“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
That statement was made famous by National Rifle Association Executive Vice President (and frequent spokesperson) Wayne LaPierre.
President Donald Trump has uttered that quote, or some variation of it in the form of a proposed policy, after almost every mass shooting during his presidency. And there have been plenty of opportunities.
The mass-shooting problem in America is becoming an epidemic over the last half-century.
Maybe there was not the attention to record keeping fifty years ago that there is today?
That would explain part of it.
Or maybe we, as a nation, are losing our collective minds?
The first mass-shooting that most experts document is the attack at the University of Texas in 1966 when gunman Charles Whitman, after having killed his wife and mother at home, climbed a bell tower and opened fire. Seventeen people were killed and thirty-one injured. In 2001, some thirty-five years after the attack, the victim count was amended to eighteen dead. David Gunby, who had been critically wounded in the attack, died. The coroner attributed his death directly to injuries suffered decades earlier.
Some things never change, though. The gunman (being a white male) was found (posthumously) to have been mentally ill and therefore not a terrorist.
That was the only mass shooting during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
There were no recordable events during the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, or Jimmy Carter.
There were three under Ronald Reagan, as well as a mass-shooting involving the president himself.
There were four under George H.W. Bush.
There were eight under Bill Clinton, and another eight under George W. Bush.
That count exploded to twenty-four under Barack Obama.
In Donald Trump’s first year in office, there were ten, including the deadliest mass-shooting in American history when a gunman opened fire on a concert from his hotel window in Las Vegas killing fifty-eight and injuring more than five hundred.
In the fifty years prior (1966-2016), there had been forty-eight mass-shootings in America.
We are on pace to have more mass-shootings in President Trump’s FIRST TERM than we had in the prior fifty years COMBINED.
And folks, the numbers I reference only count MAJOR mass-shootings.
In the first eighteen months of Trump’s presidency, there were sixty-two mass-shootings where AT LEAST THREE PEOPLE were killed.
How sad is it that one count says ten events and another count says sixty-two events because apparently a single gunman killing three people is no longer enough of a blip on our collective radars to be considered a “mass-shooting” event by some measures?
But let’s go back to what I said first, that Wayne LaPierre quote:
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
See, Wayne accidentally omitted a word when he spoke those words:
In April 2015, Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson lamented, “It feels like open season on black men in America, and I’m outraged. In fact, all Americans are at risk when bad actors in law enforcement use their guns instead of their heads.”
He was discussing the deaths of Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Anthony Hill at the hands of police.
On Black Friday, a gunman opened-fire in the Riverchase Mall in Hoover, Alabama. But this was not a typical mass-shooter event. It is alleged that Erron Brown (age 20) was involved in a dispute with Brian Wilson (age 18) that turned violent and resulted in Brown shooting Wilson and also shooting a 12-year old female. Both victims survived. Brown escaped that day but was subsequently captured.
Hearing the gunshots, “good guy with a gun” Emantic Bradford (age 21) drew his handgun and went towards the sound of the gunshots. Bradford had been in the military and had a concealed-carry permit. As he approached the scene with his gun in his hand (but NOT pointed at anyone or brandished in a threatening way), police working at the mall who had also heard the gunshots were also approaching.
While the investigation is still ongoing, it appears one of the police officers jumped to a conclusion.
He had heard the gunshots.
He saw the wounded victims.
He saw a young black man with a gun.
He fired a shot at Emantic Bradford’s head, killing him.
To be clear, this is not about blaming the police, although their actions do warrant scrutiny.
But it IS about our society, and how we better find a way to deal with our issues of race perception.
Were Emantic Bradford white, and standing near two black victims, would the responding police office have immediately fired a kill shot?
Or, would he have ordered the white version of Emantic Brown to drop the weapon and get on the ground?
Or might he even have assumed that the black victim on the ground was the bad guy and the white guy with a gun had shot the black man to protect himself or others?
These are not a rhetorical questions, folks. I really DO want you to ask yourself these questions.
You come across a white man on the ground with a black man standing over him holding a gun, what do you think, your immediate reaction? Is it that the black man is assaulting the white man, maybe was trying to rob him?
