In February 2012, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen. When Zimmerman failed to be convicted of murder under the "Stand Your Ground" laws of Florida, three women activists started the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. The campaign gained traction and began to spread like wildfire after the killing of another unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri last August. Following Brown's death and the lack of charges for the killer, Ferguson's streets erupted into protests. These protests soon spread to major cities and suburbs across the nation, including my home town of Boston. The message was clear: Black Lives Matter and the marginalization of African Americans in the United States needed to change. Many of the best and brightest minds in the nation have written and spoken about this movement. Although I consider myself an ally in this movement, I have not felt qualified or compelled to address this issue publicly until now.
Wednesday night, at a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a white man shot nine parishioners after sitting through their Bible study session. After many hours on Thursday spent trying to identify the shooter, the FBI currently has the individual in custody and is referring to the shooting as a hate crime.
As the Charleston community and the rest of the nation try to comfort the victims of yet another senseless mass shooting it's important to consider the hateful racist gun culture perpetrated by the NRA in our country. While most gun owners are not NRA members, myself included, the unregulated gun industry-backed NRA does the majority of the speaking about guns in America. The NRA produces and distributes four separate magazines, a plethora of blogs, a YouTube channel and a radio program. It is the NRA's messaging on guns that is prominent in American culture and in the halls of congress. So what is the NRA's message? Black lives do not matter, and black people are less than white people. This has never been more obvious than when one NRA Board member, Ted Nugent, said "apartheid isn't that cut and dry. All men are not created equal."
For a group that consistently invokes and misrepresents the Second Amendment of the Constitution, they are quick to forget a slightly more symbolic document -- The Declaration of Independence. Other examples of NRA representatives espousing racism are equally damning. Paul Blackman, an NRA Research Coordinator proudly stated that, "studies of homicide victims- especially the increasing number of younger ones- suggest they are frequently criminals themselves and/or drug addicts or users. It is quite possible that their deaths, in terms of economic consequences to society, are net gains."
To consider the death of any human as a net gain to society is despicable, and yet, celebrated amongst the leaders and many members of the NRA. During a discussion of gun violence victims in Los Angeles in the '90s, NRA Board member Jeff Cooper stated "the consensus is that no more than five to ten people in a hundred who die by gunfire in Los Angeles are any loss to society. These people fight small wars amongst themselves. It would seem a valid social service to keep them well-supplied with ammunition."
The disregard for human life, especially non white people by NRA leadership is beyond disturbing and should be more than enough to marginalize their extremist positions, at least with their supporters in Congress. Yet, in the wake of tragedies like the Charleston church massacre, it is a reminder that the gun industry shills within the NRA have one goal- sell more guns. If inciting fear and racism will help sell guns, they will do it, no matter what the human price is. Sadly Congress will also look the other way as long as the gun industry special interest "blood money" campaign contributions keep flowing in their direction and the voting public don't hold them accountable.
So, while a community in Charleston mourns the loss of nine of its members, including a state senator, the NRA will continue to broadcast its message in four separate magazines, a plethora of blogs, a YouTube channel and a radio program: be fearful of your neighbors, especially if they're not white and buy more guns.