Black Gun Ownership Is on the Rise, Putting Their Lives at Risk

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Op-Ed by State Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia

This month, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives debated a bill that ultimately was passed but will be vetoed by Gov. Wolf, thankfully. Senate Bill 565 would make Pennsylvania a permitless carry state, meaning you would not need a concealed carry permit across the Commonwealth, or a permit to carry – open or concealed – in Philadelphia.

I am not against a person’s Second Amendment right and all that comes with it. Every American has the right to defend themselves — but that right, like most laws in this country, has never been applied equally to all Americans. The Second Amendment was designed in part and has been consistently applied to regulate Black Americans and I opposed the bill because I fear that the application of it would disproportionately put the lives of Black and Brown Pennsylvanians at risk.

Black gun ownership, particularly that of Black women, is on the rise. But the simple act of exercising their Second Amendment right can put their lives at risk.

A perfect, yet heartbreaking example of this is the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile, a Black man who was shot to death by a suburban Minneapolis police officer during a traffic stop, despite having informed the officer of the presence of the firearm and despite having a license to carry the gun.

Castile is one example — there are others — of Black men who were shot merely for possessing a gun. Armed Black folks are always seen as a threat, are never included in the larger conversation around gun ownership in America and are not recognized or supported by the NRA.

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For decades, Black Americans were prohibited from owning guns or joining militias. Early militias were organized simply to catch runaway slaves and to control large populations of Black slaves who outnumbered their slave owners in the South — to prevent a possible rebellion. In some states, white people were authorized by law to enter the homes of Black citizens and confiscate any weapons they found.

In the 1960s, as the Black Panther party gained prominence in Oakland, a Republican lawmaker proposed a law to prohibit Californians from openly carrying firearms. The legislation received the full support of the NRA and was eventually signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan — a stark contrast to the GOP’s current efforts to make Pennsylvania a permitless carry state.

As author Carol Anderson so boldly and accurately states in her book, The Second, “measures to expand and curtail gun ownership aimed disproportionately at the African American population, the right to bear arms has been consistently used as a weapon to keep African Americans powerless — revealing that armed or unarmed, Blackness, it would seem, is the threat that must be neutralized and punished.”

The double standards and the doublespeak that swirl around the Second Amendment conversation is just that…talk that works for one segment of the population and against another. While the Pennsylvania General Assembly rushed S.B. 565 through the legislature, my GOP colleagues failed to consider one meaningful gun reform that will make communities like Philadelphia safer. Instead, they passed a resolution to study convictions for firearm offenses — an insult to the families that have lost loved ones to the rising tide of gun violence throughout Pennsylvania. We need to move away from laws that intentionally cause division. We need laws that redress the wrongs of our past and bring folks together to build a healthy, prosperous and safe commonwealth for all Pennsylvanians.

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Donna Bullock is the Pennsylvania state representative from the 195th Legislative District.

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