On a May afternoon at the “Solutionary License to Carry Drive” at the Philadelphia Firearms Academy, men and women filed inside, where they walked through a gun license application process and paid a $35 fee across the street at the official licensing center. Enrollees listened in on panels discussing gun safety, conflict resolution and more.
It was the pilot program of a movement spearheaded by activist Maj Toure called “Black Guns Matter,” which kicked off a planned 13-city tour, with similar events in cities like Baltimore and Chicago with high rates of gun violence, where he feels gun training could make a difference.
EBONY.com grabbed a word with Toure, 29, to get his views on the movement, gun owners’ rights, Black Lives Matter, and some of the recent events that have transpired between police and the Black community.
EBONY.com: How did BGM come about?
Maj Toure: There’s so much ignorance around the Second Amendment, especially in the ‘hood. The general public thinks if you have a firearm, then you’ve got to be this horrible person. Having a firearm and being a responsible gun owner is good citizenship. You can protect against negative portions of the community and law enforcement. Anybody not trying to do the right thing is a tyrant or a terrorist, for lack of a better term. We created something that would address that, as opposed to complaining about it.
EBONY.com: What is it about the gun that is so important?
Toure: Well, it’s not necessarily about the actual firearm [so] much for us. It’s about the safety and training around [guns]. It’s understanding what your rights are. Not something that was given, necessarily by the government. Something that’s a human, inalienable right. You can have all the constitutional rights and amendments you want, but if you don’t have something to defend those rights and beliefs from somebody who’s trying to violate those rights, then it doesn’t even make sense. It’s got to be something behind those words. A bully doesn’t stop bullying because you’re just saying stuff. A bully stops bullying because you pushed back.
EBONY.com: What are BGM’s weekly classes about?
Toure: That’s the way we can touch the bases of theory and practice. Just knowing [about guns] is one thing, but repetition and learning an practicing is how we get better and master it. We wan to link up with reputable people nationwide: certified instructors, gun range owners, gun store owners, gunsmiths. All these different places where we can bring our community, our dollars, and learn that information. It’s a booming market that wants to learn and train. That’s what we’re here for: to make sure people in each community knows where those resources are.
EBONY.com: How does Black Lives Matter (BLM) tie into BGM?
Toure: We don’t really have an affiliation with BLM. We understand there’s a struggle. Everybody’s trying to fight against prejudice and tyranny. In that sense, I could see how people would make that association, but we’re totally separate organizations. BLM, as an organization, to me, has put a face on [the movement] and gave it a name. But these things have been happening [in America] for a minute, as we all know.
What we can do at BGM is offer any strategic advice or just do things we know helps. We ain’t really about marching. We’re more about getting in, informing the people, training the people and getting them to stand on their own.
EBONY.com: What do you have to say to folks who may be skeptical of an organization that promotes Black gun ownership?
Toure: I haven’t encountered those people. All of the White people that I’ve interacted with, especially over the last six months, have been very supportive of the Second Amendment. I don’t catch that flack. If they do say something like that, they should look in the mirror. The they can ask “Why am I afraid? Am I biased? Am I bigoted because I think that a certain demographic learning and training in a law abiding way is scary?” I don’t know why they would think that. I was on Sean Hannity’s show. [FOX News] ain’t afraid. They’re embracing what we’re doing with BGM.
EBONY.com: What is your take on the death of Philando Castile, a Black, licensed gun owner, killed by police?
Toure: I think that officer needs to be arrested, charged and locked up. That’s number one. Number two, I do think about Mr. Castile making a first movement. At BGM, we train our members to not make quick moves, because law enforcement is nervous a lot of the time, for whatever reason. It also points to the fact that there definitely needs to be more training on the emotional psychiatric side for law enforcement. I agree with that. Their job is a heavy job and every so often, they should be evaluated. But the reality is, Mr. Castile had a license to carry. He was reaching for that license and that officer pulled the trigger and continued to hold the firearm on Mr. Castile and his lady. In that specific scenario, I think [the officer] handled himself improperly. I think that some officers utilize the continuum of force to justify their own biases and their thirst for blood, in my opinion.
Unfortunately now, somebody has lost a loved one and will never see them again. For me, that was a murder, cut and dry. To even pull your firearm, in most cases, you need to be meeting a use-of-deadly-force standard. Law enforcement should be held to that same standard.
EBONY.com: There are people who are critical of the NRA for not speaking up on behalf of Philando Castile, since he was a legal gun owner. What are your views on the NRA’s absence on the issue?
Toure: I think the NRA isn’t responsible to jump up. They are a civil liberties organization. They’re not there to do the work we, as a community, aren’t doing. They’re there as a resource for people to use to understand and exercise and learn They’re not lawyers, per se. We can’t keep passing the buck. As far as I understand, the organization [is] only beholding to [its] members and if you’re not a member, there’s a different question there. When things happen, local businesses, like Walmart, should be leaned on. Local politicians need to be checked. Local authorities need to be fired. Things of that nature. That’s what spurs change. I don’t rely on the NRA. I rely on our hard work and our persistence to fix things. The NRA has done enough to prove what their position is, in regard to the Second Amendment. The NRA has helped the Deacons for Defense in the late ‘60’s with [Rev. Martin Luther] King. In DC, in the ‘60’s,[The NRA] had the only non-racially segregated gun range [which lasted] over 20 years. I know the history, so my perspective is, it is not their job to overstep boundaries and cross into states. Each state is its own entity. Each local or state government needs to handle its own situations and stop looking to the NRA as, like, some Band-Aid to fix everything. It’s not their job.
EBONY.com: What would you say is the real reason so many police officers are killing Black men?
Toure: Ignorance, miseducation, horrible training; small portions of law enforcement being bad guys; bigger portions [of law enforcement] who are good guys, but being quiet; institutional racism, bgotry, conditioning. This is a “melting pot.” Different races built America, period. If you have this entitled mindset, you need to check yourself. Not checking yourself is the reason why you get into these [situations]. Or just straight cowardice. Some guys get the uniforms because they’re cowards. It’s no different than in the hood. Some dudes are irresponsible with guns because they’re cowards. They don’t want to get into a fight. You know, punks. But when they go to jail and it ain’t no gun, they’re a punk. It’s the same across the board.
EBONY.com: How does BGM promote conflict resolution/deescalation skills for law enforcement?
Toure: We actually have that component in our organization already, with our conflict resolution specialist Minister Jazz. It’s necessary for the community, and the police should be part of the community. That service is made available for them as well at BGM, in our weekly classes. Clearly they need the training in that area. They need sensitivity training. They need to understand the areas that they’re working in. They’re actually here to serve the community. If you look at it from that lens, it changes the scope of things a lot. We’re there. We’re available and as we get stronger as an organization, we will continue to make ourselves available to any law enforcement officer that wants to strengthen community relations and take that step. If you want to be closed-minded, we ain’t for you, but if you’re open-minded, we’re here for that and we have a component specifically for you.
EBONY.com: At the end of the day, what do you want for folks to know about BGM?
Toure: We are a resource that helps you find out what your rights really are and maintain those rights. We want to assist you. We want everyone to join BGM. Our ultimate goal is to empower the people. Once you see progress, it becomes an addiction and we want people to be addicted to knowledge and becoming a stronger citizen.
To learn more about Black Guns Matter, visit its official website.
Ryan K. Smith is a Philadelphia area writer and digital content editor for Don Diva magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @MeWeFree.