Self-described ‘pastor for the gun people’ braces for blow back after Navy Yard rampage

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated George Lyon’s name.

Courtland Milloy
Columnist September 17, 2013

Kenn Blanchard, an African American minister and self-described “pastor to the gun people,” spent much of Monday working on his next podcast sermon. Call it “Bracing for the Blowback.” Or, how to stand your ground in the wake of yet another mass murder without seeming callous to gun violence.

“My audience is made up of mostly hunters, outdoors people, and I’m going to tell them not to let the gun-control folks get you down. Don’t let them bait you,” said Blanchard, a Marine veteran, an associate pastor at St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in Southeast Washington and a prominent gun-rights advocate. “Remember that everybody is hurting over this shooting, so don’t take the criticism personally.”

Blanchard, of Upper Marlboro, was referring to the rampage that occurred Monday at the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington. Twelve people were killed, in addition to the gunman. D.C. police identified the shooter as Aaron Alexis, 34, a former Navy reservist who worked as a civilian contractor at the Navy Yard. Several TV news broadcasts claimed that a handgun, shotgun and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle were used in the attack.

President Obama was among the first to express his sorrow — tinged with disgust.

“We are confronting yet another mass shooting, and today it happened on a military installation in our nation’s capital,” Obama said. He did not mention gun control, but White House press secretary Jay Carney made it clear soon after the shooting that there would be another round in the gun-control fight.

“The president supports, as do an overwhelming majority of Americans, common-sense measures to reduce gun violence,” Carney said. Those measures would include expanding background checks of prospective gun buyers and making it more difficult to buy guns online and at gun shows.

Blanchard plans to address the proposals in his podcast, which airs Friday on his Web site, Black Man With a Gun. “We know that the vast majority of gun owners are honest, law-abiding people,” he said. “We also know that if you want to do something about violence, you can’t just blame the gun.”

Gun-rights advocates including Dick Heller and George Lyon, both D.C. residents, note that the Navy Yard shooting occurred in a city that has the strictest gun-control laws in the nation. The Navy Yard is under 24-hour surveillance and has armed guards at the entrances.

“I would also point out that the military installation has a large number of people trained in firearms use, and yet military regulations prohibit most of them for carrying a firearm, as was the case at Fort Hood,” said Lyon, referring to a Texas shooting rampage on an Army base that left 13 dead and more than 30 wounded in 2009.

Lyon, a lawyer who lives in Northwest, wants to make it legal for D.C. residents to carry concealed firearms in public. “Despite all the supposed protections, you basically had people who were unnecessarily disarmed and therefore subject to slaughter by someone who was able to get a firearm past security and use it,” he said.

Heller, who works as a special police officer, agrees.

“I work in another government building that’s protected the same as the Navy Yard, which is to say it is a perfect example of a gun-free, mass-murder-empowerment zone,” he said.

Heller was the lead plaintiff in a 2008 Supreme Court case — Heller v. District of Columbia — that struck down parts of the city’s gun-control law and made it legal to keep a registered handgun in the home. He lives about eight blocks from the Navy Yard.

During my telephone interview with him, police were scouring his neighborhood for a possible second shooter.

“My wife just called, and she says she’s heading home but doesn’t want to walk from the Navy Yard Metro station,” Heller said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll be there.’ ” Much to his regret, he’d have to leave his gun at home.

“I cannot take my gun in the car. Yet,” he said.

Meanwhile, along with working on his podcasts, Blanchard is preparing for the October release of a revised edition of his book, “Black Man With a Gun (Reloaded).”

He expects to get blowback from that, too. After all, the Navy Yard shooter was a black man with a gun.

“Bad timing,” Blanchard acknowledged. But, he added, the gun is not the issue.

“What we have is a morality problem,” he said. “I tell my fellow ministers that instead of preaching in favor of more gun-control laws, they should preach more about obeying the laws we have, like ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ ”

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy

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