In National Gun Debate, Black Gun Owners Defend Their Rights to Self-Defense

Maya King, Howard University News Service

Marcus Hyman, commander of the DMV chapter of the Black Gun Owners' Association, instructs a student during one of his training sessions at Trinity Training Academy. [photo submitted by Marcus Hyman]

WASHINGTON — In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., subsequent March for Our Lives in Washington and nationwide school walkouts last week to commemorate the lives lost 20 years ago in the Columbine High School shooting, debate over guns and gun ownership has heightened.

African-Americans who own guns and advocate for their right to bear arms, however, have been missing from this debate.  Whites, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, are more enamored with guns than African-Americans.  Of those surveyed, 32 percent of black Americans have a gun in the household, compared to 49 percent of whites. 

Still, while there are no official numbers, anecdotal evidence suggests that more black Americans are buying guns for self-defense, either from criminals in crime-ridden neighborhoods or white supremacists.  Additionally, two national black guns owner’s organizations, both founded within the last three years, report they have grown to tens of thousands of members in just a few years.

According to an NBC News report, firearms dealers and gun clubs across the country say they have seen a sharp rise in the number of African Americans buying guns recently, many since the election of President Donald Trump. Some are walking into gun shops to arm themselves, they told NBC, out of fear that Trump’s election has emboldened white supremacists and stoked tensions between the races.

Owners of gun ranges reported first-time black gun buyers were flocking in, filling open seats in gun-safety and concealed-carry classes which usually tend to consist mostly of older white miles.

For an active duty Army master sergeant who wishes to remain anonymous, firearm ownership is a matter of responsibility and accountability. As a parent of two young children, she said, having firearms in her home is a means of protection for her, her husband and their children. In a few years, they plan to begin teaching their youngest son, age 6, how to safely handle a firearm, she said.

“I think it’s everyone’s right to own a gun if you choose, but it’s also everyone’s duty to be responsible,” she said. “Proper firearm training is very important, because you can hold them [gun owners] accountable…they’re aware of what the expectation is so they’re aware of the recourse.”

Derrick Morgan, national commander of the Black Gun Owners’ Association of America, said his organization, founded in April of 2017, has seen a substantial increase in membership following the election of Trump. Membership numbers spiked in recent weeks following the death of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man killed by Sacramento, Calif., police, and the series of package bombs in Austin, Texas, that killed a number of black residents.

Morgan said his organization was formed to put black Americans “in a better position to fight as a community.”  It offers memberships ranging from $40 for one year, to $140 for five years and $1000 for a lifetime membership.  The organization also sells life, home, car and motorcycle insurance.  Its website features photos of a person in black tactical gear holding an assault rifle. 

The Black Gun Owners’ Association describes itself on its web pages as a “non-profit organization which advocates gun rights for the black community and offers supportive services for gun owners.   Our organization provides legal protection for our members through alliances with attorneys who are ready to defend cases of civil rights violations.”

“We feel as though gun control is being strongly advocated right as hate crimes against us are beginning to increase,” Morgan said. “People are feeling the need to learn how to properly use a firearm to defend themselves from acts of hate and terrorism, especially from people who were otherwise against having a fire arm in the home.”

The National Association of African-American Gun Association, formed in 2015 in Atlanta, serves a similar purpose in its mission to familiarize black Americans with firearms and their uses. Its president, Phillip Smith, called gun ownership “a natural maturation process for the black community” in an interview with Maria Lloyd of the YouTube channel, “Your Black World.”

“The process of growing—to go from slavery to owning guns for self-defense to the black codes being implemented is a long and very torturous road,” Smith said, pointing to journalist Ida B. Wells and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, two famous African Americans who were known to have carried guns as a form of self-defense.

“In terms of the history of guns in African-American communities, we need to read about how we got to this point,” he said.

NAAGA’s membership demographics are majority black and female according to Smith, with both liberal and conservative members. Information about joining the organization is also completed entirely by word of mouth and through its Facebook page. Since its founding in February 2015, NAAGA has seen growth from the hundreds into the thousands. Like Morgan, Smith said he believes the desire for self-protection is the driving force behind these numbers.

On its Facebook page, NAAGA said its goals are introducing every African-American person to firearm use “for home protection, competitive shooting and outdoor recreational activities.” Information about membership is spread almost entirely via word of mouth and its corporate sponsors provide a large amount of funding for the organization so it can maintain its low membership prices. Recently Glock became the group’s official firearm.

“If you say gun in a black community, let’s face it, it’s kind of viewed in a negative manner,” he said. “You have to really clarify [by saying] ‘well, I’m not a gang banger, I’m not to the far right, I just want a gun to protect myself at home."

