Most of the time, the National Rifle Association is aggressively pro-gun rights.
But that hasn’t always been the case when it comes to black Americans. The organization has sometimes declined to forcefully defend gun owners of color. Philando Castile, for example, was fatally shot by police in 2016. Castile was pulled over by officers and asked to present his license and registration. Before he did so, he told officers that he had a weapon with him, and that he had a legal permit to carry it.
As soon as officers heard he had a weapon, though, they fired on him, killing him while his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter watched.
The NRA did not come to his defense. Instead, they released an oblique statement a day later without naming him.
“After his death, some looked to the National Rifle Association to advocate on Castile’s behalf. Surely they would step in to defend Castile’s Second Amendment rights instead of making a statement that vaguely addresses his death without even mentioning his name,” Louis Dennard, a black gun owner, wrote for Vox. “But their deafening silence was no more than the status quo. As I told others in the aftermath of the shooting, if you are waiting for the NRA to say something, don’t hold your breath.”
There have been other times when the NRA’s response — or lack thereof — has attracted condemnation.
In 2018, the NRA was slow to respond after Siwatu-Salama Ra, a black mother, was jailed for defending herself with a registered and unloaded gun after a woman tried to hit her and her daughter with a car. Though Ra had a permit and the incident took place in Michigan, an open-carry state with a “stand your ground” law, the NRA responded only with a generic tweet. Ra is serving a two-year prison sentence.
There have been other accusations of racism, too. NRA TV, the group’s flagship digital media platform, has repeatedly hosted contributors with white nationalist ties, and once superimposed Ku Klux Klan hoods on cartoons.
And now, NRA President Carolyn Meadows appeared to dismiss a black woman in Congress while discussing the organization’s plans for 2020. Meadows took aim at Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), elected in 2018 on a strong gun-control platform. Her teenage son was shot and killed at a gas station after an argument about loud music. Meadows argued that McBath’s win shouldn’t be read as evidence that gun-control activists are winning.
“It is wrong to say like McBath said, that the reason she won was because of her anti-gun stance,” Meadows said. “That didn’t have anything to do with it — it had to do with being a minority female. And the Democrats really turned out, and that’s the problem we have with conservatives — we don’t turn out as well.”
Suggesting that McBath won simply because she is a “minority female” diminishes McBath’s ability to promote policies that resonate with voters and reduces her political career to her identities.
It’s also not supported by the facts. Sure, turnout in the district was high. But McBath’s district previously backed two notable Republicans — former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Tom Price, who went on to lead the Department of Health and Human Services under President Trump.
And the argument that voters in a predominantly white district backed McBath because she was a person of color has no factual basis. There is no data to support that white voters are drawn to minority candidates. In fact, history shows that people of color have a difficult time winning races in predominantly white areas.
Of course, McBath ran on more than just gun control. The former flight attendant ran on multiple issues, with one of the main ones being holding Trump accountable, something voters accused Republican lawmakers, including her predecessor, former congresswoman Karen Handel, of not doing.
McBath noted as much Monday in her response to Meadows, tweeting: “My work on gun violence, health care, and many other issues is just starting. And yes — as a woman of color I am proud to be part of the most diverse class in American history. My experiences drive the work I am doing for my constituents. And nobody can take that away from me.”
Meadows has since apologized, calling her comments insensitive and inappropriate. But her comments are a signal that even though the NRA has new leadership, many of the existing concerns some have with the organization remain in place.