Amir Locke’s Killing And Another Failure

The execution of Philando Castile put the screws to the silent voices of gun rights activists. Where was the NRA screaming bloody murder? How could it possibly have nothing to say when a man lawfully carrying a handgun, who informed the officer as required, was nonetheless killed for doing so?

Some years ago, Jon Blanks, who worked for libertarian thinktank Cato, explained that old-school libertarians were neither friendly toward, nor concerned with, racism, and many, in fact, leaned toward racism. It was considered a separate issue, so it didn’t come up often and festered in the background of free markets. Is this the same phenomenon that pervades old-school gun rights activists, simultaneously gung-ho on guns and generally racist?

Castile brought this glaring disconnect to the forefront, and the NRA not merely blew it, but exposed its flagrant lack of integrity. The most generous explanation is that Castile caught the NRA unaware, and it had yet to come to grips with the fact that black men could lawfully possess guns, and either they too warranted the same level of outrage for being executed for their exercise of their Second Amendment rights as white men or the NRA was a bunch of racist scum.

More than enough time has passed since the killing of Philando Castile to ponder this problem and come to grips with what to do. Would the NRA rise to face its racism and overcome it in service of its pro-gun cause?

The release of the video of Amir Locke’s killing gave the NRA another chance.

The victim, Amir Locke, who appeared to be asleep on the couch that morning, was not named on that warrant. In a matter of about three seconds, body camera footage shows the man—buried under a thick white blanket—stirring to the sound of the cops’ entry with his hand on the barrel of a firearm. Officer Mark Hanneman then shoots him three times.

The no-knock and nighttime execution of the search warrant are significant and problematic issues on their own as they create the scenario giving rise to a person asleep, awoken by a loud and frightening commotion in the midst of the night, unable to process what’s happening, what’s being yelled, in the seconds between entry and shooting, but distinct from the issue here. Breonna Taylor is dead even though her partner, Kenneth Walker, used a licensed gun to repel intruders.

The Second Amendment issue is clear. Locke had a legal gun and, upon being awoken in the night, grabbed it. He didn’t point it at anyone or put his finger on the trigger, but it was in his hand. A cop might explain that it would only take a fraction of a second for that to change, if he was inclined to point it at an officer, put his finger on the trigger and shoot. But he didn’t.

This conundrum has been noted and argued before, that if there is a fundamental personal right to keep and bear arms, and that’s what the Supreme Court informs us is our right, then the exercise of that constitutional right cannot automatically give right to police to execute you for it. The Reasonably Scared Cop Rule cannot co-exist with the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Officer Mark Hanneman, who put three bullets into Locke, may not have committed a crime, as he reacted out of what will be claimed to be a reasonable fear of death rather than malevolent intent, although whether it was reckless or overly prudent will be a matter of whose perspective applies to the officer’s split second reaction.

But the gun was lawful, and if there is a right to possess it, and that right belongs to a person regardless of race, this scenario was where the NRA, now without any excuse for silence, had to put up or concede that it stood for gun rights for white people. The spin that it’s not race, but cop adoration, is a subterfuge, as cop culture includes the belief that black people are more prone to crime and violence, and thus raise an expectation as a cop rushes through the door that violence is likely to be found on the other side. Shoot first and live. Hesitate and die. Gun rights be damned, as there are black people inside.

There are factual differences between the killing of Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor and now Amir Locke, but they’re secondary to the similarities. Police confrontations. Lawful firearms. Black people end up dead. The NRA silent.

Jon Blanks’ explanation of what was wrong with old-school libertarians, not so much deliberately racist as so lacking in race consciousness such that it wasn’t their problem, seems to have been at the core of the NRA and many guns rights advocates’ inability to connect the dots when Philando Castile was killed. And Breonna Taylor’s death was viewed more as a failing of no-knock warrants than a racism issue, so the conundrum wasn’t raised as the primary concern.

But now, with Amir Locke’s death, the issue is on the front burner, the NRA has had time for serious introspection about its disgraceful silence following Castile’s killing and was given another chance to squarely face its race problem. It no longer had any excuse, no matter how lame, to hide behind.

What did guns rights organizations have to say about an American, awoken in the night, who grabbed his lawful handgun as would any other NRA kinda guy under those circumstances?

“Mr. Locke did what many of us might do in the same confusing circumstances, he reached for a legal means of self-defense while he sought to understand what was happening,” Rob Doar, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said in a press release.