A student at Leon Adams' shooting range fires at a target. [photo courtesty of Leon Adams]

Leon Adams, owner of Superior Security Concepts, has been teaching firearm operation and safety through his company for more than 20 years, primarily specifically to black gun owners. He said he began after witnessing the lack of knowledge a number of black Americans in his home state of Georgia had on gun laws and policies. In Georgia, illegal use of a firearm could result in up to five years in prison according to the state’s official website.

“Most people in [black] communities take more of a shortcut as it pertains to our rights to be able to bear arms,” Adams explained, citing illegal gun ownership by many black Americans. “The foundation upon this country was built…was the right to self-defense.”

Similarly, in Virginia, Marcus Hyman, commander of the Black Gun Owners’ Association, specializes in teaching black Americans how to safely own and operate a gun. At the end of the month, he his fellow BGOA members will be hosting people from their communities in an effort to clear the stigma surrounding blacks and firearm operation.

“You have a right as a citizen [to own a gun],” Hyman explained. “You have a home, you have a family. You should have one in your home for your family, for your protection.”

Some black gun owners question if their Second Amendment right to own and carry guns is as protected as that of their white counterparts. They say even the legal possession of a firearm can be dangerous to a black person. 

They cite Philando Castile, a legal gun owner who was killed by a Minnesota police officer during a routine traffic stop in 2016, and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot by Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun that police mistakenly assumed was real (in Ohio, residents have a right to openly carry weapons and often do). 

Carl Wilkins, a Vietnam War veteran and retired Washington, D.C., police officer who has owned a firearm for more than 50 years, said he has experienced the disparity repeatedly.

"The mentality is that black people are dangerous, black people are irresponsible, therefore black people shouldn’t own guns,” Wilkins said. “I have to sometimes show [gun store employees] my retired badge before they’ll even wait on me. But a 17-year-old white kid can go in there and buy a gun.”

Wilkins is a resident of Baltimore City, where gun violence has plagued the city for more than a decade. In in 2017,  88 percent of its nearly 350 homicides were gun-related, according to police data.

A study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research analyzed the use of guns in Baltimore criminal cases. Its researchers found that the passage of Maryland’s 2013 Firearms Safety Act resulted in a 70 percent decrease in guns used for criminal intent.

People’s March for Justice, Equity and Peace

Daja Henry, Howard University News Service

Throughout the nation, people gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here in D.C., the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl hosted a march. Howard University News Service’s Daja Henry has more on the story.


The Language Access Bill: A Personal Perspective

Maia Fuller, Howard University News Service

According to 2015 U.S. Census, 26% of the population (age 5 and above) within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area speak a language other than the English at home.

That means that more than 1/5 of the population’s first language is not the unofficial national language. With such a significant portion of the area’s population speaking languages other than English language accommodations are crucial.

Claudia Barragan, a D.C. resident, has been active within her community as she’s worked for organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Neighborhood Design Center.

More recently, Barragan has been spearheading the campaign for the Language Access Bill. The bill would require D.C. government to provide equal access, and participation in public services, programs, and activities for residents of the District of Columbia who cannot (or have limited capacity to) speak, read, or write English.

Barragan has been active on social media account detailing the importance of passing the Language Access Bill and how it’ll affect the DC area, Ward 7 in particular.

Barragan, an immigrant from Bolivia, attributes her understanding of the importance of the bill to the fact that she’s been impacted by language access issues.

 “It impacted me back when I was in high school when I was regular public school student. I came here when I was 10, so I had to learn English. Understanding how to ESL [English as a Second Language], having that program helped me so much.”

Barragan’s childhood experiences dealing with language barriers give her insight into how language barriers impact people on a social level.

“Growing up … I always had to translate for my mom. Single mother four kids, I’m the youngest one. So at an early age, I had to call the cable company, I had to call the bills and ask for extensions or being able to help my mom with those sort of things. And that’s traumatic in a way because you’re too young to be able to do that.”

The Language Access Bill would reaffirm the government’s responsibility to offer interpreters free of charge as well as documents in needed language free of charge which would potentially reduce much of the emotional strife those who’re affected by issues involving language barriers like Barragan.

As of right now, the languages that are primarily accommodated with the current language access system are Amharic, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“What we’re seeing in the population shifts for Latino community here in the District … Ward 7 and Ward 8 are seeing a higher percentage of immigrants. There’s a Cameroonian community in Ward 7, a very tight-knit community, but they don’t necessarily participate in issues because it’s not in their language.”

Barragan puts a face to the issue and highlights just how vital the Language Access Bill is.

“Everyone deserves language access, everyone.”


Educators Reject Trump, Other Proposals for Them to Go Armed

Adrienne Perkins, Howard University News Service

Gun Violence

Imani Foxx a first-grade teacher at at Kipp Leadership Primary School, said she can't envision bringing a gun into her classroom. “Gun violence is a big enough issue in New Orleans. The last place kids need to come and see a gun is in their classroom.”