You come across a black man on the ground with a white man standing over him holding a gun, what do you think, your immediate reaction? Is it that the black man had been committing some crime and the white guy stopped him?
Note that in either scenario, the black man is the threat.
See, here is the issue:
Twenty-eight states have passed “Stand Your Ground” laws. Another seven effectively practice “stand your ground” by legal precedent and jury instructions even if not specifically codified in statute.
These laws differ from self-defense laws in that there need be NO ACTUAL THREAT that precipitates lethal force.
All that is required is for one to PERCEIVE THREAT.
How many of you reading this stand in front of your bathroom mirror and see a racist staring back at them?
Go do it. I will wait.
I would bet that despite having contemplated and answered the two scenarios discussed earlier, and likely finding the black man to be the threat in both cases, you did not see a racist staring back at you, right?
And for the most part, at least speaking about those of you I know personally, I would agree. But one need not be racist to be biased. And when that bias leads to a conclusion (that a black man is a perceived threat), that black man usually ends-up dead and the white man who killed him usually faces no consequences.
We live in a society where so many of us have been touched by violence (often, gun violence) that we wander through our daily lives with mostly undiagnosed cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
We have an unabashed race-baiter in the White House who fans the flames of racial division every day to keep his base energized.
We have a society where every day we are told that the ONLY solution to keeping ourselves and our family safe is to be armed, and often, the bigger the gun the safer you will feel.
And almost every day President Trump tells us WHO the threats are.
They are black men.
They are Mexicans, or Guatemalans.
They are terrorists from the Middle East.
See a pattern?
Anyone with skin that is any color except WHITE is a perceived threat.
And legally, in most states anyway, that perception of a threat is enough to justify (and legalize) deadly force.
One cannot be a “good guy with a gun” if you are not white, as ALL people who are not white are bad guys.
That is the message being spread every day. In many cases, that is the message being legislated.
Emantic Bradford was a “good guy with a gun” who did all the right things.
He served in the military.
He had a concealed-carry permit.
He stepped into harm’s way seeking to prevent an active shooter from doing more damage.
His reward? A fatal bullet to the head. Basically, an execution.
America was founded on racism, was built on racism, fought a Civil War on racism, and once that war was over, America prospered on racism, becoming the greatest superpower in history.
It seemed for a while things were getting better. No, not rapidly. And no, nothing even remotely approaching equality, even if we did manage to elect a black president.
But we were wrong.
Racism was not resolved.
Think of it like a volcano or an earthquake. Or a mass-shooting. The pressure builds until…BOOM!!! But then there is period of calm, Of normalcy. And we almost forget that the danger is still there and that we will have little to no warning when it is ready to go-off again.
Civil rights laws gave black people the right to vote. It took Republicans fifty years of hard work and legislation, but they devastated the Voting Rights Act and have worked to disenfranchise as many people of color as they can each election cycle, often enough to change the outcome of races.
Civil rights laws allowed for black people to go everywhere white people go. But if it is a public park for a barbecue, or a Starbucks to wait for a client, or lots of other similar places, black men risk having white folks call the police. And when police get involved, black men have a strange tendency of getting dead.
Laws were enacted to stop violence and hate crimes. People were finally tried for civil rights violations, for bombings at black churches, and for lynchings. Now, Mississippi just re-elected a white Senator who openly discussed hanging someone publicly.
Meanwhile, while we were all so busy being proud of our accomplishments, thirty-five states now allow a white man to kill a black man if the white man perceives that black man as a threat.
And everything white male leaders do and say reinforces the idea that black men are threats.
Worse, the greater one’s personal level of bias, the more likely one is to see a threat.
America has effectively legalized hunting season on black men, and you do not need a hunting license, just a concealed-carry permit.
UPDATE: On February 5, 2019 the Office of the Attorney General of Alabama released a report detailing its review of the officer-involved shooting. They determined that the police officer identified Emantic Bradford as an immediate deadly threat and shot Bradford to eliminate the threat. By statute, what the office did was NOT a crime and as such the case is precluded from being presented to a grand jury.
The full report can be read here.