The NRA’s toxic fuel: When racism and guns unite


There’s been another mass shooting, this time in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Like rapid fire bullets from an AK-47, American gun carnage is set to repeat. Random shooters can fell anyone, anywhere: at church, at school, at the Dollar GeneralMass shootings occur with such frequency that Americans seem inured to a brutal reality where the unstable and aggrieved — and the racist —can buy a gun as easily as a pair of shoes.  

The 2nd Amendment wasn’t intended as a death warrant

Alleged “originalists” on today’s Supreme Court, who claim to hew to the original meaning of the Constitution, did an about face on the 2nd Amendment.  (Disclaimer, my federal litigation practice focuses on 1st and 14th Amendments, I’ve never tried a 2nd Amendment case.) As Chief Justice Warren Burger observed: 

The gun lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime… The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies, the militia, would be maintained for the defense of the state… The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.

The NRA, like the fossil fuel industry, has lobbied extensively for laws and interpretations that protect their profits at the expense of human life, and a tainted Supreme Court has enabled them.

This view, shared by many Constitutional law scholars, holds that an unbought and un-lobbied interpretation of the 2nd A flows squarely from its historical context:  In 1775, King George declared that the American colonies were in a state of rebellion.  Eager to defeat, tax and control them while extracting their natural resources, the king sent bayonet-armed soldiers to occupy the 13 colonies.  The British army quartered itself in the colonists’ meager homes, slept in their beds, burned their firewood, ate their scarce food, and confiscated their guns so they couldn’t form a militia to fight back. 

England disarmed the colonists to frustrate their efforts to organize a militia, which handicapped the rebels and, initially, the Continental Army.  When the fighting finally ended, Revolutionary War leaders met at the first Constitutional Convention in 1787 to draft their new governing laws.  General George Washington, fresh from the fighting, didn’t just attend the Constitutional Convention, he was the convention president.

As written and adopted in 1791, the 2nd Amendment reflected the inequity of weaponry felt during the British occupation: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  

Nowhere does the original 2nd Amendment state that citizens have the right to bear arms against each other, rather, the right to bear arms was described as a matter of collective defense.

From militia to every man for himself

After ratification, the 2nd A was in quiet effect for nearly 200 years, and various gun regulations were adopted without conflict or controversy.  Trouble started brewing in the 1970s when the National Rife Association began lobbying to increase the production, sale, and distribution of firearms. After decades of effort, the NRA’s lobby paid off in 2008, when the Supreme Court declared for the first time that an individual right to gun ownership under the 2nd A was separate from the ‘militia clause’ in the very same sentence, effectively erasing those terms and their historical context altogether.  

In 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas made matters worse in the shameful Bruen decision, which overturned New York’s common sense concealed carry law that had been on the books for more than 100 years.  Relying on specious and selective historical justification, Thomas essentially wrote that an individual’s interest in carrying a concealed gun outweighed the government’s interest in reducing gun deaths.  It was an outrageous but predictable result from a justice who has accepted gifts of immense value from right-wing political donors.  

The NRA’s long-standing relationship with dark money campaign finance is no secret.  Thanks to the handiwork of tainted justice(s) and Citizens United, which allows organizations to spend limitless amounts to influence elections and thereby the courts, today’s gun lobby estimates that there are over 433 million firearms in civilian possession in the US.  

Lax gun laws kill

Democrats like to claim that Democratic states have lower murder rates than Republican states, which is true, but only because political affiliations drive gun policies. Arranging gun mortality rates according to controlling party affiliation, the CDC reports that twice the number of people are murdered per capita in red states than blue, even though red states tend to have more rural populations. In 2021, there were 6 murders per 100,000 residents in Democratic states, compared to 14 in Republican states.  The correlation between gun regulations and homicide rates is plain; states with stronger gun laws experience less per capita gun violence, a fact of no relevance to lawmakers funded by the NRA.  

The NRA, like the fossil fuel industry, has lobbied extensively for laws and interpretations that protect their profits at the expense of human life, and a tainted Supreme Court has enabled them.  It’s a good thing education in red states is also subpar, or people might read up on American civics and see a deadly pattern.

Guns and racism make a lethal combination in DeSantis’ Florida 

Florida is perhaps the most lethal state of all, because its Governor promotes guns and espouses racist policies at the same time.  

Ron DeSantis previously made it legal to drive over protesters in Florida without criminal penalty, and made it obvious that he was targeting BLM protestors reacting to the murder of George Floyd.  The next year, as multiple Neo-Nazi protests took place in Florida, complete with white power insignia and anti-Biden banners, DeSantis hesitated to condemn the protesters at all.

DeSantis has always supported permit-less concealed carry, which became Florida’s law in 2023.  He is also a champion of ‘Stand your ground’ laws, under which people can shoot and kill because they feel threatened by another person.  Racial inequities under ‘stand your ground’ are unmistakable:  When white shooters kill black victims, they are deemed ‘justified’ 11 times more frequently than when the shooter is black and the victim is white. 

When DeSantis’ pro-gun instincts are viewed alongside his vitriol toward race studies, the arrests of black voters his own administration registered, and his promise to ‘destroy leftism,i.e., minority protections, DeSantis walks, talks, and quacks like a racist duck.  In 2020, his enthusiasm for Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law elicited this from Florida Moms Demand Action:  

Florida’s hate-fueling, so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ law already encourages violence and deadly vigilantism — especially against Black Floridians. Governor DeSantis’ proposal would make it even worse and embolden white supremacists.

Fast forward to 2023.  Last week, when DeSantis appeared at the vigil in Jacksonville for three black people killed by a white supremacist with swastikas on his gun, he was booed. He seemed surprised to hear that he was not welcome, that their deaths were on his hands.  

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