I’m a Black gun owner. I have mixed feelings about gun control

The mass murder of elementary school students in Uvalde, Texas, and a white supremacist attack on Black residents of Buffalo, New York, have reignited the American gun control debate. Both atrocities have left me feeling more broken than I thought possible. As a Black, leftwing gun owner, however, I’m also struck by a feeling of unease.

I believe in many forms of gun control, but the conversation about guns on the left often lacks complexity as we scramble for a simple answer to an extremely complicated problem. I don’t have much faith that the government will protect me or other minority Americans from the kind of violence that the police ostensibly exist to combat, and I know that gun control laws have historically been used to target Black people, particularly Black socialists like myself.

I’m also not convinced that most current gun control proposals will even solve the problem. Consider the country’s deadliest school shooting, the Virginia Tech murders of 2007. The perpetrator passed his background check and used weapons that most gun control bans wouldn’t affect. A waiting period might have delayed his attack but his level of premeditation implies it was nearly inevitable. I feel sorrow for what happened. Yet I feel that as a society we tend to fight over specific gun control policies – some effective, some not – while ignoring the violent nature of the country we live in and the culture that drives almost exclusively men to commit mass murder.

I never thought I’d be a gun owner. I’m not particularly fond of guns. If anything, they terrify me. I’ve generally hoped my charming personality and acumen at fisticuffs would be enough to deter would-be aggressors; it wasn’t until the terror that I experienced during the George Floyd uprising that I, like many Black Americans, was moved to become a first-time gun owner.

I’d participated in protests and witnessed the sheer brutality of the Philadelphia police as they attacked my partner, threatened an elderly woman, and enveloped the entirety of my neighborhood in teargas. I watched Black parents flee their homes, gagging, eyes red, small children in tow. When I and others working as medical volunteers tried to evacuate the injured and elderly, we were met with pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons. On the other side of the city, police officers let white vigilantes with baseball bats patrol the streets. None of this buttressed my belief that the police existed to protect me from violence.

Around this time I, like other socialist organizers, received written threats. After a series of them, as well as a direct, in-person threat to my life made in front of my home, I buckled and decided I needed a weapon, and soon. Even without the specific threats, I was wrestling with a sense that society was on the brink. It may sound paranoid now, but to be Black in the midst of the George Floyd uprising and the tail end of the Trump presidency was a time to be paranoid. Guns and ammunition were sold out across the country. More than 5 million new gun owners purchased weapons in 2020, a more than 100% increase from the previous year. After a background check and a few days for the order to be processed, I picked up a gun from a store located in a man’s home in a dreamlike suburban cul-de-sac.

Despite owning a gun, I do think gun control is overdue and necessary. But I also can’t ignore the history of American gun control. Much of the modern debate around gun control began in the 1960s, after the state of California – with support, ironically enough, from the NRA – pushed through legislation in response to the Black Panther party and other armed militant groups. We must ensure that any new gun control laws do not disproportionately limit minority communities’ ability to own arms for reasons of legitimate self-defense, which may be impossible given that most laws in a country as steeped in racism as ours will inevitably be exploited to oppress the already oppressed.

There are moments in US history when the right to own weapons made the difference between life and death for communities of color, such as the armed resistance against the Ku Klux Klan by the Lumbee Tribe in 1958. And despite the common perception of the civil rights movement, many activists kept guns in their homes or were protected by those who did. There was a time when Dr Martin Luther King Jr was described as having an arsenal in his home.

To honestly address mass shootings, we must be willing to have difficult conversations about the complexity of all of this, and also accept that some solutions will involve restructuring our society. We have to accept that gun control may mean some people that reasonably fear for their lives will be left at the whim of fascists and police. We have to accept that mass shootings will absolutely still occur. We have to accept and analyze the reality that one of the most common denominators among shooters is their hate for women – as the Texas shooter, who shot his grandmother before carrying out his school massacre, sadly reminded us.

And we have to realize the racist nature of this country and its violent roots. The founder of Uvalde, Texas, was shot and killed in 1867, probably not too far from where the elementary school shooting occurred. His alleged offense was opposing southern secession and supporting the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. His blood stains that town just as the blood of millions of Indigenous people and enslaved Africans stains the entirety of the United States.

Gun control may be a good start to saving lives, but this country must be made new, and the lives of women, little children, and Black families made valuable. Until then, I sit uneasy.

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