The Georgia gubernatorial race between Republican candidate Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams is providing a glimpse into the racial component of the gun debate.
Amid the conflicts of interest, accusations of hacking, and fake robocalls in Oprah's name, Abrams' supporters have accused Kemp and his supporters, including the president, of disdaining Abrams, who is black, because of her race. While there are several reasons to distrust Abrams' platform, such as her opposition to school vouchers, tweets from Kemp regarding Abrams' armed supporters do suggest that some of Georgia's pro-gun Republicans treat black gun owners differently.
Over the weekend, the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) held an armed rally in support of Abrams. They carried campaign signs and rifles through the streets, which is legal in Georgia with a permit. Though the group posted a note about the event being unaffiliated with the campaign, it did not take long for Kemp and his supporters to tie Abrams to the group.
— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) November 6, 2018
The NBPP admittedly has many issues. It is both racist and antisemitic, and has been strongly disavowed by the original Black Panther Party. What is most interesting about the criticisms of the protest, however, is the way otherwise pro-gun Republicans have emphasized the fact that the NBPP members were armed.
"I mean, these guys are wearing camo and they've got serious weapons," said radio host Rush Limbaugh on Monday. "The New Black Panther Party has openly and willingly been photographed armed to the teeth looking very threatening and intimidating in the process."
Fox News host Laura Ingraham also harped on their weapons, writing "Peace-Loving" and "Armed With Assault Rifles" in the same tweet.
Yet Kemp had a very different reaction when a few of his own supporters posed with rifles. In this tweet, the armed supporters were identified as "unapologetic about their support of…the 2nd Amendment."
— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) July 9, 2018
To Kemp's critics, this is another instance of pro-gun Republicans making the wrong kind of exception for black gun owners.
When legal gun owner Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was slow to speak up for him. When NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch finally decided to comment, she merely referred to pot found in Castile's vehicle.
The perception problem is a historical one. Those alleging prejudice towards black owners often mention the Mulford Act of 1967. At the time, both the NRA and California Gov. Ronald Reagan supported the gun control measure, which made open carry in the state of California illegal. This was done in response to the original Black Panthers' decision to arm themselves in self-defense. Years after the bill passed, California Assemblyman Don Mulford (R), who sponsored the bill, referred to the Black Panthers' decision to open carry as an "act of violence or near violence."
Gun ownership is on the rise among black Americans, particularly among black women. Pro-gun Republicans should examine their messaging and stop marginalizing legal gun owners based on the color of their skin.