© Josh Sager – May 2015
On May 7th, South Carolina police shot a 26-year old black man named Bryant Heyward in the neck outside of his own home—while he survived, he is now permanently paralyzed from the neck down. Heyward himself had called the police who shot him, as two armed intruders had broken into his home and shot at him at least twice. After calling the police, Heyward grabbed his brother’s handgun and chased the intruders out of his house. Unfortunately, when the police arrived at the scene, they saw him holding his gun in the doorway and shot him. While they claim to have demanded that he put his gun down twice, this is contradicted by the video of the event and even they admit that he never pointed the gun at them or acted in any way that could reasonably be considered threatening.
Yesterday, a dash-cam video with audio of this shooting was released, revealing that the police shot Heyward after giving him just over 1.1 seconds to drop his gun—in fact, the police shot him while in the middle of demanding that he drop his weapon for the second time.
According to the AASHTO, the average human perception-reaction time is 2.5 seconds (they use this to calculate driver reactions and the acceptable safety standards for our highways). By this accepted standard, the police gave Heyward absolutely no chance to react before shooting him—in effect, their spoken commands were irrelevant because they didn’t even give the recipient enough time to comprehend what they were asking.
While there is no proof that these police officers are overtly racist, they were negligent in this shooting and are part of a pattern of police shooting black men after giving them unreasonable amounts of time to disarm. Two of the most egregious incidents of this kind would be the Tamir Rice shooting, where the police gave a 12-year old with a toy gun less than 2-seconds to drop it before executing him, and the John Crawford III shooting, where the police shot and killed Crawford for carrying a toy gun in a Walmart (which was selling the toy gun) after giving him less than a second to drop it.
We live in a nation filled with guns and, for as long as this is the reality, police officers cannot just shoot any black man carrying a gun because they find him intimidating. Unfortunately, this is an issue that doesn’t appear likely to disappear in the near future and is one that is largely ignored by the usual “pro-gun” advocates.
The NRA’s Silence
Beyond the racial and police-violence concerns raised in this case, there is a very important issue that is almost completely ignored:
Bryant Heyward is a citizen of the United States who legally used a gun to defend his home from intruder who shot at him. While he followed the law and did everything right, he was shot by the police he himself called. His case represents a nexus of circumstances that should make the NRA immediately jump into action and turn him into a 2nd Amendment martyr.
First, his case represents the NRA’s ideal scenario for positive gun ownership, where a “good guy” uses his gun to defend his home and to stop “bad guys” who mean him harm. Second, his case demonstrates the NRA’s argument that the police often cannot help in a situation, both because these police were incompetent and because the armed gunmen were clearly such a present danger that police couldn’t arrive in time to do anything. Third, his case is an example of the gun rights crowd’s greatest fear, where police officers shoot people who legally exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.
Despite these circumstances, the NRA and “gun-rights” activist base have been absolutely silent on this shooting. I can’t find even a single mention of it by the NRA, nor do I see any movement by the “gun-rights” supporters to rally behind Heyward and help him rebuild his life.
Put simply, I see no reason for this silence by the pro-gun movement on a shooting that so perfectly fits their ideology, other than the race of the victim. If Heyward were white, I have no doubt that this situation would be championed as the demonstration of how gun owners are begin threatened by the evil government and used to solicit donations to fight gun control.
While most pro-gun groups refuse to reveal their membership lists—largely due to a fear of registration and confiscation of their guns–polling on this issue makes it reasonable to assume that they disproportionately represent rural, white, male, and conservative Americans. These are the groups that consistently poll as having the highest levels of support for gun rights, and an anecdotal look at pro-gun rallies tends to back this assumption up.
Given their demographic privilege, the average gun activist may not being able to relate to the dangers a black person faces while walking down the street with a weapon. White open-carry activists can walk down the street with an assault rifle and not get stopped, while black men and boys with toy guns can get executed by police before it is physically possible for them to respond.
Compounding this lack of shared experiences, there is also the issue that a lot of gun-rights supporters are simply racist. This racist demographic within the gun-rights group extends well into the leadership of major pro-gun groups.
For example, here is a quote from NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that pretty much illustrates my point:
“Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.” Wayne LaPierre – 144th Annual Meeting of the NRA
Additionally, Larry Pratt, founder of Gun Owners of America, has a well-documented history of belonging to white-nationalist, extreme militia, and anti-sematic organizations, as well as supporting vigilante death squads in Guatemala to murder leftists/communists. With their reaction to this, and other, situations, the pro-gun establishment is demonstrating its biases (implicit or overt) and revealing its double-standard on gun ownership. A significant percentage of this crowd simply cares about the “right” of white conservative men to own guns and have survivalist fantasies about fighting government tyranny, while knocking back beers and shooting small animals—these people don’t care about the rights of black Americans and could care less about police shooting black gun owners. Within this group these is an even more extreme subset who fantasize about shooting black people and who raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to legally defend white shooters who kill black victims.
While I personally, support massive increases in gun control laws, I recognize that everybody must be treated equally in regard to gun rights. No one group can have privilege, just as no one group can face execution of they exercise their “right” to carry any legal weapon they choose.