Wanda James was one of the pioneers of the cannabis industry in Colorado, becoming the first black woman to own an operate a dispensary in the state back in 2009. Now James, a Democrat who’s ran now-governor Jared Polis’ first congressional campaign and served on the finance committee for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, is branching out into the world of the Second Amendment with the opening of 1770 Armory, a virtual range located in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
— Wanda L. James (@WandaLJames) October 21, 2020
James says she hopes that the range will give black residents in the city greater opportunities to educate themselves on the importance of their right to keep and bear arms, as well as get actual hands-on training. The website Denverite notes that the city of Denver doesn’t allow for live-fire ranges (which seems constitutionally suspect to me), so the instructors and students at 1770 Armory instead use infrared cartridges that fit inside their own handguns.
Last Saturday, 17 Seventy held its first concealed carry class. A projector glowed in the darkened room as instructors Anubis Heru and Master Young started with the basics. It was a small class, staying in line with the city’s newest COVID-19 rules. All present were people of color.
Before they turned to ammo, caliber and how to hold a pistol, they stressed the responsibility that comes with owning a deadly weapon. How do you even register a threat?
Know how to hold your body. Keep your eyes and ears open. Be aware of what’s around you.
“Pay attention,” Heru told the group. “Pay attention but don’t panic.”
Safety starts long before someone might ever need a firearm. It’s the key thing James hopes people learn here. It’s relatively easy to buy a gun, but people don’t automatically understand the laws or the weight that comes with a purchase.
“More than anything, I want them to be safe and confident and understand the responsibility,” she said.
An unlikely Second Amendment advocate in some respects, James says she would “be happy if American had no guns, but that’s not the reality of where we’re at,” which is an understatement. With more than five million new gun owners this year, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Americans aren’t going to give up their right to keep and bear arms anytime soon.
James is adamant that 1770 Armory is open to gun owners of all races, but wants the facility to be a place where black gun owners can feel comfortable.
While the Second Amendment should be accessible to everyone, James said Black communities have long had difficult relationships with guns.
“The murder of Black men, gang warfare and, unfortunately, the issues that surround poverty make gun ownership in the Black community something that has been a negative for a very long time,” she said. “Black Americans have been taught: Good Black people don’t have guns. Bad Black people do have guns.”
While they may be “fallacies,” James said, these ideas have limited African Americans’ full access to their constitutional rights: “We want to change that.”
Heru, her instructor, put it bluntly in terms of freedom.
“For me, it’s very important for African Americans to own guns,” he said. “Everybody else owns firearms, and I think a people who are not able to defend themselves are subject to enslavement.”
I’m pretty sure that Wanda James and I would have plenty of disagreements over many political issues, but I think what she’s doing with 1770 Armory is pretty great. The Second Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to keep and bear arms, and anything we can do to encourage more of us to responsibly exercise those rights is a step in the right direction. In fact, the more Democrats who are promoting gun ownership and actual firearms training instead of pushing gun control under the guise of “gun safety,” the better.