By Moses Kamuiru.

A test of constitutional agency

Given that white Americans have led the liberalization of gun laws in the past decade, black gun carry is becoming a test of legal agency, injecting what University of Arizona gun culture expert Jennifer Carlson calls the specter of “legitimate violence” into an already tense political climate. Incidents like the June acquittal of the Minnesota police officer who shot Philando Castile, a legal gun owner, during a traffic stop have added to that tension, gun owners like Smith say – as did the National Rifle Association’s silence over both his shooting and the verdict. For some black gun owners, the question is a stark one: Can African-Americans reasonably expect to be covered by the Second Amendment in a country still marbled by racist rhetoric, attitudes, and acts?

In one way, “it is saddening and troubling how much hopelessness there must be to make such a massive shift to decide guns might be a necessary answer” to a documented rise in overt racism, says Nancy Beck Young, a political historian at the University of Houston. The shooting of Mr. Castile and the election of President Trump changed things for Dickson “Q” Amoah, a former Air Force reservist from the outskirts of Chicago. Like Smith, Mr. Amoah says his parents were vehemently anti-gun. To this day, he says, “Honestly I still think that getting rid of all these excess guns in Chicago and the country would be a good thing.”  Then he saw the white nationalist salute of “Hail Trump” near the White House in January. His first thought was: “Oh, hell no.” For him, carrying a gun has become a test of a stereotype, as Professor Young says, “built on the myth of what the black man was after and what he might do.”

The hypocrisy of our democracy

The extent of the risk legally armed black men take to carry guns was difficult to measure. The Washington Post has found that unarmed black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white men. But there are no hard studies on that have looked at how officers react to armed black men versus armed white ones. Moreover, privacy laws prohibit deep-dive studies of gun registration data to look for patterns by race. But Ms. Carlson, author of “Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline,” found a proxy in administrative “gun boards” that exist in several states to adjudicate gun license issues. She found, in two adjacent Michigan counties, that black concealed-carry applicants are routinely lectured and quizzed in public forums – what she calls “degradation ceremonies.”

Gun rights vs. gun control

White gun owners, meanwhile, are addressed without lectures in hearings where they can plead their case in a semi-private room. Only about half as many African-American households have guns as white ones – 19 percent, compared with 41 percent. And attitudes toward guns remain starkly divided along racial lines. Sixty percent of black voters favor more gun control, while 61 percent of white voters seek more gun rights. That reflects a broad resistance to guns in African-American communities that go back to the civil rights era, when blacks, often victims of gun crimes, began to see gun ownership as counterproductive and dangerous. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, gun-carry proponents say.