Timing is everything.
Killer Mike inadvertently helped prove that old truism this weekend when his NRA-sponsored, pro-gun-ownership PSA went viral on Twitter — the same day as massive March For Our Lives protests took place nationwide.
Unfortunately for Mike, the NRA posted part of his video interview advocating Black Americans arming themselves in self-defense in a tweet designed and timed to try to undercut the outsized populist response to the recent Parkland, FL school shooting that left 17 dead and spurred a wave of political activism from the survivors.
No doubt, Mike made some mistakes. He made a miscalculation in trusting the NRA (which is at this point less a gun advocacy group than it is the propaganda and lobbying arm of the weapons manufacturing industry) to use the interview responsibly. He framed his arguments poorly, and his commentary made it seem as if he did not support the Parkland youths. Those kids have been fighting desperately to change their future and prevent another tragedy of the scale of the one that changed their lives forever.
After the video had gone viral, Mike was forced into defense mode, responding to angry replies from fans on Twitter, where he had more control over the delivery of the content. It seemed that, more than anything, users who reached out to him felt let down by his position and disappointed in his choice to allow the NRA to interview him in light of some of the organization’s less-scrupulous tactics in the past.
However, what got lost in the resulting wave of outraged backlash against Mike and the NRA were some important points he made in the course of his argument. It’s so important in these increasingly fractious times to look at the content of what’s being said rather than it’s inflammatory delivery. It’s especially important not to get caught up in the endless outrage cycle that demands we react to headlines before reading the articles they’re attached to, simply to have an opinion or keep up with the constantly agitating news cycle.
Of all the points Mike made both in the video and during the backlash, the one that cuts the deepest is this: It’s become increasingly clear over the last several years that Black Americans do not feel that they can rely on the police for protection. Sometimes, they even feel as though the police are the ones they need protection from.
Look no further for evidence of this fact than the recent shooting death of Sacramento resident Stephon Clark, an unarmed, 22-year-old Black man who was shot at over 20 times in his own backyard. While officers claimed that they thought he was holding a gun (after muting their body cams), it turned out that all he had was a cell phone.
What Killer Mike advocates is that should a person like Clark feel threatened by the police in the future, a show of force would likely equalize the playing field. At the very least, the aggressor in any potentially violent conflict would have to weigh their options more thoroughly before resorting to a shootout, and if nothing else, wouldn’t emerge unscathed.
There’s some historical precedent to support the show of force theory. The Black Panthers took to arming themselves and policing Black neighborhoods in Oakland themselves to push out an aggressive, overly-zealous police force that was known for harassment and abuse of Black citizens. However, history also tells us that while a sufficient show of force can serve to secure a specific location, in small, direct shootouts, self-styled revolutionaries like Chicago’s Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton were just as likely to end up on the receiving end of a hail of bullets as their attackers.
More recently Korryn Gaines was shot to death by police serving a warrant, despite being armed with a shotgun. Her small son was injured in the shootout, highlighting the increased danger to bystanders with the addition of more guns and bullets flying through the air. This only undercuts Mike’s adamant stance on arming Black folks for self-preservation; ultimately, unless it’s paired with an organized, self-disciplined show of force like the Black Panthers in Oakland displayed, it’s not likely to change the outcome of police violence, no matter how badly we want to believe that we could fight off the oppressive actions of an increasingly militarized police force.
Life isn’t a Hollywood movie where the “heroes” have perfect aim and the stormtroopers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Those errant shots have to end up somewhere, and many times, it’s in the bodies of people who were never even involved in the first place. Mike’s concept of self-defense is flawed because adding more guns to the equation rarely produces a favorable outcome, it just leads to more people being hurt.
One smart point he did make in the aftermath, though, was one about the lengths to which the US government will go in order to prevent Black people from arming themselves in self-defense, even bending the precious Second Amendment protections the NRA upholds as sacred to do so. One user who responded to Mike during the public outcry against his interview noted that the “Only proven way to get gun control in this country is white panic over black folks arming up,” to which Mike replied, simply, “U right and that’s so sad ain’t it.” Again, history provides precedent to back up his claims.
The Mulford Act was a 1967 California bill that repealed a law allowing the public carrying of loaded firearms, which many felt was signed into law as a direct response to the steps the Black Panthers took in Oakland to defend themselves from police. The Panthers actually marched with their weapons on the California State Capitol to protest the bill, which was passed by then-governor Ronald Reagan, who commented that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.”
And while Mike and his supporter were no doubt using hyperbolic language to make a point, the fact remains that the NRA has long been silent in defending the right to bear arms of Black citizens. It’s been noted by a number of public entities on social media and political news media that the NRA was nowhere to be found when Philando Castile was shot by police in front of his girlfriend and child during a traffic stop. He can be heard on video taken by his girlfriend notifying officers of his legal firearm and advising them that he was not reaching for it when he was shot.
The NRA didn’t respond for a month, which seems selective in hindsight. The organization can jump to attack a group of protesting kids who just watched their friends killed violently in front of them by a weapon there is literally no practical reason to own, but cannot step up for a responsible gun owner who is the very archetype of the “good guy with a gun” the NRA espouses to be the solution to mass shootings. It doesn’t add up.
Which is why Mike’s choice of platform was so disappointing. While he made a few excellent points in his argument, and while it’s clear he vehemently and staunchly believes in gun ownership as a matter of self-defense, unfortunately for him, the stats just don’t bear out his arguments. If anything, it’s the opposite. The presence of a gun in a household makes a shooting — whether accidental, purposeful or even self-inflicted — more likely by default, because the odds of a shooting in a house with no gun would have to be as near zero as it gets.
The good guy with a gun argument doesn’t hold water. The self-defense argument, whether against an intruder or an oppressive state power, really doesn’t hold up. The one thing Killer Mike might be right about is this: If ever this country is to enact stricter gun control laws nationwide, it would probably only be due to an increase Black gun ownership. He’s right that it’s sad. It’s a damn shame.