The National Rifle Association (NRA) is increasing its outreach to African Americans with a new campaign that links the Civil Rights struggle and nonviolent resistance to gun ownership, arguing that blacks need firearms to protect themselves from the government. The video is part of an effort by the gun lobby to grow the organization’s appeal beyond a mostly white, middle-class membership and attribute high rates of gun violence in some African American communities to “culture” rather than the prevalence of guns.
“It’s not a gun problem, it’s not even a violence problem. It’s a culture problem, it’s a poverty problem, it’s a history problem,” YouTube star Colion Noir says in a video posted on the gun lobby’s YouTube channel on Friday:
No one wants to fight for their protection, they want the government to do it. The same government who at one point hosed us down with water, attacked us with dogs, wouldn’t allow us to eat at their restaurants and told us we couldn’t own guns. [...] The only person responsible for your safety is you. Cops can’t always be there. Obama definitely can’t be there. Guy telling me to get rid of my guns when I need them the most, isn’t my friend, isn’t looking out for my best interests and doesn’t speak for me or the community that I’m part of.
Gun violence kills 30,000 Americans each year and disproportionately impacts communities of color. For instance, blacks “make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, but in 2010—the last year for which data is available—they suffered 56 percent of all firearm homicides.” The gun-homicide “rate for black males is 2.4 times as high as that of Latino males, and it is 15.3 times as high as the rate for non-Hispanic white males.” In 2008 and 2009 gun homicide was “the leading cause of death among black teens, and the rates of gun-related deaths are highest for black male teens.”
Teens living in dangerous communities, where guns are often easily accessible, are stuck in a cycle of violence: those who are exposed to firearms report “committing more serious acts of violence than teens who had not been exposed” and are “more likely to carry concealed firearms” themselves, perpetuating the cycle.
Some cities — like Minneapolis, Minnesota — have broken the cycle by treating violence as a public health problem. Just as Noir concluded, the public health approach suggests that youth violence is caused principally by a surrounding environment — lack of adult support, economic incentives to join gangs. But instead of encouraging residents to buy more guns, the city tightened its gun regulations, ensured youth had access to trusted adults, formed city job programs, and helped reorient kids who’ve already committed violence by reintegrating youth into the community. As a result, “juvenile-related violent crime citywide declined 29 percent from 2007 to 2008, and 37 percent from 2006 to 2008.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time gun advocates have sought to make inroads in African American communities. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh equated the fight for African American civil rights with opposition to gun safety and suggested that the movement could have better protected itself from segregationists had it been armed.