The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie is out with his take on this week’s massive show of support for the Second Amendment at Lobby Day in Richmond, Virginia, and like much of the media coverage, he’s more interested in creating a false narrative about who showed up and why than in actually listening to the voices of those in attendance.
As I watched the rally, it was impossible not to think through counterfactuals. What if these were left-wing protesters instead? Twenty-two thousand members of the Democratic Socialists of America, armed and threatening insurrection if the Commonwealth of Virginia didn’t establish a system for single-payer health care. How would the state authorities react? Would they give them a wide berth or would they assume hostile intent?
What if this were 22,000 black nationalists, similarly armed, similarly enraged at the prospect of gun control? Would the police have had the same light touch, watching and listening but allowing events to unfold? Or would they have gone into overdrive with riot gear and armored vehicles, aggressive tactics and a presumption of criminality?
First off, there weren’t 22,000 white nationalists in Richmond, so Bouie’s comparison to 22,000 black nationalists is way off base. In fact, so is his comparison to a march of socialists. In truth, there were left-wing gun owners in attendance. There were black gun owners there as well, along with Asian gun owners, Hispanic gun owners, and mixed-race gun owners. Yep, a lot of them were rural white guys, but not all of them were. Despite the many differences of opinion that the crowd in Richmond have with one another, when it comes to the Second Amendment, they’re all of the same mind; it’s our right, and the state shall not infringe on it.
Bouie does at least note the black tradition of arms and the entwining of the Second Amendment in the civil rights movement in this country, but in his conclusion once again ignores the fact that the crowd was not a monolithic sea of white faces in order to judge the crowd by the predominant color of its collective skin, rather than the content of its character; average, ordinary Virginians turning out in record numbers to engage in an act of citizen engagement.
Read in light of this history, the demonstrations in Richmond were a touch ironic. Twenty-two thousand people — most of them armed, most of them white, most of them men, some threatening insurrection — afraid of losing an expansive right to own and possess guns, seemingly unaware of how they’re the only ones who could protest in this manner.
Why shouldn’t Americans show up to lobby their government if they are (rightfully) afraid of losing one of their constitutionally protected rights? Why shouldn’t Virginians advocate for lawmakers to turn away from their disastrous decision to criminalize the exercise of a right, while turning a blind eye to more effective and constitutionally sound measures that can transform high crime neighborhoods without mass incarceration or the destruction of individual liberties?
I was in Richmond too, and I wasn’t just fighting for my right to keep and bear arms. I was there to defend the right to keep and bear arms. Where Bouie finds irony in the tens of thousands of Virginians who turned out on Monday, I find hope. I see the beginning of a new people-powered movement in the state and across the nation in defense of individual liberties and our shared civil rights. Bouie does a grave disservice to every one of those attendees, but perhaps most of all to the men and women of color who were in Richmond when he barely acknowledges their presence and completely ignores their reasons for attending.
The truth is that today’s Second Amendment supporters can recognize that in the past, the right to bear arms was most easily exercised and in some cases reserved for white dudes. We also know, however, that in 2020, “the People” include all Americans, and we’re working to ensure that the right of the People shall not be infringed, instead of a country in which no one gets to exercise their right to keep and bear arms, which is where gun control advocates want to take us. Today’s Second Amendment movement may still be largely conservative and pretty pale, but it certainly isn’t predicated on staying that way. The Second Amendment community is much more diverse that it was even fifteen years ago, and many of our most outspoken defenders of our right to keep and bear arms don’t fit the stereotype that Bouie attempts to perpetuate. I see that growing diversity as a good thing, but apparently Jamelle Bouie can’t see it at all. He, like so many other members of media in attendance on Monday, missed the story completely.