The gun control crowd isn’t having a good year.
Americans have been buying firearms at a phenomenal pace. From January through May, the FBI conducted 15.2 million background checks on people purchasing guns through licensed dealers — an increase of 3.7 million over the number of background checks during the same period last year. First-time buyers have accounted for an estimated 40 percent of gun purchases in 2020, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation — and of those new gun owners, 40 percent have been women.
For months, news accounts have reported on the nationwide surge in gun sales. The soaring demand for guns has led in turn to soaring prices for gun stocks. Shares of firearms manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Ruger have sharply outpaced the broader stock market.
All this was happening before Americans learned about Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd on May 25, or saw the video of Gregory and Travis McMichael, the two Georgia men — one an ex-cop — who gunned down Ahmaud Arbery after seeing him jog past their home. Black Americans in particular have been getting a pointed lesson in the value of their Second Amendment right to bear arms, and translating that lesson into action.
Hence the “explosion in the number of Black gun owners nationwide,” as David Dent reports in The Daily Beast. The National African American Gun Association, which began in 2015 with a single chapter in Atlanta, now comprises more than 100 chapters with 40,000 members — 10,000 of whom joined within the past five months. They include not only recreational shooters, but new owners like Iesha Williams, a young mother who, Dent writes, was persuaded by recent events to acquire a gun “as a form of protection against racial violence.” Black gun ownership is as essential today as it was in 1892, when Ida B. Wells wrote that “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”
Millions of Americans instinctively grasp that private ownership of guns makes them safer. But advocates of more gun control never see it that way. When Michael Bloomberg was asked in January about a Texas church where a massacre was aborted when a 71-year-old parishioner shot and killed the gunman, his response was that guns are for police. “It’s the job of law enforcement to have guns and to decide when to shoot,” said Bloomberg. “You just do not want the average citizen carrying a gun in a crowded place.”
Only cops should have guns and decide when to shoot? Try telling that to the families of Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Michael Dean, and Walter Scott, all of whom were killed when cops — whether from recklessness, incompetence, or racism — decided to shoot.
Of course, most cops are neither racists nor thugs. But even the most dedicated police officers cannot always be there to provide protection when it is needed. The Second Amendment exists in part for just that purpose, as persecuted minorities have had good reason to know.
The denial of the right to own weapons reinforced the racial repression of America’s first centuries. In its infamous Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court ruled that if Black people were considered US citizens, the Second Amendment “would give to persons of the negro race . . . the right . . . to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” Gun control’s racist roots run deep. Before the Civil War, a multiplicity of laws barred slaves from owning weapons and permitted free Black people to do so only with a court’s approval. In the Jim Crow era, states found other ways to disarm Black Americans. They heavily taxed handgun sales, for example, or permitted pistols to be sold only to sheriffs and their deputies — a category that often included KKK terrorists.
“The Second Amendment is always revitalized when we feel threatened,” writes David Harsanyi in the current National Review. Between the coronavirus pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, and the recent wave of demonstrations and looting, this is an alarming moment in American life. Black and white Americans, millions of them, have chosen to meet the moment by arming themselves. The hoplophobes may disapprove, but this is what the Second Amendment is for.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. To subscribe to Arguable, his weekly newsletter, go to bitly.com/Arguable.