Bradford Jr., an active duty serviceman, was gunned down by police while trying to save lives endangered by a gunman at an Alabama mall on Thanksgiving night. Roberson was gunned down by police while apprehending a man who fired shots into a Chicago nightclub. He was wearing a uniform with the words “SECURITY” emblazoned on the front.
In any scenario, two legally armed men being killed by cops while trying to save civilian lives would be a rallying cry for the NRA. But it isn’t. And you know why: Bradford Jr. and Roberson are Black. And the rhetoric that galvanizes groups like the NRA doesn’t apply to Black people.
If you’ve followed the rhetorical gymnastics of the NRA then you know that its way to avoid responsibility for the disgusting amount of gun deaths in America is to suggest that the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun; that fewer guns don’t stop crime, more guns do. And guns in the hands of more civilians would accomplish what Bradford and Roberson achieved: stopping gun crimes as they are happening.
In theory, using that logic, the NRA should be outraged by the deaths of two legally armed men fulfilling their civic responsibilities as gun owners in accordance with NRA beliefs. But the NRA isn’t really about gun rights for the sake of gun rights. The NRA is about gun rights as medicine for the disease of non-whiteness. The NRA doesn’t want all people to have guns; the NRA wants white people to have guns to use against non-white people.
The only time the NRA invokes Blackness is to threaten Black activists or use “grieving black mothers” as a means to misdirect legitimate criticisms of its policies.
In order to believe that Bradford Jr. and Roberson were good guys with guns, one has to believe that they are first good guys. But that goes against what the NRA stands for to believe that Black men and women can be good, Killer Mike video series aside. And the NRA hasn’t shown a capacity to see Black people as anything but targets at the end of the guns they want to supply most of the country with. Otherwise, the NRA would have spoken up for Philando Castille a couple of years ago.
This all speaks to the larger issue: White supremacists are masterful in their racist rhetoric, and the language they use needs to be dismantled with prejudice. “Good guy with a gun” is as big a fallacy as statements like “Black on Black crime,” “#AllLivesMatter,” “#BlueLivesMatter” and “Reverse Racism.” On face value, they all sound like they make sense: Black people should stop killing one another, all lives do matter and a black person who says he hates white people has to be racist, right?
But just because a rhetorical argument is easily digestible doesn’t make it right. Crime is about proximity. #AllLivesMatter is only used to counteract #BlackLivesMatter, and you can’t be racist without the power to oppress. Still, if these tools of white supremacy keep getting repeated enough then they become widely accepted, even by the misguided respectability politicians amongst us.
The fact is, “good guy with a gun” is a myth. It’s a myth perpetuated by groups like the NRA to appease a base that doesn’t care about Black people. This has been the case since the NRA’s inception and has persisted throughout its history. The people who shout about good guys with guns don’t care about good black people with guns because they don’t care about black people. The people who scream that NFL players should respect the troops don’t care that Bradford Jr. was a serviceman. The people who scream #BlueLivesMatter don’t care that Roberson was serving and protecting when he was murdered. These groups don’t care about the disrespect their bodies were met with after they were killed. These groups don’t care about the way their murders have been handled and covered up.
Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. and Jemel Roberson are heroes. But they won’t be treated as such. They’re just going to keep being treated like Black men in America. Even after their deaths.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.