WASHINGTON — Imani Foxx walks into her first-grade classroom in New Orleans every day excited to teach her students the lesson of the day. Foxx, who teaches at Kipp Leadership Primary School, said she loves thinking of new ways to engage her pupils. 

She incorporates lots of different things into her lessons, pictures, songs, team activities and dance. However, there’s one thing she cannot imagine bringing into her classroom – a gun. 

“I would never feel comfortable carrying a gun in a classroom full of innocent children,” Foxx said. “Gun violence is a big enough issue in New Orleans. The last place kids need to come and see a gun is in their classroom.”

Sparked by the steady drumbeat of school shootings, some, including President Trump, some congressional leaders and scores of state legislators, have advocated arming teachers with handguns to protect children. 

"Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them," Trump said in a tweet. "Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States," the president said. 

The idea of arming teachers is not new, but the idea has regained traction following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students, teachers, and staff members were killed. 

As early as 2012, The National Education Association (NEA) and The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), two national teachers’ unions, released a joint statement entitled, “Arming Educators Won’t Keep Schools Safe.”

“But this is not just about guns,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten said in the statement.   “Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures,” “We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services.”

The NEA, the largest professional employee organization in the nation, represents over three million educators, education support professionals, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers. With 1.5 million members, the AFT similarly represents educators and school-related personnel, but is traditionally a union organization. 

Many teachers’ associations have also voiced their opinion on the issue. 

“We are strongly opposed to all proposals that would arm teachers,” said Carl Korn, the Chief Press Officer of the New York State United TeachersAssociation.  

Some school systems have embraced the idea of guns in the classroom.  After the local police department in Garden Valley, Idaho, calculated that the average response time to a call is 45 minutes, this school district decided to take action of their own. 

“We don’t want to wait that long,” Greg Alexander, superintendent of the Garden Valley School District said. “Not all of our teachers, but some of our teachers get trained on a regular basis to be able to handle the weapons, so that if anyone comes as a threat we will be able to handle it ourselves.”   

The weapons in the rural Garden Valley School District are locked in a safe. The policy has been in place for four years and the trained staff members have never had to open the safe to respond to a threat, Alexander said. 

Arkansas, South Dakota, Texas, Ohio, Utah, and Idaho are all states where some school districts allow educators to carry firearms into the classroom. Teachers and staff in the Clarksville School District in Arkansas also have yearly firearms training.  

Most educators, however, do not seem to be swayed towards that approach.

According to a poll conducted by The National Education Association, American educators are overwhelmingly against the arming of school employees. Only 22 percent of those polled were in support of a proposal of being armed, which would allow schoolteachers and other school faculty to receive training and carry firearms in schools.  On the other side, 68 percent of educators polled opposed this proposal. 

Back in New Orleans, Foxx is on the side of the latter group.

“Arming teachers in the classroom with guns is not a good solution to the problem of school shootings,” she said, “It's our duty to make sure that schools continue to be a safe and welcoming place for students.”




Go Further with Food

Victoria Jonas, Howard University News Service

In honor of National Nutrition Month’s Go Further with Food theme, Howard University’s Department of Nutritional Science hosted a healthy food event in the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library last March.

Chef Troy Williams, director of food service with SodexoMagic demonstrated two five-minute healthy food recipes. Williams created pasta salad with chickpeas and a kale salad. Throughout his demonstration, he focused on educating the audience on cooking healthier.

“A lot of people say they don’t know how to cook healthy or they don’t have the time. However, cooking healthy is just substitution,” Williams said.

He explained that he doesn’t like using salt when he prepares food. Instead, Williams prefers using food that have natural salt, substituting for sea salt, or mixing a combination of herbs like rosemary, ginger and cilantro. A few audience members were shocked that a meal can taste great without having salt as a seasoning.

“I never knew I didn’t need salt to cook food or to make it taste good,” Tatiana Keeby, a health education major, said.  

After the demonstration, audience members were able to sample the two dishes. While the attendees enjoyed the food, Williams continued to share helpful healthy cooking tips.

“When you prepare a meal try to have at least three different colored vegetables on your plate. Also, be conscious of what you’re eating,” he said.  

Then the Nutrition and Dietetics club shared with the group how to go further with food and even hosted a nutrition jeopardy game. Attendees who played learned facts about the food groups, vitamins and minerals, diet and disease, herbs and spices, and ethnic foods.

“We hope to get everyone involved in nutrition and highlight how they can go further with food. By the end of the event, we want people to know how they could cut down on food waste by using the extra stems and leaves of food, instead of throwing it away,” Dahlia Lindsay, president of the Nutrition and Dietetics club said.

