Gun Control

The Reawakening of the Black Gun-Rights Movement

"I believe that I'm channeling my ancestors," says Second Amendment activist Brent Holmes, who carries an assault rifle to protests in Richmond, Virginia.


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When Second Amendment activist Brent Holmes started showing up at police brutality protests in Richmond, Virginia, over the summer while carrying an assault rifle across his chest, passersby would cheer him on. 

"'Yes, yes, he gets it,'" Holmes says. "He knows that he has those rights, too.'"

Holmes, who also wears a red baseball cap with the words "I CAN'T BREATHE" embroidered across the front, is part of a community of black gun-rights activists who have been showing up armed to protests in several American cities.

"You have this history well before the Civil War of organized black self-defense in Northern communities," says George Washington University Professor of Law Robert J. Cottrol, editor of Gun Control and the Constitution: Sources and Explorations on the Second Amendment (1994). Guns have been essential for protecting black civil rights since the antebellum period, Cottrol tells Reason.

Following "the tremendous push" for black voter registration in the 1950s and '60s, when the Ku Klux Klan decided to try to "intimidate and kill" those who were involved, Cottrol says, "you have [armed] groups beginning to be formed designed to protect the black community and the Civil Rights community."

"I believe that I'm channeling my ancestors," says Holmes. 

Producer and Editor: Qinling Li; Cinematographer: Arthur Nazaryan, Qinling Li; graphics by Lex Villena; research by Regan Taylor

Music: "Contact," by The Tower of Light; "Alone," by Emmit Fenn; "Dream Escape," by The Tides