With A Growing Membership Since Trump, Black Gun Group Considers Getting Political

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7/10/2019 8:46 AM   

The goal of the National African American Gun Association is to introduce black Americans to guns and also instruct them on how to use them.

Some see the group as an alternative to the National Rifle Association for black gun owners, but it has some notable differences. Organizers say it is a civil rights organization that aims to build community and promote self-protection.

Since its creation in 2015, the group has seen rapid growth with roughly 30,000 members and 75 chapters nationwide. Leaders expect another 25 chapters by next year.

Overall, 4 in 10 Americans say there is a firearm in their household, according to a 2017 study by Pew Research Center. Broken down by race, 24% of African Americans say they personally own a gun, compared with 36% of whites and 15% of Hispanics.

"Black folks and guns usually get a negative stereotype reaction like: 'What is that guy doing with a gun?' " says Philip Smith, the president and founder of the group.

Membership spiked after President Trump was sworn into office, Smith says, attributing some of that growth to a political climate where people with racist views feel emboldened to talk about and act on those views.

Some in the organization say it is time to have a larger platform. Executives in the group are mulling whether to form a political action committee that would raise money and back candidates sympathetic with the cause. The primary focus of the PAC, though, would be to work on solutions between black gun owners and the police.

"Does law enforcement, or more importantly larger society, view black men with firearms in a certain way? Let's have that discussion," Smith Says. "That's a hard discussion, but that's a discussion we need, as an organization, to be involved with."

Smith and others are quick to point out that the group is supportive of law enforcement, but also make the case that carrying a gun while black can have deadly consequences.

The group talks often about Philando Castile who was shot and killed by police in 2016 after he was pulled over in St. Paul, Minn., for a broken taillight.

During the stop, Castile told the officer he was licensed to carry a firearm and as he reached for his wallet, per the officers' request, he was shot.

There was also Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., in 2016 and EJ Bradford in Hoover, Alabama in 2018.

It's impossible to know what role being black played in those incidents, but for Smith, "My job, and it's a very long-term wish, is to change that socialization process where [when] people see a black guy or a black woman walking with a gun, they won't automatically say, 'He or she is a thug' or 'He or she is doing something illegal.' "

On the group's name, some members call it "NAAG" for short.

Others use all the letters in the acronym: N-A-A-G-A, which, when said out loud, sounds similar to a specific racial slur. Smith says people have had a problem with the name since he started the group, "Some people thought it was offensive. I thought, and still do think, there's kind of an edge to it."

 

Read the article on npr.org >