Worth Our Weight In Guns

Written by Asa Shaw for WARTIME Issue 3 photos by Nick Green @nickxshotz

Dawg, it’s complicated being Black.

Ever since there’s been a visible upsurge in school shootings in suburban America and a visible resurgence of muddle-headed white supremacists, people have started to talk more and more about Black gun ownership.

Black + Guns = terror, for most of America.

So when you talking firearms and our people, you gotta be clear. Malcolm X always used to say, “of all studies, history is the best positioned to reward our research.” So lets start there.
Back when Europeans were committing white-on-white crime en masse all over Europe, they were also advancing technology that would allow them to create more reliable gunpowder and firearms for war. These more reliable firearms would make their way to Africa and be used to terrorize African people and be used as one of the most important commodities in the slave trade. African leaders understood that with guns they could dominate other tribes in battle and expand their kingdom’s territories (the Dahomey and Asante were two major players in this regard). Thus, guns became the currency used to purchase the first enslaved Africans whose labor would be used to build the modern world. Guns and the oppression of people of African descent is and has always been, inextricably linked. Which brings us to the title of this subtext. “Black people were literally…(see title)

Our ability to carry and own firearms has been systematically suppressed since before the United States was even a country.

The year that enslaved Africans first touched down in Jamestown in 1619, there were laws on the books being written “That all such free Mulattoes, Negroes and Indians…shall appear without arms.” In 1857, our ability to bear arms would be further eroded in the Dred Scott decision, which said Black people were not citizens we were property, so no rights afforded to citizens under the constitution could apply to us, which included the Second Amendment. James K. Vardaman, a racist Mississippi senator, warned that the return of black veterans to the South would “inevitably lead to disaster.” He said that letting Black men fight in the military and defend the flag was a short step toward them concluding that “his political rights must be respected.” He knew that giving Black people combat training with firearms could be dangerous.

I get it though. Look at what enslaved Africans did in history without combat training. In Stono’s rebellion, in 1739, enslaved Africans raided a gun store, decapitated the owners and displayed their heads on the store steps. From 1791 to 1804 the Haitian Revolution would beat back the British, the Spanish, and the French to shock the world and create the first black republic. In 1831, Nat Turner would lead a rebellion that would kill over 60 whites and once again give our oppressors a taste of what happens when enslaved Africans were able to get their hands on firearms. 

Black people’s relationship to guns, like our relationship to this country has always been complicated. Even now, It is clear that Black people should be able to own firearms to be able to survive and defend themselves from attack, but we also need to make sure that firearms are not being used in our community to maim and destroy families. The idea of “Black-on-Black” crime  though, is a political tool for the right, not an actual statistic that says anything abnormal. Research shows that most murder is intraracial, meaning both people involved are usually of the same race. Crime is more about proximity rather than what you look like. Black folks aren’t more or less murderous than any other race. What we are though: is financially poor, and suffering from a historical malfeasance that breeds scarcity and desperation. The answer to reducing gun violence in our communities is not taking guns out of the community, because we need those to protect our communities. The answer lies in reducing scarcity and practicing gun safety, which means community firearms training, better jobs, better schools, better healthcare, and more mentors and programs for the youth. We shouldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, cut off our nose to spite our face, or throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We need firearms. Not only to protect ourselves and our families. But, to protect our communities from a rising tide of white supremacists and from the state infringing even further on our abilities to live and pursue an abundant life. Everybody should be strapped, respectively.

Our ability to do that though, has been curtailed through the suppression of our Second Amendment rights. Even the NRA for all its posturing about Second Amendment rights, in the 1960’s sided with the California government to pass a gun law that banned open carry in response to the Black Panther’s demonstration at the Capitol and when Philando Castile got shot by the police all they said was that his death was, “troubling.” They say one thing and do another. 

If it’s one thing I’ve learned from being a student of Black history it’s that “rights” are not these universal things that everyone has. You only have access to the “rights” that you can enforce. If you can’t enforce your rights, then someone will take them from you. One way to at least protect your right to life, is through gun ownership.

I believe every Black person in America should own a firearm. If you don’t own one, then you should at least be connected to a network of gun owners in your neighborhood that have agreed to protect your family when the time calls for it. Black people. In order to protect our lives and our communities, we once again need to be worth our weight in guns.

Until the government, military, police, and white supremacists give up their guns. My nigga, keep yours! This is not to be alarmist, this is to be realistic. 

Be safe yall, and stay strapped. 

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