It took Harry Belafonte, the esteemed elder statesman, to raise the prickly questions during the celebratory atmosphere of the NAACP Image Awards last month. As the great debate rages about gun ownership and control and white Americans rail and rally in huge numbers against any stricter laws being proposed nationally and locally, the accomplished actor and activist asked: “Where is the raised voice of blacks; why are we mute; where are our leaders, legislators, the church?”
Even as thousands descended on Annapolis last week and earlier this month and hundreds signed up to testify at the General Assembly hearings about stricter gun control measures proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the majority of the visible and vocal protesters on both sides of the debate appear to be white Marylanders, many egged on by the NRA. But not to be overlooked, Kenneth Blanchard, of blackmanwithagun.com, was among the African Americans who also testified against gun control.
Though it does not appear to be high on their political radar, gun control has long been embraced with strong support by African Americans, according to polls most recently conducted by Pew Research and the Washington Post/ABC. Pundits and commentators have suggested that blacks currently favor gun control measures not only to back President Obama but also because they have experienced the most tragedy and loss at the hands of gun violence than any other group in America (six times higher from 1980-2008, according to the Bureau of Justice).
They want the weapons of daily destruction off their streets.
Reducing the number of guns may explain why the Post/ABC poll conducted last month showed continued support for the proposed Maryland changes amid the surge in shootings and homicide involving teens and youth adults in Prince George’s County and Baltimore in recent months.
Still other observers suggest that African Americans are not in the forefront of the gun control debate because whether or not they admit it, they do not want to the give up the firearms they quietly own for self-protection. Pew Research indicates that while 44 percent of Whites own guns, 16 of African Americans are armed. I suspect that the number for blacks is actually higher.
And then there is history; a history that includes laws being enacted to keep freed slaves in 1869, WWI veterans during the “Red Summer” of 1919 and black nationalists in 1969, for example, from bearing arms. The Internet is replete these days with stories, most notable Adam Winkler’s in Atlantic magazine, giving background history on why gun control laws, some even supported by the NRA and conservatives like Ronald Reagan when they were first proposed and imposed. One writer contends the Second Amendment was enacted to allow state “militias” or slave patrols to search and seize slave and freedmen’s firearms. Another writer, Robert Sherill, author of “The Saturday Night Special,” claims the federal and state gun control laws of the late 1960s were “not to control guns but to control blacks.”
Leaving no stone unturned, this month the NRA and conservative blacks groups, such as the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), began ad campaigns, ramping up their race-baiting tactics to generate more African American support against control measures going through Congress and statehouses like Annapolis.
Star Parker, founder and president of CURE which launched its “Never Again,” campaign last week told reporters at a D.C. press conference, “I believe that it is our duty to stand together and challenge the proposals currently on the table in the Senate, which invoke painful memories of Jim Crow laws and black codes.”
Stacy Swimp, president of the Frederick Douglass Society, echoed Parker’s sentiments. She noted that Douglass said, “A man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.”
The NRA and these groups aim to really raise the ire of African Americans by shamefully using historic images of lynching and white mobs and militias attacking black communities to win African Americans over. And if those images won’t work, they’ll evoke the black power self-defense photos and words of icons like Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Angela Davis and even Martin Luther King to also ask: “Why on earth would any black person support gun control?”
Yes, even MLK applied for a gun permit after his home was firebombed. It was denied.
A poll on Debate.org shows 60 percent of respondents said more African American voices need to be heard in the gun debate. And you expect to hear and see more African American outrage instead of the perfunctory press statements from civil rights organization such as the NAACP and predictable pronouncements of the likes of commentators such as liberal Al Sharpton and ultra conservative Alan Keyes. The latter screams that gun control measures are “part of a plan intended to make sure people will be slaughtered.”
“I think the black community, the black leadership needs to stir it up,” with regard to getting involved in the gun control debate, Belafonte urged during an Associated Press interview last month.
Be careful what you ask for.