S1: This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. The summer is bringing new anxieties about crime and a handful of high profile shootings. That’s put a spotlight back on gun violence. For years, many black leaders have argued that stronger gun control was part of the solution. But Black gun owners say that’s a mistake.
S2: The gun control things we have in place always, always have in place. They don’t work on criminals because criminals don’t obey the rules.
S1: Gun ownership in the black community coming up on a word with me, Jason Johnson.
S3: Stay with us.
S1: This is a work, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. Gun violence kills thousands of Americans every year, and that pain is especially sharp in the nation’s black communities. For a generation, a lot of black political leadership has called for more guns to be taken off the street and been closely aligned with gun control advocates. But a growing number of black Americans seem to be choosing a different approach. During the Trump administration, Black gun ownership rates rose, and in 20 20 percent of all demographic groups, African-Americans saw the sharpest increase in gun purchases at the start of the year. For people like Kenn Blanchard, advocating for Black gun ownership has been a crusade for decades. After serving in the military and holding a series of jobs and law enforcement, Blanchard branded himself the, quote, black man with a gun, with a book, a website and now a podcast with that name. He rejects the idea that gun control will make black communities safer and has made it his mission to encourage black Americans to view gun ownership as an important element of self-defense. And Kenn Blanchard joins us now. Welcome to a work man.
S2: Thank you for having me.
S1: You’re a military veteran, a former law enforcement officer. And, you know, guns have been a part of your work for years. What led you from law enforcement work to being a gun rights advocate?
S2: Entrepreneurism? Actually, I tried to figure out what could I do that actually would make a difference? What could I do that I could do without batting an eye? So I thought in the beginning all I was going to do was become a gun instructor. I was going to hang out Newgrange. I was going to put up a shingle. And whenever a mom and pop bought a firearm for their home, I was going to be the guy you can call. I was going to make every home safer. I was going to have family classes. I was to make sure that the undercover gun owner didn’t exist anymore because we would kill a lot of people in our homes because we don’t know about the firearm that we have hidden in the closet does not secure the proper way. We haven’t gone through the education with our kids that tell them that, unlike Elmer fould, if you point this thing at somebody you face will not just turn Black and you’ll be OK tomorrow. There’s an education that has to go on and that’s going to be that guy. But once I got into it, I learned that everybody can grow up in a country farm. Everybody didn’t know about the hunting aspects and the responsibility aspects. And I had to go way deeper than just being the shingle guy, being the guy entrepreneur. I had to go into gun rights in the gun history. I had to show my people at first that you have the right to do this. That has been prevented since the creation of this country, that African Native American were not allowed to have one of these things. And that has caused us to have like a purpose to ignorance, and that has hurt us in the long run. So I wanted to demystify this thing and it took me back. I became activist before I became an entrepreneur. So it’s the money never came. I became the the Black Man with a gun because I was always advocating for safety and reliability and responsibility and then getting beat up for sticking up for the person who actually owned one. And that that’s what started it.
S1: Kenn, you know, you’ve heard statistics about how the US leads industrialized countries in gun violence and deaths, how Black Man or disproportionate victims of gun crime, and how even legal gun ownership, you know, it can potentially increase the chances of suicide. If I have a gun in the house and I’m having suicidal thoughts, my chances of going through with it and being successful are greater than if I just have pills or if I have a paring knife. Why do you think it’s important to advocate for gun ownership before the community figures out how to handle the guns out there that we already have?
S2: Education got us off the plantation and education can keep us free if you have a problem, the firearm is not going to solve it. We do it on both ends. Gun people, people who are pro-gun think that if they buy this bazooka that they will no longer have crime. And that’s false. And the people who don’t have a firearm think that all guns are evil and that’s false. So it’s it’s it’s a two way street and. There is no solution because we haven’t fixed humanity yet, we haven’t we still don’t know love thy brother and sister, we still don’t have that part down, so. When we’re looking at fixing things still as education is information and there’s no shortage of that right now.
