By Jeff Knox
(May 10, 2017) Maj Toure is an African American man from the mean streets of North Philadelphia. He describes a climate of gangs and widespread poverty, where only cops and bad guys are armed, and average citizens tend to think exclusively in those terms. This is a common condition in inner-city neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods where the people are among the most likely to fall victim to violent crime.
Toure thinks this is just wrong, and he’s determined to change things. Awareness that the right to arms is not something reserved to old white guys with NRA baseball caps has been growing in minority communities like Maj’s in recent years. But awareness of the laws and responsibilities surrounding that right, have been slower in coming. Maj has known several people from his neighborhood who decided that exercising their right to arms was a valid and prudent thing to do, but then ended up in legal trouble because, while Pennsylvania is an open carry state, Philadelphia requires citizens to get a city permit before they can exercise that right. As in so many other places, violations of gun laws in Philadelphia are dealt with harshly, sometimes even more harshly than actual crimes. Consequently many people with no criminal intent being convicted of felonious weapons violations, simply for exercising their rights.
The rights community rallied around Shaneen Allen, an African American mom, when she unwittingly drove into New Jersey with her licensed, concealed carry firearm, and we managed to get her pardoned by Governor Chris Christie, as well as getting some enforcement policies in the state changed. But when young black men in Philadelphia are caught up in draconian laws, there is rarely any interest from rights groups wanting to help build a legal defense. At the same time there are few programs to teach residents of inner-city communities how to use guns safely and to navigate the legal maze surrounding guns in their cities. Moreover, even if there were more instructional programs being offered by groups like the NRA, it would be difficult to convince the locals to participate because mistrust of organizations dominated by older whites is common within minority communities.
That’s where Maj and “Black Guns Matter” come in. Maj sought out education about firearms laws and regulations, as well as safety training, and practical and legal issues surrounding carry and self-defense, then he began teaching what he learned to his neighbors. As a member of the community, Maj’s advice and training were welcomed and embraced, and he quickly began making a difference. Seeing his success, other similar communities began calling on him to bring his training into their neighborhoods.
Maj is not the only African American training inner-city residents in the safe and lawful use of guns, but his activities have captured a lot of attention, and have been widely applauded by gun rights groups. Unfortunately applause doesn’t pay the bills, so Maj, like others pursuing similar courses, has so far depended on support from social media campaigns and small donations to keep the information flowing. Up to this point, that has been a bit of an advantage. Not being affiliated with a large group like the NRA or the firearms industry has given Maj autonomy, and protected him from accusations of being a shill for those groups. But now that Black Guns Matter has reached some prominence and earned a reputation of working exclusively for the communities it serves, it’s time for the gun rights establishment to step up and offer some financial support.
One of the challenges with this is that the support has to be free of strings and obligations. Maj Toure and Black Guns Matter must continue to be independent operators, spreading their message of rights and responsibilities without concern for the political goals of outside organizations. Anything else would dilute the message and marginalize the messenger.
Outside of the gun issue, Maj Toure probably holds political views that are far different than those of the mainstream gun culture, and it’s a certainty that his audiences do. His, and his audience’s perceptions of hot-button topics like racism and police brutality are informed from a very different perspective than the views of the middle-aged, white men who make up the majority of gun groups. None of that is likely to change any time soon, but those differences shouldn’t play a role in financing the education efforts.
What matters is not our differences, but our similarities. We in the rights community claim that support for the Second Amendment is our number one priority, so let’s prove that by making sure the Second Amendment is fully available to everyone – even those with whom we might share little else.
It used to be common for newspapers to print at the top of their editorial pages, a quote (commonly attributed to Voltaire, but actually penned by one of his biographers): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death for your right to say it.” While the quote might not have been Voltaire’s, the sentiment was, and it was a sentiment shared by our founding fathers. We must apply a similar sentiment to the Second Amendment. While we might not agree on many things, we must stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of each others’ rights.
To support Black Guns Matter directly, you can go to www.GoFundMe.com/BlackGunsMatter or their website; www.OfficialBlackGunsMatter.org. To help fund them indirectly, share this article within the firearms community, especially industry executives, and leaders of groups that you already donate to. A grant of a few thousand dollars could make a huge impact on this important work.