African American gun rights group sees growing interest

By Michael Kinney

For Timothy Blackwell, the Second Amendment has always been something he has been interested in. Even as a kid growing up in Oklahoma, he knew it was important, even if he couldn’t put it into words.

“As long as I can remember I have been fond of people understanding their Second Amendment rights,” Blackwell said. “Being from Oklahoma, gun ownership is nothing new. And you see it, at one point when I was a teenager, I used to see some of the guys in high school would have it in the back of their pickup trucks. Nobody would mess with it all day long.”

More than three decades later, Blackwell has the same intense interest in gun rights, especially for African Americans. That led him to start up the Lawton chapter of the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA).

“What I’ve always noticed is that African Americans in general, because of the violence that is fairly pervasive in some of our inner-city communities, we have shied away from gun ownership, firearms in general,” Blackwell said. “But I’ve also noticed that everybody has the same Second Amendment rights, but it seems to be one-sided. And so, you have to fix that because African Americans have a rich, rich history of gun ownership, responsible gun ownership. I wanted to make sure that, in the community that I am in, that we emphasize that. That we have an organization where people who are interested in owning a firearm can do so in an environment that promotes safety, that promotes education about their rights, that promotes proficiency.”

Blackwell started up the Lawton chapter of the NAAGA three weeks ago. Since then he has seen interest start to pick up.

“I have six in the pipeline for full-blown membership,” Blackwell said. “I have at least eight more that I am waiting for them to go to the national  organization and they have to be paid members before they can be an official member of a local chapter. So, they go to the national site, pay their [annual] membership dues, and then I’ll officially be able to bring them in.”

Blackwell joined the NAAGA national organization more than a year ago. He said he was looking for a group he could be part of that had the same mindset on gun rights as he has.

“I had been holding off on the NRA because I just felt that the direction the NRA was going was not advantageous to the African American community in my own personal belief,” Blackwell said. “And I felt that the NRA had gotten too political and too one-sided, and was more focused on defending itself and defending people than on defending the Second Amendment for everyone and being inclusive. So, when I heard about this organization, I was like, “Wow, this is awesome.”

The NAAGA has more than 30,000 total members. Just over 60 percent of them are women.

“In my chapter focus, one of the six things that I talk about is the increase in the number of African American females [who] are trained, educated, and proficient with the different types of firearms,” Blackwell said. “This is been growing for a while. African American females have been very interested in owning firearms because as we know, in many cases, they have been the targets of abductions, sexual assault and various things, and there has been a movement to protect themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

There are 75 total chapters of the NAAGA spread out across the nation. That includes four in Oklahoma alone. They are comprised of Spencer, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and now Lawton.

Blackwell believed Lawton was a perfect spot to build a chapter. “Because there are a lot of retired military here,” said Blackwell, who spent 27 years in the Armed Forces. “There are a lot of African Americans [who] own guns, but they just don’t network. And then they’re not seen in the community. So, I wanted to establish that here. I got permission from the national organization to form a chapter here in Lawton, and it’s slowly starting to gain interest. And slowly started to build up a little bit and we’re getting there.”

There is a growing interest from African Americans across the state and country in their Second Amendment rights. Some of it has stemmed from recent events involving unarmed black men being shot and killed by law enforcement officers. That includes George Floyd in Minnesota and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.

These incidents led Ardmore native Omar Chatman to organize the “1,000 Black Men and Women in arms Second Amendment” walk Saturday in Oklahoma City to bring attention to the fact that black Americans’ constitutional rights to carry firearms are not respected. 

“Because they have the right, they have the right to bear arms,” Chatman said. “They have the right to protect themselves. So many African Americans, especially in the state of Oklahoma are very complacent, and they’re scared. Most African Americans live with some kind of heightened sense of anxiety dealing with police. A police officer just rolls behind you, immediately the anxiety shoots through the roof.”

Carrying his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Chatman led a group of around gun owners and Second Amendments proponents on a march from the Ralph Ellison memorial Library to the Governor’s Mansion. More than half of those who took part were armed with handguns, rifles and an assortment of other firearms.

Because Oklahoma is an open carry state, citizens age 21 or older can carry a firearm in public without a permit.

The group consisted of not just black men and women, but also a sizeable group of white men and women. According to Chatman, the sight of the armed and racially mixed group marching together sends a message.

“It’s important to know that people are not weak and limited. When you see people just marching and they have nothing on them, like Martin Luther King did, people assume that they can brutalize them whenever they want to,” Chatman said. “But when the Black Panthers marched alongside the protesters, they were never brutalized. And if you look at the protest, even today, the police are not shooting rubber bullets at them. They are not tear gassing those people who have armed people with them while they’re going out. So today that message is we the people will push back if you push up against us. This is a peaceful movement, but don’t go pushing us too far.”

When the marchers arrived at the Governor’s mansion, they wanted to deliver a list of demands to Gov. Kevin Stitt. But since he was at President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, co-organizer Michael Washington, read off the demands before leaving it on the locked gate.

Protester stops in front of the locked gates at the Governor’s Mansion.

The demands included for the Oklahoma State Legislature to enact laws that would hold officers accountable when they are found to have violated human rights and for officers to be required to carry personal liability insurance.

One thing they were not asking for was to defund the police, which has gained momentum in other parts of the state and country.

“I don’t believe in completely defunding the police. I don’t believe in getting rid of the police,” Chatman said. “We need law enforcement, but we need law enforcement that is responsible.”

Washington, a longtime community activist, said the biggest message they wanted to send was not to Stitt or law enforcement; it was aimed at other African Americans in the state.

“What we’re trying to do is organize a peaceful, humble protest and to show African Americans that they too can carry their weapons in a respectful in a humble manner,” Washington said. “And that a lot of them don’t know that they can’t do that. So today we just want to make a statement and let them know that if you have a weapon, please carry it. You have a right to do that. We’re just trying to educate the black population to know that you have a right to defend yourself when something comes up wrong.”

Getting African Americans to understand that the Second Amendment rights apply to them just as much as anyone else is one of the main reasons Blackwell wanted to start the Lawton chapter. He says over the years, it has been lost.

“I think they’ve forgotten about it. As a people, we have pacified ourselves to a point to where it is almost as if it is not good to speak about firearms and ownership of firearms. That is not good at all,” Blackwell said. “We have basically forgotten about it. You had Ida B. Wells. You had Frederick Douglas. You had very prominent people in African American culture who were gun owners and were proud gun owners.”

Blackwell says that the need for self-defense has been the No. 1 factor for the growth in organizations like the NAAGA.

“It’s the reason why I wanted to make sure that we got this chapter here in Lawton because one of the things that we would promote is the ability to provide self-defense for oneself and their family. You need an understanding of the state laws that govern your ability to provide self-defense,” Blackwell said. “It has to do with understanding that the law is there, and it covers you, too. You have to embrace your legal rights. You have to embrace your Second Amendment rights, especially here in Oklahoma. Some people are fairly spread out and it may take a little while for the legal authorities to get to your place of residence. You have to have a means to protect yourself, and the Second Amendment gives you that right to have firearms to protect yourself.”

Story & Photos by Michael Kinney/Michael

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