As the event ended, Dr. Katherine Manuel from the department of Nutritional Sciences expressed her hopes for the attendees to make informed eating choices.

“The department takes every opportunity to highlight the importance of nutrition. We hope the attendees take the  foods they usually consume and take a step further, in terms of spices and not using too much salt. “


U.S. Families Demand Funding, Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Maya King, Howard University News Service

Opioid Crisis in America

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Members of U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce committee's subcommittee on Energy listen to testimonies during a hearing.   Courtesy: U.S. House of Representatives

WASHINGTON — As the United States wrestles with the largest drug addiction epidemic in the nation’s history, policy reform advocates used their own experiences with addiction to push legislators to find solutions to the national emergency during a third hearing on the nation’s opioid crisis before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Health subcommittee.

The advocates, who included parents, surviving family members and recovering addicts, said that the most effective solutions to the crisis lie in increased funding for treatment programs and public awareness of non-addictive pain management drugs.

They are life-or-death factors, said Kathy O’Keefe, who lost her son to heroin addiction in 2010. O’Keefe attended the hearing with a stack of more than 30 photos of families affected by opioid addiction.

“These are not statistics,” she told the legislators. “They are not numbers. They are families. We need to help these people. Let’s give them the opportunity. Let’s give them a drug to stop that craving.”

More than two million Americans are dependent upon prescription drugs or have abused them. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, over 63,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in the United States in 2016, more than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War or the Korean War.

It amounts to an average of at least 115 overdose deaths per day. Of them, 66.4 percent were opioid related. Common opioids include heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, which is a highly-potent synthetic drug.

Testimonials from families and opioid addiction treatment advocates.

Cathy O'Keeffe (very end) provides her testimony as families and committee
members look on.  Photo by Maya King

Michael Gray, CEO and co-founder of Actus Analytical, told the committee how he lost his daughter to an accidental fentanyl overdose in January. Citing stress, the increasing potency of opioid drugs and a lack of oversight of medical providers as contributors, Gray testified that the national crisis was far-reaching and growing still. Fentanyl poses an especially unique risk to users because of its potency, he said.  According to scientists at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it is 80 times more potent than heroin and hundreds of times more potent than morphine.

Gray said he attended Thursday’s hearing to advocate on behalf of often overlooked populations within the opioid epidemic: mentally ill patients who use opioids to curb side-effects of their diseases and intermittent or experimental users.

“These users have been with us a long time,” Gray explained.  “Many would have used some and moved on. Today they’re dying.”

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is reviewing nearly 70 different pieces of legislation related to the opioid crisis. According to Heath subcommittee chairman Michael Burgess (R-Texas), members are about one week away from narrowing them down to a few critical resolutions that could eventually become bills.

One of which is the Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act, that would provide federal funding to designated treatment centers for those struggling with addiction to receive patient-centered care to treat addiction to opioids and other commonly abused substances.

The bill is co-sponsored by committee ranking member Gene Green (D-Texas) as well as Greg Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

Why Aren’t Young People At the Polls?

Tayler Adigun, NewsVision

NAACP Launches Voter Education & Registration Drive

Photo by Dawn Davis. Nia Savoy, a Howard University student, votes for the first time at Washington Metropolitan High School in 2016. 

The NAACP has officially launched its 2018 voter education and registration drive. The country’s oldest Civil Rights organization launched the drive just weeks after the 50th anniversary commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., noting that voting by blacks is at an all-time low. NewsVision reporter Tayler Adigun talked to millennial voters to get their perspectives.  


Howard University Hosts Inaugural Bl(activism) Conference

Tayler Adigun, NewsVision

Activism has always been an important aspect of student life at Howard University.  On Saturday, April 21, the topic of activism and its role in the black community took center stage during the inaugural  Bl(activism) Conference.  The event comes on the heels of the recent student-led protest and sit-in at the Administration Building.  NewsVision reporter Tayler Adigun was there.


Research Week 101: People Can’t Do What They Can’t Imagine

Dashea Smith, Ian Mahon, NewsVision

Photo courtesy Howard University 

Research Week at Howard University brings out the best in scholarly study and creative works by faculty and students. What began as a day, has expanded into a full week of exciting research at the Capstone of Higher Education.. NewsVision reporter Dashea Smith and photographer Ian Mahon have the story.


Help Me, I Can’t Cope! What Black College Students Do When Having Academic Difficulties

Niaja Smith, Acacia James, NewsVision

College can be a difficult time for students who are not only adjusting to a new environment, but are also not accustomed to the rigors of higher education. During the recent Howard University Research Week, two undergraduate scholars presented their study on the effects of academic difficulties for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). NewsVision reporter Niaja Smith and photojournalist Acacia James have the story.