FERGUSON CREATES A NEW TWIST IN THE OPEN-CARRY DEBATE
A few days ago, Black gun-rights activists in Texas protested police brutality in Ferguson by exercising their rights to openly carry firearms through the streets of South Dallas.
Dozens of members of the newly-formed Huey P. Newton Gun Club, named after the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, marched with rifles, shotguns and AR-15s down MLK Boulevard. The ninety-minute, peaceful demonstration wound up at a restaurant where police officers were eating lunch.
It is difficult to imagine the process of interpretation, the tectonic grinding of signifiers within the minds of white, conservative, second-amendment, open carry enthusiasts. The dark uniforms and solemn looks alarmingly evocative of militant black activism from an epoch recalled without fondness; the unaccounted for and alarming consequence of the ‘open carry’ culture they exhort; the confused affirmation of the idea in principle of people walking down the street en masse laden with guns and unimpeded by anyone because they’re within their rights, grating against an even stronger reluctance toward the idea in practice; or at least in this instance.
Other onlookers may have simply paused in the street, narrowed their eyes for a moment, then shrugged their shoulders or even nodded their approval; though perhaps with a subliminal hope that the event was just a one-off.
It could be assumed that the black open-carry demonstrators care a lot more about addressing racial profiling and harassment and abuse of black people by police than they do about the second amendment; and it may even have occurred to some of them that if it’s okay for white people like Cliven Bundy to take up arms against the “tyrannical” U.S. government, then it’s only a short logical leap to say it’s okay for black people to defend themselves against what many see as the nation’s oppressive, racist, and overly-militarized police.
A few months prior, a controversial group called Open Carry Texas, didn’t endear themselves to African Americans when they intended, but ultimately abandoned, an attempt to march through an African-American neighborhood in Houston. “I’m going to tell you something homie, this is Fifth Ward, you ain’t coming in here running nothing,” a community activist informed them. In the end, they protested by eating fried chicken and and holding up “Gun Control=Slavery” signs in front of their congresswoman’s office.
There are variations as to the interpretation of open carry. Twenty states, including Texas, have what is referred to as permissive open carry. In this instance, a state has passed full preemption of all laws – limiting or eliminating the ability of local governments to regulate the possession or carrying of firearms. A permit or license is not required to open carry. In many places, you only need a permit if you wish to conceal a handgun. That means if you want to walk around with an AK-47, AR-15 or even a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun, no problem—so long as you don’t conceal it, or go around threatening people with it.
The open-carry advocate will argue that it comes down to how you present yourself. If you wear baggy pants, a backwards hat and open carry by shoving your pistol in your pants and tucking in the shirt around it, then you may be seen as a threat by citizens or police, no matter what race you are, they argue. The same prejudices will be levied against you as you will be perceived as a danger rather than a trusted member of society. If you dress in decent pants, a polo shirt, comb your hair, and use a nice holster to open carry on your belt, then you have a significantly lower risk of having any sort of overreaction to your open carry, again, regardless of your race.
This of course discounts the universally acknowledged reality, that, due in large part to the high statistical incidence of black gun crime, black men are susceptible to profiling from the authorities, who are going to be generally more twitchy and less willing to give the benefit of the doubt in open carry scenarios.
Paradoxically, in some instances, it might be safer for a black man to carry openly than to conceal. With open carry, the gun is right there for all to see and might preclude some of the “I thought he was holding a gun” errors.
This might almost seem like a glib consideration; but consider what happened in Beaver Creek Ohio, just four days before Michael Brown was gunned down. A young black man named John Crawford was casually browsing in a Walmart store. LeeCee Johnson, the mother of Crawford’s children, was on a cell phone call with Crawford when officers approached him. “We was just talking. He said he was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him,” she said, adding: “And I could hear him just crying and screaming. I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.”
The thing is, Ohio has permissive open carry; so even if Crawford had been holding an actual rifle loaded with real bullets, he was well within his Ohioan rights to do so, just like all the other open-carry activists throughout the country who walk around in public and visit major chain stores without so much as a police scolding, let alone a confrontation with police or an actual shooting.
Relatives of John Crawford say they’ve contacted civil rights organizations because they believe the shooting was not justified, and it will be interesting to see how that unfolds.
There is one notion that could disturb white, conservative, second-amendment, open carry enthusiasts even more than the sight of dozens of black members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club marching with rifles, shotguns and AR-15s down MLK Boulevard in Dallas: At a gas station in Riverside Ohio, in 2012: A white man entered a store openly carrying his weapon. Police confronted him. No weapons were drawn, and there were no commands to give up the gun, just a stern conversation. He was asked to provide identification, but he refused and was then arrested … and then released. Alive. The charges were eventually dropped, and he is now suing the police department for $3.6 million.
A black “thug”, wearing “baggy pants and a backwards hat” (or a hoodie, for that matter) enters a store openly carrying a gun. Police confront him. He is asked to provide identification, but refuses, and is arrested – and the situation ends up with him arguing that his constitutional right to have his gun are being trampled on, and he successfully sues the police department for 3.6 million. That could very well cause many right-wingers’ heads to explode.
Second amendment advocates will say they prefer open carry to concealed carry for these reasons:
Its my constitutional right
Its less of a hassle
Its more comfortable
Its more efficient for self defense
It makes people think twice before breaking the law in a violent manner to others
It deters criminals
It makes others (with common sense) feel safer
It encourages people to purchase a firearm of their own
Its a good conversation starter
Its the American way
While I acknowledge the sincerity and brevity of these points, it doesn’t alter the fact that, at the end of the day, if you go into a restaurant with a Glock, or a Remington 870 pump action, you look like a a total jerk off.