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.