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Black Gun Owners Have Conflicting Feelings After Dallas Shooting Of 5 Police Officers


The deaths this past week of African-American men in encounters with police, along with the killing of five Dallas officers by a black shooter, have left many African-American gun owners with conflicting feelings. Those range from shock to anger and defiance. From our Code Switch team, Karen Grigsby Bates has more.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: When the Reverend Kenn Blanchard heard the news from Dallas, he says it catapulted him back to the racially charged violence of 1968, when civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and many black neighborhoods in cities across the country went up in flames. The evangelical minister says the anguish of this week felt similar.

KENN BLANCHARD: And I thought, wow, only thing that's missing is the cities are not burning. But the internet was.

BATES: Blanchard, who's known on social media as Black Man with a Gun, is a former federal security officer and firearms trainer. He's also a gun rights advocate and the father of a young man. The police shooting deaths of Delrawn Small in New York City, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. have shaken him deeply. So have the deaths of five Dallas police officers at what had been a peaceful protest march.

BLANCHARD: I was just twisted. I've been hurt all day.

BATES: Maj Toure had a different reaction. Toure is the founder of Black Guns Matter, a gun rights group that works in low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods to educate African-Americans about firearms. Many of the people in the neighborhoods he works in, says Toure, feel the police deaths Dallas are in some ways a consequence of the deaths of African-Americans in recent years at the hands of police who received little or no punishment.

MAJ TOURE: I'm not celebrating the loss of life on any side. But I understand why people are frustrated. And I also understand why some of those people feel like it's karma or chickens coming home to roost.

BATES: Toure knows that the NRA has had a strained relationship with many black gun owners, but he's a member. Toure sees himself as offering a grass-roots version of the controversial organization to his community.

TOURE: So I think that what we're doing over here isn't any different, you know, to an extent than what the NRA is doing on a certain level if you're talking about education, training and getting people to be safe and know about their Second Amendment right.

BATES: He also spends a lot of time teaching strategies to keep arguments from turning into gun fights. It's not a matter of who has guns, he says, as much as it is how and when they use them.

TOURE: More guns, less guns - nah (ph). More intelligent people, more intelligent conflict resolution, more intelligent educated citizens - that's the goal.

BATES: But historically, gun rights - or the lack of them for African-Americans - were constrained by institutional racism, says Nicholas Johnson, a professor at Fordham Law School who specializes in issues involving guns and race.

NICHOLAS JOHNSON: Those laws were racially neutral, at least on their face, but what the history of discretionary permitting showed was that they were administered in a quite openly biased way.

BATES: Johnson says going back as far as emancipation, many black Americans have always kept guns for self-defense, especially in areas where they didn't feel protected by the local law enforcement. He also notes that feelings of insecurity that often come after high-profile shootings like those this week can drive up gun purchases by people of all races.

JOHNSON: You watch the data that comes out from the ATF - whenever there is one of these sorts of episodes, we end up with record numbers of gun purchases occurring during that month.

BATES: Johnson says that's already apparent in a spike in sales after June's mass shooting in Orlando. He expects the July numbers will also go up. That could have its own consequences. More armed citizens, in turn, can make for jumpier police officers. Kenn Blanchard says he's drilled his son relentlessly on how to interact with police if he's stopped so the young man doesn't end up on the wrong end of a service revolver. And he follows his own advice. Still, Blanchard knows that's no guarantee.

BLANCHARD: Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do except for follow every rule there is and pray that it doesn't happen to you.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.