The rarely discussed support for gun rights among black voters

Gun rights is a topic which seems all too readily broken down among racial lines if you get all of your news from cable TV or the New York Times. Black Americans don’t like guns and white people are just crazy about them, right? (Or just crazy, I suppose.) But while there are some definite trends to support the stereotype, no group is ever as homogeneous as the press would have you believe. While I rarely turn to NPR for my news, I ran across an interesting interview this month conducted by Karen Grigsby Bates, speaking with one black gun owner from the Washington, DC area who definitely defies expectations. April Howard is very clear on how this is an issue which should (and does) break the color barrier.

APRIL HOWARD: I have a .22, a .38 and a rifle.

BATES: And she’s keeping them all. Howard’s had guns for several years now, the result of a close call at her D.C. metro area home that still makes her shudder.

A. HOWARD: Someone was breaking into my home while I was home alone at 7 a.m. in the morning. That prompted me to immediately get some form of protection for me and my home.

BATES: That doesn’t make Howard unusual, says Charles Cobb. Cobb’s book, “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made The Civil Rights Movement,” looks at black Americans’ historic relationship to guns. For decades, Cobb says, most blacks lived in the rural South and had guns.

CHARLES COBB: And this is a tradition that goes all the way back to the end of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. Black people have traditionally used guns for self-defense.

Further discussion reveals that increasingly heavy gun control laws in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and other large cities left black citizens with few avenues of self defense while living in what are arguably some of the most dangerous, crime ridden portions of the nation. April’s husband Ken is very clear on that point and it influenced their decision to live outside the borders of the District of Columbia when looking for a home.

KEN HOWARD: D.C. is strictly very prohibitive, legally. It seems as though the only ones who are able to have weapons like this are the criminal element.

I got to wondering just how this has been trending around the country. Given the shape most of the urban centers are in, you’d think that support for gun rights would be rising in minority communities. And while it’s still far from a level of parity, you’d be right. I checked out the tracking average at Pew – where they follow questions such as these over long periods – and there does seem to be a shift taking place.


During the power days of the Brady campaign back in the 90s, black support for gun rights was tanked at 17 to 18 percent, but if you look at the graph above it’s been slowly rising at roughly the same rate as support among whites. At the end of last year it had reached 34% at the same time that white support peaked at around 60. I won’t read too much into this, but the Howard interview definitely makes a good case as to why plenty of black voters should, if anything, be more supportive of gun rights. I’ll embed the player here so you can listen for yourself.