For me, being black and armed in America is intellectually taxing. Add the fact that I am one of the most recognized gun rights advocates in the country, and it can be downright exhausting.
As a black man, some people expect me to say that being armed and black in America is dangerous. My whole life I’ve heard that a black man with a gun is always going to be considered a threat. I’ve also carried a gun for years and have been pulled over many times while carrying a gun with no problems—and I have no plans of stopping.
Guns have done more to keep blacks safe in this country than being unarmed has ever done.
So, do I think it is safe to be black and armed in America? In truth, I think it is unsafe to be black and not armed in America. Guns have done more to keep blacks safe in this country than being unarmed has ever done. I also believe that the more black people arm themselves, the safer it will be to be black and armed.
Just consider: Harriet Tubman carried a revolver to protect against slave catchers and their dogs while she led black slaves to their freedom. Black civil rights activist Robert F. Williams obtained a charter from the National Rifle Association and set up a rifle club to defend blacks in Jonesboro, Ark., from the Ku Klux Klan and other attackers. The Black Panthers followed police around, armed with firearms and law books to police the police. C.O. Chinn was a black man during the civil rights era who was armed to the teeth and provided security to the “nonviolent” sectors of the civil rights movement. The Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed African-American self-defense group, was founded in 1964 to protect civil rights activists and their families. Black men used guns during the Civil War to fight for their freedom. And countless black Americans use guns every day to protect themselves, their families and others they love.
Guns keep black people safe. It is true that, compared to a lot of their non-black counterparts, gun ownership among blacks can come with a unique set of risks. But I believe it is important to realize that these risks don’t outweigh the benefits.
The first time I carried a concealed firearm, I experienced a wide array of emotions. I waited a long time for my permit to come in, so I was giddy with excitement when the wait was over. I felt empowered knowing that I didn’t need to rely on a police officer magically appearing if I were attacked.
But I also felt anxiety. I was a young black man with a gun, and up until that point, I had been taught that if a cop ever realized I had a gun on me, he’d more likely think I was a criminal than a legal concealed carrier. As a result, I took the painstaking effort to make sure my gun was completely undetectable. I even learned what signs cops look for to determine if someone was carrying a gun and made it a point not to do those things.
But one question remains: Why the hell would I, as a young black man, get a concealed-carry license and carry a gun on me 90 percent of the time if I believed all this? I decided to carry a firearm despite the perceived dangers from the police for the same reasons teenage gangbangers and drug dealers carry guns illegally—they are more worried about being caught without a gun by an enemy than with one by a cop. In the same way, on a subconscious level, I was more concerned about being caught without a gun by a criminal than I was by a cop when I was legally carrying a firearm.
The anxiety of avoiding the ordeal of being seen as a threat by police if you have to draw your firearm in public is not limited to blacks.
Note, I am not saying that I can’t become the victim of a cop or another armed citizen who, because of my race and the gun I carry, might treat me like a threat instead of another legally armed citizen. What I am saying is that those people are the exception, not the rule.
Since last July, there have been three cases in which a black good guy with a gun was shot and killed by police. At the time of this writing, these cases are still under investigation, so I’m not going to speculate on the motivation behind the shootings. But I will say that the anxiety of avoiding the ordeal of being seen as a threat by police if you have to draw your firearm in public is not limited to blacks. After carrying a firearm for some time, I began researching and learning more about the intricacies of concealed carry. I discovered that the question of what to do so you don’t get shot by a cop if you have to pull your gun in public had been a topic of discussion in the online gun community for years, by gun owners of all races.
Though we are fortunate to have the Second Amendment in this country, we also have a large segment of the country that believes anyone carrying a gun who is not law enforcement is a bad guy. Unfortunately, some who believe this become police officers. I believe threat identification and de-escalation have long been weak points of training in police departments. In a country with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, learning how to deal with potentially armed citizens at the scene of an active-shooter situation should be a top priority for all police training. Long story short, if you’re going to carry a badge and gun in this country, unless a person is actively shooting at you, shooting at other people who are clearly not a threat, or threateningly presenting a firearm, you should err on the side of the possibility that the person might be a good guy with a gun.
This country’s “mainstream” media machine, in its rabid attempt to vilify guns and sway people away from exercising their Second Amendment rights, has done everything in its power to push the image of bad gun owners as the rule, instead of the exception. Our media have excessively promoted the image of the armed, gang-banging, hyper-aggressive, violent black male, while at the same time pushing the narrative that all white male gun owners are potential mass-shooting domestic terrorists who hate black people. Are we then surprised that there might be incidents in which a good black guy with a gun is prematurely seen as a bad guy with a gun by someone who’s only image of a black man with a gun has been what the media have portrayed?
If such a tragedy occurs, the same media that have mastered the art of sensationalizing these incidents will breathlessly report and speculate about racial motivations, without having any truly relevant information or facts. They do this to insidiously reaffirm the narrative they have been pushing for years—if you are black and carry a gun, you will be shot. Ironically, the same media never talk about racist origins of gun control laws, or how most such laws were designed to keep guns out of the hands of blacks. Nor do they discuss how the very same violent image of black men they push today is the same image that was used in the past to scare unassuming whites, causing some of them to support those racist gun control laws.
Two years ago, I received a message from the mother of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black concealed-carry license holder who was pulled over and killed by officer Jeronimo Yanez when he thought Castile was reaching for his gun. The letter was a scathing critique of my response to the shooting. The part of the message that hit the hardest was her closing line: “You ain’t no exception; the same thing can happen to you.”
Admittedly, the letter made me feel terrible. But what was I supposed to do? Stop carrying my gun? Stop exercising my rights? What happened to Castile was terrible, and, like I said in my open letter about it, it could have been avoided altogether if the officer had conducted the stop the way he was trained to perform a felony stop. Nevertheless, cases like Castile’s are still the exception.
I know one thing is for sure: It has never been safer to be black and armed in this country than it is right now.
I know that’s not a popular thing to say as a black man in today’s political climate, but that’s why these cases are such a big deal when they do occur. And even then, the motivations behind the shootings are never clear-cut—at least not clear-cut enough to say that a cop shot a black guy with a gun just because he was a black guy with a gun, and not for some other reason, justified or not. As a result, these cases send my cognitive dissonance—about what I’ve been told my whole life, what I’ve actually experienced, what the statistics show, and what reality has presented—into a downward spiral where I second-guess myself into oblivion on these issues.
However, I know one thing is for sure: It has never been safer to be black and armed in this country than it is right now. There were times in the past when it was legal to beat and even kill a black person who was found to have a gun, or any other weapon, on him. Today, there are black gun rights groups, social media accounts dedicated to black gun ownership, black firearm instructors and black gun rights advocates. There was a time when it was not safe for blacks to vote, but we continued doing it anyway. Regardless of how dangerous it might or might not become to be black and armed in this country, I’ll continue to exercise my natural rights the same way black people of the past—who faced more significant and more consistent harm—chose to exercise theirs.
Colion Noir is a gun rights activist, lawyer, member of the National Rifle Association, and the host of the web series “CN Live” and “NOIR” on NRA’s live streaming network, nratv.com.