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African Americans and American Gun Culture

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Maurice E. Henry, Jr.
Maurice E. Henry, Jr.
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>Maurice E. Henry, Jr. by Maurice Henry

Stefan B. Tahmassebi of the George Mason Civil Rights Law Journal indicated that the first recorded law restricting African Americans from owning guns was in Virginia in 1640. A century later, the 27 words of the Second Amendment made it clear that the people have the right to keep and bear arms. However, those 27 words are subject to interpretation.

After the Civil War, legislators of the South adopted Black Codes. Black Codes represented a series of comprehensive regulations that made the bearing or owning of firearms by African Americans illegal. The Black Codes essentially made African Americans vulnerable to any attacks. Justice Buford of the Florida Supreme Court justified two original Acts restricting African American laborers from owning guns in 1893, and also in an amended version in 1901. Yet, despite the pervasive gun restriction laws, African American inventor Clarence Greg received a patent for an early version of a machine gun in 1918.

The United States Congress overrode the Black Codes with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. The National Rifle Association (NRA) set up charters throughout the South to help train African American communities to defend themselves. These developments should have created momentum for African Americans to become more integrated into the American gun culture. What slowed down the momentum? Those of us that lived in the cities in the late 1960s can remember our parents telling us not to be in the front or back of the house when the clock stuck midnight on New Year's Eve. There was always fear of people firing a gun to bring in the New Year. Many people were killed by stray bullets on New Year's Eve. We also tended to associate guns with crime and were told that guns were a bad thing.

Today, it is speculated that there are approximately 300-million guns in the United States. The NRA indicates that their membership is approximately five- million. When you think of the American gun culture, the images you associate with it are of pickup trucks, hunting, and primarily White Americans. Those images are in fact made real by survivalists and the membership profile of the NRA. The most popular magazine catering to the gun culture, "Guns and Ammo", usually has not featured any African American contributors, nor have any been displayed in advertising.

Does the NRA see an opportunity to expand their membership and target the 30-million African Americans in this country? The NRA has taken its first step to tap into this market by using 29-year-old African American Colion Noir as one of its newest pitch men. Since assuming that role, Colion has been the target of criticism from vocal members of the African American community. He responded to it with these words in an interview with the LA Times: "Calling me an Uncle Tom simply because I am into firearms, it doesn't make sense. My entire identity as a black guy is based on my ownership of guns? Really?" Colion went on to say: "Some of the most influential black individuals have advocated the use of firearms, so how come when I do it, I'm vilified? Take a look at the Black Panthers, MLK and Malcolm X." Does Colion deserve the criticism? 
Gwainevere Catchings Hess, President of the Black Women's Agenda, Inc. points out that, "In 2009, black males ages 15-19 were eight times more likely as white males the same age, and 2.5 times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun homicide." The initial reaction against Colion's gun advocacy can perhaps be understood as based on the fear that he is adding more gasoline to an existing widespread problem. But do these statistics and generational stereotypes at the same time create a fear of African Americans with guns among the white majority? Could that be the reason why the gun industry is not targeting the African American market? Or is it using the statistics and generational stereotypes about African Americans to exploit white fears and further generate gun sales and revenue? The NRA could be attempting to introduce a new dimension of African American thinking in regard to firearms.   

Some have noted that the popular gun publications don't market to African Americans because the demographic is heavily populated in States that have strict gun laws. The thinking is that this fact may make the expenditure of advertising dollars merely symbolic, because the targeted customers would not be able to follow through on any interest generated by actually purchasing a firearm. That theory can in fact be scrutinized, because 2013 statistics published by Gallup Inc., Gun Owners of America indicate that 27% of African Americans and 44% of White Americans own guns. Assuming that the sample statistics are accurate, they show that almost 3 in 10 African Americans already own guns. Others have indicated that the African American gun culture is reflected in today's urban rap music and is associated with gang violence. With the demographics of the country changing, maybe the NRA and gun manufacturers realize that a shift in marketing may make sense. Ten years from now, the American gun culture may look a lot more colorful.

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Maurice Henry, Jr. has 25 years of High Technology Industry experience focusing on Enterprise Software. He is currently focused on Consulting and Project Management for Digital Marketing, Digital Analytics for the Internet Retailer 500 firms on the (more...)
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