Does the 2nd Amendment apply to African Americans?
At a demonstration in the convenience store parking lot where Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police two days earlier, one black protester wondered whether blacks and whites really have the same right to carry guns.
“You tell American citizens that we have a right to bear arms, but when I bear arms, you want to shoot me,” Travis Wilson, a chef and father of three, said Thursday morning.
He said he doesn’t actually own or carry weapons. But both Sterling, who was killed Tuesday in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile, who was fatally shot the next day by police in Falcon Heights, Minn., were black men who did.
Their deaths elicited outrage from activists who claimed racial discrimination and police brutality. They have also launched a debate on social media over whether there is a double standard when it comes to the 2nd Amendment.
Castile, who was shot in a car after being pulled over for having a broken tail light, reportedly had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. In Minnesota, such permits are available to anybody at least 21 years old who meets certain conditions.
A woman who said she was Castile’s girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting. “He’s licensed to carry,” she said in the video. “He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket. And he let the officer know that he had a firearm.”
In the case of Sterling, who had a criminal history, his family said he was on probation, which would have disqualified him from legally carrying a gun in Louisiana. The state allows adults with clean records to carry guns openly without a permit.
“He’s got a gun!” somebody can be heard yelling in the video that captured Sterling’s death. Seconds later, he was shot.
Advocates of the 2nd Amendment have been uncharacteristically silent following the police shootings. The National Rifle Assn. did not respond to a request for comment.
Rick McCann, executive director of the Nevada Assn. of Public Safety Officers, which represents 15,000 police officers, says anybody with a gun can be threat, regardless of whether it is being carried legally or not.
“People have to understand that the officer does not know you,” he said. “If he sees a weapon and in some fashion you reach towards it, if he perceives a threat, the officer will go into a different mode, and that’s the problem we run into.”
But equal rights activists point to several cases to support their contention that 2nd Amendment rights are not being evenly protected.
Steve Lohner, a white teenager, walked away with a citation in 2014 after carrying a loaded shotgun down a Colorado street and refusing to show police his identification. The same year, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice, both black, were killed while holding toy guns in the open-carry state of Ohio.
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