S1: I want to talk about that, because you’re also like a pastor and there are people, I guess they have some particular interpretation of the Bible where they think that, you know, advocating for guns is somehow anti Christian. Talk a little bit about like, how have you been beaten up rhetorically where you were you getting criticized by other clergy? Were you being criticized by parishioners? If you ran a church, how were you getting beaten up for being the Black Man with a gun?
S2: When I first started, I was the janitor of this big church in D.C., I was the guy who came at four o’clock, open the place up, got ready for the choirs, cleaned up things made it was I was also security for the church. So while a lot of folks was in their practice in the choirs and whatever I was keeping. The thing straight, while I was there, I was writing my first book, Black Man with a Gun, a book for responsible gun ownership, and I thought that was like a cool thing until I became a minister. And then I thought, well, how can you advocate for gun ownership? And I said, easy guns do not equal murder. My grandmother was the first gun owner that I ever knew. She actually shot a water moccasin within feet of me, which became my hero. My grandmother celebrated freedom on watch night service night, New Year’s Eve. She fired that thing off in the middle of the night in the middle of Suffolk, Virginia. It was in the middle of something like the Boonie boonies, and that was the first gun ownership that I saw. So I had to be able to explain that in the church. And then as time went on, I got pseudo famous being a pro-gun, Black preacher, and I didn’t go over too well as I became a pastor and folks would snicker and make jokes about it until I even had, like, foreign press come over and they wanted to see this pistol packing preacher. My deacons weren’t too keen on my my own notoriety for that thing, but I was trying to tell them that. I am still a peace aholic, still a peacenik, still a hippie. I just have been trained how to protect people. I just know about this thing called a gun. I’m still it’s the heart of man that is desperately wicked. It is not the tool that I use.
S1: I am curious about this. And I think this is key, especially again, because you’re clergy in the black church. When we think about the arc of you changing from law enforcement to being, you know, a writer to podcasts and and now clergy, did the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church have any impact on your advocacy? That was an instance where, you know, just six years ago, you know, Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the white nationalist went in and killed nine people after doing Bible study with them. Did that change how you talked about gun advocacy? Did that change attitudes in the black church? Because I know a lot of churches started bringing in armed security on Sundays after that incident. Did you see that? And how did that affect you?
S2: I actually learned how it feels to be know when you want to build an ark and it never rains. And then when it rains, everybody is run into you. I have been saying this stuff to ministers. I have been talking to my fellow pastors and they were like, yeah, yeah, you do. You Kenn I’m not going to do this thing. And then now they were. Oh yeah, man. We go into the range next week. You want to come with us or I just got this whole police detachment to work undercover in my my church. What are you guys doing? And I thought you guys are already just gone past the whole thing I was trying to do before. That’s where we went. I mean, it went from OK, nobody ever said you were right or can we take a class from you now? They just went in their own direction and and sometimes it was an overkill.
S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Kenn Blanchard about advocating for gun rights in the black community. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. Did you know you could be listening to this show, ad free, all it takes is a slate plus membership. It’s just one dollar for the first month and it helps support our show. Plus, it lets you hear all Slate podcast without ads and read unlimited articles on the Slate site without ever hitting a paywall. So sign up now for Slate plus at Slate Dotcom. Again, a word plus that slate. Dotcom, a word plus. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about gun rights in the black community with Kenn Blanchard, host of the Black Man with a gun podcast, something that you and a lot of black gun advocates talk about a lot is the history of gun control in this country and how is completely wrapped up in sort of white supremacy and limiting black people’s ability to protect themselves or liberate themselves from state sponsored apartheid. What do you think is like the key Nexus moment in black gun history that that people should know about? What’s the aha moment that people who are like, oh, I don’t think we should have guns? What should they know about black people’s history with guns in America that would transform their thinking?
