Who is allowed to have a gun in the United States? After the House of Representatives’ problematic proposed gun control measures and the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this week, the answers are becoming clear: people of color are not allowed the right to bear arms.
The House of Representatives once again tabled a measure to address gun control in the United States. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has decided to stall a bill that would prevent individuals suspected of terrorism from buying a gun after the most conservative members of his party complained that such a bill could violate one’s constitutional rights to have a gun. The bill would require the government to prove within three business days that there is probable cause to suspect a person of terrorism or connections to terrorist groups.
Some Democrats also oppose such a bill, asserting that it will not do enough after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Democrats are pushing for a bill that includes “no fly, no buy” laws, which would prevent individuals deemed too dangerous to fly on an airplane from buying a gun. Democrats also want any legislation on gun control to include expanded background checks for people attempting to buy a gun.
While I personally have no qualms with any individual having to wait a few days to access a firearm, we must acknowledge that any sort of terrorist watch or no fly list would be unequivocally biased against people of color and of Middle Eastern descent. The added harassment and surveillance that would come with being added to these lists is unacceptable. Any gun control laws must prevent and not add to racial profiling.
In addition, Philando Castile, black man who did everything within his rights as a person licensed to carry a concealed weapon was still shot at close range by a skittish police officer who saw Castile as a threat even as he complied with every order the officer gave him. He told the officer he had a gun. He put his hands up. He was still killed.
Further, although the details of his case are still murky, Alton Sterling was also deemed suspicious, dangerous, and worthy of death because he happened to be a black man with a gun. Sterling may not have done everything “right” in his encounter with police officers, but he did not threaten them, and he did not deserve to be shot at close range for minding his business and working his hustle, according to witness accounts.
How does the right to bear arms work when black people die while exercising that constitutional right?
Gun control opponents often bring up cities rife with gun problems like Chicago, which has very strict gun control measures. Black people die every day there, too. What gun control opponents fail to acknowledge, though, is the systemic violence that isolates African Americans in low-income neighborhoods with no jobs and no resources. Young men and women turn to gangs in order to belong, and the cycle of violence and retaliation results in killing after killing.
In response, cities rely on over-policing and mass incarceration to deal with the problems of gun violence, driving a wedge between community and police. Black men and women, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers die or go to jail as a result of access to illegal (and perhaps, legal) guns and state surveillance. The cycle continues.
White America’s gun rights are not equally applied under the law and never will be. The use of the police to dominate and control people of color who have guns in their possession is inappropriate and indicative of second-class citizenship. Gun rights advocates, if you cannot advocate for black people’s rights to protect themselves via concealed carry, cannot advocate for the crackdown on illegal gun sales that contribute to the deaths and jailing of the black poor, and cannot reasonably apply your gun laws without racially profiling a swath of American citizens, then perhaps you should not advocate for guns at all.
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