulfilling a familial tradition of egoist posturing, less a requirement of home protection. Because though firearms service a specific political function, and have serviced even greater methods of protecting life, I’d be a fool to pretend that sites of tragedy are not plentiful, where these investigations did not occur. Sites where we, brothers like myself, offer up a more sinister meaning inside the barrel of a gun.

Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.