S2: I used to think. That if you knew that they were the Black codes, that behind many of the whole civil rights and the gun issue that we talk about now, we assume it’s some old good old boy somewhere has a basis in black history. If you talk about the Dred Scott decision, they wanted to deny Dred Scott the right to keep and bear arms, the right to citizenship. If you want to go to the Crookshank versus Stanford, then you’re talking about the Black gun, gun rights, voting rights of a cruel people who are denied. If you want to go and look at Louisiana and North Carolina and South and all the places where our people have originated from after they were snatched in here and lived and see how the laws were made to forbid them from even having a musket ball or even a pit bull or illegal, if you could defend yourself, then you were outlawed and then you you know about the great migration of our people, left the south and went to Detroit and to New York and all those places where there was industry and to be more civilized, our relatives are our matriarchs, then wants to get in in trouble. So they said leave the guns behind. And we started becoming these undercover brothers with our firearms. We still served in the military. We still were police officers. We still hunted. So because we couldn’t keep a gun legally and Momma’s House because she wanted us to be civilized, we have a culture of not teaching safety responsibility and. You never become a convert until as you. You can hear history all day until. You become a homeowner, you become a parent, you have something to defend, and now you need a fire extinguisher in case a fire comes in case of trouble, you learn that you’re your own first responder.
S1: Reverend, here’s the problem, though. There are lots of concerns amongst black people that legal gun ownership isn’t going to make us safer from, say, the police. I mean, Gerlando Castiel had a legal gun in his possession and he still got shot by a cop. So how does gun ownership make us any safer when police see our very existence as black folks, as a threat, even if we don’t have illegal guns in our possession?
S2: The law enforcement officer that pulls you over tomorrow is still just a person, a person with a firearm, a person who might be tired, a person who got a whole bunch of issues just like we get. But the difference is if. You present yourself as a threat, as a whole bunch of psychological stuff, so if you catch a guy the wrong time, an officer at the wrong time with their own fears and you don’t de-escalate if you. I know my rights, dammit, I’m say what I want and you look like Pooky to beat him and took his lunch when he was a kid. Even for a beat now or worse.
S1: OK, I got to push back on that because, one, it ain’t my fault that some white cop or somebody else has that mindset. I can’t do stamp from the beginning. I can’t control that. They have issues of blackness. And the idea of de-escalation is is putting a lot of burden on a potential victim, because if my mere existence is a trigger to this person, whether Pooky beat his butt when he was 12 or whether he just had a bad day or his wife said, I’m leaving you, I can’t de-escalate something where my mere existence is a threat to someone, let alone if I say
S2: that’s how we get killed.
S1: What else am I supposed to do
S2: and that’s what this does the issue do, that’s that’s why we have all the stuff we have. That’s that’s why nothing has been working. When I get pulled over, I give example what happened to me once I got pulled over by cop. One morning I flew through this light and I knew I was like, I’ve got to make it. And this cop came out of nowhere that do flew. He went so fast, almost passed me because I pulled over as soon as I saw him coming at me. And I knew as I hear go, I got I got is a pendulum that’s like somebody put a stopwatch. You have seconds to make a good impression. Seconds to save your life. So what I did was I rolled out the window, I cut all my lights. I waited for the Joker to come up. I knew. He sees a Black Man in a car, the pendulum, the clock is ticking, so he gets to the window, he announces himself and I’m I’m looking forward. I’m going to comply. I didn’t have the. You didn’t smell weed in my car, does nothing in my car. There was nothing that would change him other than my actions. So. I made sure that I let him know that. I say, hey, dude, nice. Please stop. He’s like, what do you mean? I say, I see your wheels, I can see you get your car turn the right way. He goes, Oh, your law enforcement. It changed, everything dropped. Now, I can do that, everybody can, but I’m saying you can do things, you can say things, you can not say things that will de-escalate, just as somebody knows, like Officer, you got me or I’m pulled over. Whatever you want your life, not your pride, your life. Dude, I’m just saying
S1: I understand that. But my point is for Orlando, Castiel was not being rude. He literally was saying to the officer, hey, officer, he’s got his hands up. I just want to let you know I got a legal firearm. The guy shot him. Sandra Bland was being reasonable until the officers started harassing her. This idea that we can magically Jedi mind trick somebody, we can’t. Yeah, I mean, you can’t. And even the example that you just gave, you know, we just had we just had a case in St. Louis right now where cops just got convicted for beating an undercover black police officer, saying, I got to tell you like that that to me that I just fundamentally disagree with at its core level, we cannot control. I can be as nice and charming and reasonable as I want to be. And quite frankly, if my existence is offensive to a police officer, if me sounding polite triggers something in them because they don’t like uppity, educated sounding Negroes, they don’t hurt me anyway.