“The tragic circumstances of Mr. Locke’s death were completely avoidable,” Doar continued. “It’s yet another example where a no-knock warrant has resulted in the death of an innocent person. In this case, as in others, the public should expect and receive full transparency and accountability from law enforcement agencies that serve and protect our local communities.”

But that’s the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, not the National Rifle Association, whose deafening silence says it all as clearly as it could possibly be said.

22 thoughts on “Amir Locke’s Killing And Another Failure

  1. tk

    The NRA has never condemned ANY police shooting. I don’t think race is so much the issue, as its ties to police: The NRA has a law enforcement training division, and has billed itself as being very pro-police over the years.

      1. tk

        Yes, that’s true — it’s the “jack-booted thugs” exception. The ATF is kind of the punching bag for every gun-rights group.

    1. Jednick

      The NRA firearms instructor training is less relevant today. Many states are standardizing the curriculum for instructor certification and range training, and both include the use of force rules. Wisconsin agencies, for example, MUST use state certified instructors.

    2. Rengit

      Agreed, and also, the NRA is very bad in self-defense situations, which is what the Amir Locke case would have been had Locke fired at one of the officers, maiming or killing them, and Locke somehow survived and then (almost certainly) been put on trial for murder. The NRA’s position seems to be, “We will fight for your right to possess a miniature arsenal, but if you actually use it for something other than hunting, sports shooting, and showing off at gun shows? You’re on your own.”

      I get that the Second Amendment talks about the right to “bear” arms, nothing about using them, but you’d think that the NRA would step in on the side of gun-owners in self-defense or police executions, given how often the NRA trumpets guns as integral to self-defense. I don’t remember them doing much for the Rittenhouse case, nor for the couple in St. Louis that got charged with brandishing during the summer of 2020, nor for when the cops killed Daniel Shaver, and these all involved white (or mostly white) people on both sides of the shootings/brandishing.

  2. Hunting Guy

    Even if they wanted to step in on the Locke shooting they couldn’t.

    At this point, the NRA is a criminal enterprise.

    From Firearm News, “… rampant self-dealing, cronyism, nepotism, incompetence, and old-fashioned graft …has been going on at the NRA for at least the past 3 years, and which some of us have been warning about for much longer than that.”

    You can look up the sordid details, they are all over the web. The graft part is especially interesting. (Whatever your feelings about Oliver North, he was instrumental in bringing out the information.)

    They were always a “Oh, so social” club that catered to the Holland and Holland shooters while depending on the Mossberg shooters to fund them. Frankly, I doubt that they thought about race. It wasn’t on their radar.

    Now they have lost that support* as well as a bunch of their major donors.

    *I’m a life member of the NRA. I used to donate to them but now I just throw their letters in the trash, unopened, and hang up on the phone calls. I’m not alone in that.

  3. Michael Gilson

    NRA members have been upset with the leadership for decades for things like this, and leadership reaction has been to make it harder for the rank and file to have any effect. There’s a reason they are referred to as the Lairds of Fairfax.

  4. Ron

    I know that you know this, but there’s hard data to be faced when trying to make sense of such a tragic killing. Black people commit a disproportionate share of murders. The reason why is extremely important in the long run, but in the short run, this hard, cold fact makes a difference to a cop who follows the First Rule of Policing.

    It may be politically incorrect, but if he wants to make it home for dinner, he cannot be cavalier about the fact that a black person is more likely to kill him than a white person. It’s not racism, but a statistics.

    1. Howl

      Statistics can be easily checked.
      According to the FBI report on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted in 2019:
      – 48 law enforcement officers died from injuries incurred in the line of duty during felonious incidents.
      – 28 of the alleged offenders were White, 15 were Black/African American, and 1 was Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. Race was not reported for 5 of the alleged offenders.

      1. Ron

        Those stats show black people (@13% of the population) disproportionately kill cops (31.25% of cop killers). And if you do all murders, the stats are worse, 51.2% of all murders. Don’t blame me for the numbers.

        1. Howl

          You said “a black person is more likely to kill him than a white person.”
          The statistics show that cops are more likely to be killed by a white person.
          Disproportionate is not the same as to likely to be killed by. Odds are that a cop is going to be killed by a white person.
          The rabbit hole ends here for me.
          Sorry about this, Admiral.

          1. Robert Parry

            The LEOKA data going back 20+ years shows black suspects average about 32% of cop killers annually. But, whites are the majority. So, an officer is more likley to be kiiled by a white assailant, but a black person has a higher probabilty (however minimal) of being an assailant.

