SIX GUN GROUPS THAT ARE EXPANDING GUN CULTURE BEYOND WHITE RIGHT-WINGERS
This article originally appeared in Salon and Alternet.
I have a theory that the quickest way to get legislative gun control in this country would be to start a movement that successfully convinces millions of black folks to join the NRA. I’m not pro-gun, I just know that a gun rights movement fueled largely by white fright would suddenly see the logic in gun restrictions if more people that didn’t look like them carried firearms.
That’s what happened in the late 1960s when the Black Panther Party for Self Defense started patrolling Oakland’s black neighborhoods while openly carrying guns, which was perfectly legal according to California law. It took only a few months of that for the state legislature to draft the Mulford Act, aimed at ending open carry in the state. After 24 Panthers showed up at the state Capitol armed to the teeth to protest the bill, Gov. Ronald Reagan couldn’t sign it fast enough.
The point is, throughout American history, the Second Amendment has mostly been an obsession of the right, but there are moments when it’s served the left as well. This is one of those moments. Having a president who sympathizes with neo-Nazis and fascists has helped mobilize and invigorate hate groups and other violent racists, inspiring some who oppose them to take up arms. To be clear, I am not in support of arming this country, and I’ve never thought throwing guns at the gun problem was a way to solve it. But with so much violence coming from the right, it’s unsurprising that some have decided to battle them on their own playing field. “We didn’t argue our way into white supremacy and slavery,” Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher told Shadowproof, “we’re not going to argue our way out of white supremacy.”
So here are six gun groups that aren’t just for white right-wingers.
1. Redneck Revolt and John Brown Gun Club
According to Dave Strano, one of the founders of Redneck Revolt, the John Brown Gun Club was founded in the aughts to offer gun training to “the radical community and also to distribute free anti-racist literature at gun shows in Kansas and Missouri.” In 2009, as the Tea Party was coalescing in reaction to the election of the first African-American president, Strano saw the right-wing movement as a collection of angry, working-class whites who were being duped by wealthy conservatives.
He declared the white working class is “an exploited people that further exploits other exploited people...used by the rich to attack our neighbors, coworkers, and friends of different colors, religions and nationalities.” Inspired by the Young Patriots, the radical, white working-class collective that worked with groups including the Black Panthers and Young Lords in the 1960s, Redneck Revolt was born the same year. Its membership is almost wholly comprised of white radicals whom Strano says grew up in “poor or working-class white communities, in trailer parks and rundown apartment buildings, surrounded by redneck culture.”
According to its website, Redneck Revolt has nearly 40 chapters around the country. It describes itself as “pro-worker” and “anti-racist,” with a mission to “incite a movement amongst white working people that works toward the total liberation of all working people, regardless of skin color, religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, or any other division that bosses and politicians have used to fragment movements for social, political, and economic freedom.” The John Brown Gun Club still offers firearms training (a lot of members grew up hunting), with an emphasis on aiding defense practices among “communities of color and LGBTQ folks.” Members also show up with guns to act as a protective force for anti-fascist protesters, and were visible at events from Charlottesville to Trump’s recent rally in Arizona.
2. Pink Pistols
The Pink Pistols membership got massive bumps on the heels of two recent national events: the massacre of 49 people at LGBT nightclub Pulse in Miami, and the election of Donald Trump. Founder Doug Krick established the group after reading a 2000 Salon article by gay journalist Jonathan Rauch, who was sickened by a series of hate crimes against the LGBT community, including the murder of Matthew Shepard. “Thirty-one states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons,” Rauch noted. “In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. . . . Homosexuals have been too vulnerable for too long. We have tried to make a political virtue of our vulnerability, but the gay-bashers aren’t listening. Playing the victim card has won us sympathy, but at the cost of respect. So let’s make gay-bashing dangerous.”
Its website describes the Pink Pistols' goal plainly: “We teach queers to shoot. Armed queers don’t get bashed.” The group’s motto is, “Pick on someone your own caliber.”
3. National African American Gun Association
Like other groups on this list, the National African American Gun Association saw its membership soar after Trump’s election; the organization’s numbers doubled to 14,000 after November 8. Philip Smith, the group’s president, has noted that while Trump is an unexpected recruitment boost, the racists emboldened by the president have also driven up membership. "Two years ago, fringe groups were just that: fringe groups," Smith told CNN. "But now those fringe groups are kind of like, 'It's cool to be racist'...our community sees that, and it scares us. You know what, let me get a gun just in case something happens, just to make sure."
Among incoming members, the most significant demographic leap is in the increase in women. (A Washington Post article from March points to anecdotal evidence that black women are buying guns and learning to shoot at rates far higher than in the past.) Smith notes that it can be doubly dangerous for black Americans to arm themselves due to the disparate treatment of white and black gun owners, as exemplified by the police murder of licensed gun owner Philando Castile. But as Smith points out, the need for protection can outweigh those fears. “We don’t want to bother anyone, but we’re not gonna let anyone come and break into our house at two in the morning and sit there and wait for the police to come, and get killed in the interim,” Smith told a guns-focused news site. “We’re gonna protect ourselves.”
4. Liberal Gun Club
Lara Smith, the spokesperson for the Liberal Gun Club, says the group’s membership jumped “well over” 10 percent after Trump took the White House. “There is suddenly a significant uptick in the number of liberals realizing that we may, in fact, have a tyrannical government on our hands and the Second Amendment protects them too,” Smith said in an interview.
Founded in 2008 by Mark Roberts, LGC came into being to serve gun owners turned off by the NRA’s aggressively right-wing culture. Lefty gun owners often feel uncomfortable talking openly about their political outlook thanks to the hyper-conservative views that pervade gun culture, which makes LGC, oddly, a gun-filled safe space of sorts. And while America’s gun obsession and refusal to impose even the most commonsense gun controls are the cause of an astounding number of tragedies each year, Smith — who told the Miami Herald that LGC has worked collaboratively with Pink Pistols and Black Guns Matter — argues that gun fatalities point to graver issues society refuses to address. "We should be looking at suicide prevention, health care, systemic poverty and racism, the war on drugs," Smith told Mic. "These are the real problems, and when you focus on the guns you don't focus on the underlying issues."
5. Huey P. Newton Gun Club
Last year, the Bureau of American Islamic Relations — a deceptively named group of Islamophobes — staged a protest outside of a Dallas mosque. There to counter them were members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, named for the legendary Black Panthers co-founder. The club was co-founded by Charles Goodson and Darren X, two native Texas activists working to put an end to police violence against communities of color. The group has three explicit goals: to “arm all black, brown and poor men/women across the United States who can ‘legally’ bear arms,” to “end black on black violence” and to stop “police terrorism and murder of the people.”
"We accept all oppressed people of color with weapons," Darren X told Vice in 2015 "The complete agenda involves going into our communities and educating our people on federal, state, and local gun laws. We want to stop fratricide, genocide — all the 'cides."
6. Black Guns Matter
Maj Toure is a politically conservative African American who started Black Guns Matter because of anti-black police violence. “Black Guns Matter came about because of the amount of murders of African American people, especially by corrupt police officers,” Toure told NBC News. “I don’t have to convince anyone that my life matters but I’m going to have the tools to defend my life because it matters to me.”
It’s odd to transform the phrase Black Lives Matter, created by a group that is staunchly anti-gun, into a pro-gun effort. And right-wing pundits drool over Toure because of his libertarian attitude toward guns. But he argues that his mission is to “educate urban communities on their Second Amendment rights and responsibilities through firearm training and education.” He’s lectured in venues around the country on gun laws and safety, including resolution and de-escalation tactics.