S2: I totally I totally agree with you. I’m not I’m not disagreeing with that at all. And just all the trouble we’ve had forever.
S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, more on gun rights in the black community. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about gun rights in the black community with gun rights advocate Kenn Blanchard. Look, you’re a lifelong member of the NRA and, you know, they’ve used a lot of race baiting things in their advertising. I’ve been to NRA conventions. I know what it’s like. There are some people who are just straight up gun people and then there are some people out there where guns are clearly a proxy for their hostility to black folks. What’s it been like to be a lifelong member of the NRA, given some of the racial overtones overt of both some of the membership and the leadership?
S2: A challenge. And I’ve been at the parties with the heads. I still got a couple of friends that they’re in the book. And I bring all this up to their attention all the time. And it is because of that I don’t go to some things. It’s kind of like you got a neighbor doing that. Cool. But your neighbor is the same. A lot of the people who have been in leadership and make things happen don’t represent the whole organization. They represent themselves. There’s been a whole bunch of bad actors in that joint who are just abusing people and using them, using them for their fear of using them for whatever they can use them for money mostly to keep the keep the ship upright.
S1: In recent years, you know, the NRA has they’ve sought out black people. You know, they they they’ll do panels with M.A. They have done commercials with Killer. Mike, I want to play this twenty eighteen video with Killer Mike in it from the now defunct NRA TV and sort of get your thoughts on the other side.
S4: I had a celebrity very famous like light, so well over 20, 30 million records call me and say, hey my Wichita an now into a 90 second. I call you like, what’s up? He called me. He was at a radio station. They were pressuring him to do a anti-gun thing. And I could tell he wasn’t comfortable with it. And he said, Would you mind explaining why? You and I would say very, very simple. I said, you know, African-American, you know. Fifty four years out of apartheid. I’m a I’m very pro Second Amendment. This is why. And before you say, well, what about the children? My my daughter goes Savannah State University. There was also a shooting on that campus. Talk to my wife. I talk to my wife and daughter. After that, the decision was, we’re going to go to Savannah, she’s going to get a gun and Traymore. And after that, they say, might we never heard that perspective. We surely respect and understand it and they stop pressuring him to do something they want to do.
S1: What are your thoughts about that? Because, I mean, look, what Killer Mike said is logical. But at the same time, you know, this idea of if we can arm ourselves to safety is also something that a lot of people just sort of fundamentally disagree with.
S2: Killer Mike and Colin on the war, who was working as a spokesperson at the time, did some good and actually showing a different face. Two pro-gun people being armed is a choice, and it’s like everybody shouldn’t do it, everybody doesn’t have to do it. What’s cool, though, is if one in four people like, say, you live in Georgia, which is probably more of a pro-gun place in Florida, is for at least for black people. It is. If you if you know that one in four persons in that state might be armed, you will not carjack them. Because bad guys want easy targets, bad guys want to attack the female who they know doesn’t have any training, if you walk and you’re acting like you might be a UFC champion. No, that’s not what I’m going to do. You pick somebody else. So the fact that there’s one in four or a small number that may be in this move, then that saves other people. Is nothing wrong with being totally I don’t want firearms in my house. I don’t want to be a gun person is not my thing. I am really, really cool with that. Just be in that same group there won’t dog me for going to the range, won’t dog me from owning it. Just you be you. Let me be me.
S1: Kenn Blanchard is a gun rights advocate and host of the Black Man with a gun podcast Kenn Blanchard. Reverend Blanchard, thank you so much.
S2: Thank you so much.
S1: And that’s a word for this week. The show’s email is a word at Slate Dotcom. This episode was produced by Ahyiana Angel and Jasmine Ellis. Aisha Solutia is the managing producer of podcasts Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of podcasts at Slate. June Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast Network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for word.