Section: Opinion

America’s right to bear arms carries a racist double standard

The first protest I participated in was after Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in 2014. Students from my high school organized a walkout to protest police brutality and violence in black communities. Over 3,000 students left school during sixth period for a rally in front of the police station and a march.

My teacher held a teach-in during the class period that day, and I decided to attend to learn more about the history of police brutality and racialized violence in America. That was the first time I considered the racist history of gun violence and ownership in our country. The event changed my approach to the issue.

When addressing gun violence, it is paramount to consider its impact outside of school shootings. The implications of gun violence are particularly severe for communities of color because of the racist history of gun violence and gun ownership in our country.

White people in America have created a double standard that has existed since the founding of our country. This double standard encourages white people to purchase, own and use firearms publicly, yet penalizes black people with death for the mere possibility of exercising that same right.

While the Second Amendment technically grants all Americans the right to keep and bear arms, the penalty black men face for the perception of owning or carrying a gun is death.

Allan Ballard ’52, one of the first black students to graduate from Kenyon, wrote in his book One More Day’s Journey about the violence black communities experienced in the North and South after the Civil War. In both regions, black communities experienced high levels of violence and terror. White people used guns to enforce a system of oppression that maintained their power and control over black people after the end of slavery. In the South, this took the form of extrajudicial mob violence. Because white people perceived black people, particularly black men, as a threat, they used extrajudicial lynchings to enforce the existing social hierarchy. Outside of the South, police terrorized black communities, and beatings were common in the station house and on the streets.

White people continue to fight for their own right to own guns but penalize the black community for their use of that same right.

The very definition of patriotism and gun ownership is unequally applied to black and white communities.

In his speech The Ballot or the Bullet, Malcolm X called for black people to arm themselves if the government continued to fail to protect their rights. He was labeled a domestic terrorist. Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, frequently calls on members of his organization to do the same thing. He is labeled a patriot by President Trump.

One anonymous freed slave argued in a 1789 speech that the dehumanization of black people allowed white people to justify their poor treatment, despite their proclaimed commitment to liberty.

Both well-regulated local militias of old, state-sanctioned police forces and unregulated paramilitary organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan  or neighborhood watchmen, have brutalized and dehumanized black bodies in this country since before its conception.

For too long, white communities have ignored the historical context of their own freedom. It is time for us to stop pretending that gun rights apply universally in this country.

The so-called rights that guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all men have never truly applied to all men. The so-called rights protected by our Constitution, like the right to keep and bear arms, have not been universally protected or applied.

Black people are not given these rights, and their attempts to realize them frequently result in their death.

As citizens of this country, it is time for us to not only say #NeverAgain or #EnoughIsEnough to school shootings, but to say it for police brutality and racialized violence as well.

Jessie Gorovitz is a political science major from Berkeley, Calif. You can contact her at


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