Tamir Rice, a 12 year old African American boy in Cleveland was shot dead by police who failed to recognize that the gun the boy had was a BB gun. As tragic as this was, it is being compounded as people see this as a metaphor for cops being quick on the trigger, especially when the kid with the gun is black. A few years ago, a big, pudgy black kid was skulking in the neighbor’s yard. My wife alerted me to the kid’s presence. She said he had a gun . . .
At the time I thought I had seen the kid before – there is an apartment building a block or two from my house where I’d seen a number of black kids playing in the common area. What the hell was a kid doing in my neighbor’s back yard with a gun? I was about to call 911 when he turned, pointed it up into a tree and I recognized it as a common Daisy BB pistol.
I went outside and called him over to talk with me. He was compliant. I told him that he should not go into people’s yards without permission, and certainly not go into people’s yards and shoot squirrels. I took a deep breath and went ahead and said, “Look, if the cops see you with a gun here in the city you could get hurt or killed. Especially if you are a black kid.”
He was a quiet kid. To his credit he didn’t give me any guff. He went on his way after I suggested he go back home quickly and ask his dad, mom or adult friends to take him somewhere he could shoot safely, and not go around the neighborhood with his gun.
What I observe anecdotally is that in urban environments, especially among my black fellow citizens, is a lack of a lawful gun culture. In black neighborhoods, the two classes of people who have guns are criminals and cops. Generally, there is not much of a sport shooting culture. In cultural epicenters like Washington, DC, Chicago and New York the government actively suppresses lawful firearm ownership with onerous regulations and draconian enforcement – I was not willing to purchase a magazine for my M&P Shield at a gun show in Alexandria, Virginia lest I get pulled over when heading back to DC and finding myself in deep cheese with the Metro PD – and I was driving with Dick Heller!
The culture of lawful gun owners has a robust set of mores about how to handle a firearm (including air guns and such), when it is appropriate to use and display a gun, and the consequences of breaking those mores. For instance, while I am not required by law to tell the cops I am carrying during a traffic stop, I always do, keeping my hands firmly on the steering wheel. I’d rather the cop hear it from me in peaceful, dulcet tones that I have a heater than to discover it during a frisk and then have him wonder why I did not tell him.
I transfer this knowledge to my kids and grandkids (as do their parents). I teach them how to shoot early, beginning with Airsoft guns. With the little ones I tell them to leave any gun alone, even obvious toy guns that are not their own. I share with them the Eddie Eagle NRA safety lessons – if you see a gun, leave it alone and go get an adult. I drill them in the rules of firearm safety. As soon as they are able, and their parents approve, I take them shooting to de-mystify the gun and shooting. I warn them about how cops might react if they see you with any gun in public.
For my family and circle of influence, we do this gun culture download which in turn helps prevent terrible mistakes like what happened with young Tamir Rice. Between politicians suppressing the 2nd Amendment rights of Americans for decades and Hollywood building up a vast archive of movies and media showing absolutely appalling firearms management, it’s not a surprise that a kid with (I assume) no exposure to proper use of a gun winds up in public with a BB gun and then dead.
A lawful gun culture could have saved Tamir’s life, but there are cultural forces hostile to the 2nd Amendment that conspire to keep citizens ignorant of how to do guns right. They carry at last some burden for Tamir Rice’s death and the agony of his family.