            All of this is utterly irrelevant in judging an individual incident. Either the actions presented a threat a reasonable officer would perceive and address, or they did not.

          2. AJ

            Ok then, but then you realize, under your theory of statistics, black people are not more likely to be killed by police, right? More white people are killed by police in raw numbers (both armed and unarmed). So when you refuse to take into account percentage of population, you lose that argument too.

            Of course the reality is you’re badly misunderstanding how numbers work. Whether a given individual is more or less like to kill is not the same as which group is most likely to result in their death over their entire career.

            Let’s look at your numbers;

            28 white murders of police, 246m white people (the numbers you referenced are from the UCR which includes Hispanic whites); so any given white person is a 0.000011382% risk for killing an officer, and 15 black murders from 41m black Americans, 0.000036585% risk. Roughly triple.

            “a black person is more likely to kill him than a white person.” is true *for any individual person*. “The statistics show that cops are more likely to be killed by a white person.” is only true for the sum totality of all the individuals they encounter where they encounter triple the number of white people they do black people.

            Both numbers are so small as to be treated as no different for practical purposes, but that’s not the point.

            I too apologize to our gracious host about the rabbit hole, but such a fundamental misrepresentation of statistics irks me.

    2. Grant

      I don’t think this engages with the point of the article: Does the Second Amendment right to own guns include the right not to be executed by police for having the guns?

      The article answers this with, “[T]he exercise of that constitutional right cannot automatically give right to police to execute you for it.” (Emphasis and hyperlink removed.)

      This necessarily implies that a gun rights organization should oppose the police shooting of a gun owner, whatever the gun owner’s race, for the mere possession of a legal gun during a police interaction.

      So postulating that police have a rational reason for shooting black gun owners when police interact with them is missing the point. (I also disagree with your postulate, but that argument is too long for a comment.)

      1. Ron

        Don’t mistake my introducing the stats with my arguing that it’s justifiable to execute black guys with guns. But what the numbers show is that it’s not entirely irrational for cops to believe that black men pose a disproportionate threat of violence.

    3. Elpey P.

      It can be both, which is one reason it can be so intractable. But if they break in on a sleeping white person who reflexively grabs a nearby gun the white guy is probably going to end up just as dead. The racial jumpiness is probably more of a factor in Castile’s situation, where it may have combined with Castile’s screwups (it’s untrue that he did everything right as we are often told) to tip the situation to fatal.

      And a cop should absolutely be cavalier about the fact that a black person is more likely to kill him than a white person (given a specific situation as opposed to in general). It’s a statistical disparity, not a feature of the individual interaction. He should pay attention to the situation at hand, not act upon statistics.

      1. Jednick

        >> He should pay attention to the situation at hand, not act upon statistics. <<
        I promise you, that's all the officer is focused on.

  5. Robert Parry

    It certainly appears this was a tragedy. There was a similar incident in Las Vegas las month in which theee officers were shot by an acquaintance of a murder suspect (who also was not home).

    But just because it was a tragedy doesn’t mean a better alternative was called for or available.

    Ban no-knocks and insist on always using knock & notice? You’re gonna kill a lot of cops (see 2 FBI agents murdered in Florida last year doing exactly that) “Tough shit that’s their job”? Have you seen the job opening numbers for cops (Minneapolis is 25% understrength – good luck getting extra training time like that).

    Demand cordon & call-out? Army SOF guys like to brag about this one, like in Syria this week. Which is great until you remember that dude blew himself and his family up. How many dead families and kids will you accept to prevent the deaths of murderer associates?

    Grab em on the street? Do you prefer shoot-outs on public streets, or pursuits that end in fatal crashes? Both kill uninvolved innocents.

  6. B. McLeod

    The reasonably scared cop rule can coexist with the right to bear arms. If the cop lives, the cop is exonerated. If the citizen lawfully bearing arms lives, the citizen is exonerated. Where these rights conflict, the survivor prevails.

  7. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    I’m still back stuck on the assumption that the NRA has anything to do with gun rights, other than screaming about how those rights are being violated and the NRA needs more money now, NOW, NOWWWW!!!!!

    That’s why the actual work is being done by organizations like the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus or the Oregon Firearms Federation. The NRA’s purpose is only to funnel money from the unwitting to the all-too-knowing-and-smirking NRA executives.

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