On this Memorial Day, the producers of In the Bubble wanted to share another Lemonada Media show that they hope you will find helpful as the country feels like it’s spinning out of control. It’s called Last Day. In this award-winning series, Lemonada co-founder and author Stephanie Wittels Wachs confronts massive epidemics with humanity, wit, and a quest for progress. Now, back for a third season, Last Day grapples with guns in America, asking: How can we live safely in a country with more guns than people?
As Americans look for solutions in the wake of last week’s unimaginable shooting in Texas, the Last Day team asks: Who does the Second Amendment protect? In this episode, they trace its racist roots, learn why a former firearms executive blames the gun industry for sowing fear, division, and maybe even anarchy in our country, and take a look at how we ended up in this culture of fear, mass shootings, and other acts of violence.
To hear more Last Day, head to https://link.chtbl.com/LastDayPodcast.
To learn more about the people and organizations featured in this episode and access critical information about suicide and violence prevention visit: https://lastdayresources.simvoly.com/.
Andy Slavitt, Ryan Busse, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Philip, Carol Anderson
Andy Slavitt 00:00
Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. I’m your host, Andy Slavitt. It is Memorial Day. And I really hope that you’re getting to spend the weekend in a relaxing fashion. I hope you’re getting to see friends, I hope you’re getting to be outdoors, and really enjoying life. I know that is true for us and in the bubble. As the team is off for the weekend, given the holiday and the crazy week, we thought you’d bring you a really, really interesting and timely episode that we’ll talk about shortly. We will have a new episode on Wednesday with Senator Al Franken who stopped by my house and it was I would say it was lots of fun. It was also incredibly interesting, because we were processing some of the happenings of the week together. And then Friday, we have a dynamite conversation episode about the economy. Our pocketbooks what the cause of things iron, what advice we have for you with really it’s really a terrific, terrific, terrific show. So, for today, I thought long and hard about what would be a good episode to both kick off summer commemorate what’s been happening, and we’re gonna bring you an episode from Stephanie whittles wax show. Stephanie is the person you may have heard on our Friday episode on the on the shooting in Texas. It’s from her show called Last Day, which is focusing on guns in America. I think you’ll find a really interesting the topic of the show is who does the Second Amendment protect. So enjoy the show you’re going to hear from an author who traced the racist roots of the Second Amendment, you’ll going learn if you don’t know already why former firearms executive blames the gun industry for what’s going on. And maybe a little bit of even of the anarchy and revolutionary nature that around is around our country. Enjoy the show and I look forward to giving you a fresh episode on Wednesday.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 02:05
Hi everyone, I am checking in with you because it has been a very, very difficult couple of weeks, where we literally could not keep up with horrifying news involving guns in America. I want you to know that we rewrote parts of this episode to acknowledge the recent shooting in Buffalo, only to receive news today of yet another mass shooting. This time in an elementary school. I promise that we will find the time to talk about the story. But for now we’d like to just start today’s episode with a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of the shootings in Buffalo, New York. and Uvalde Texas.
Ryan Busse 00:25
If you are pumped enough fear about what might come marching down your street, what might happen to your kids how you might be attacked, I assure you, you will go out and buy guns too.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:35
This is Ryan Busse. He’s a former firearms executive who walked away after two decades in the business to write a tell all book called gunfight my battle against the industry that radicalized America, having lived on both sides of the debate, he’s thought a lot about the Second Amendment and gun rights.
Ryan Busse 00:56
All of these rights and freedoms, they really don’t mean anything without balancing, responsibility. And to me, laws and regulations and social norms that enforce responsibility are not anti-gun. They’re not anti-Second Amendment. They’re just pro democracy. Nobody argues or no sane person argues that we should be able to drive 90 miles an hour through a 25 mile an hour school zone, because we have freedom and we’re late for work. Why? Because it’s irresponsible. And so for those that argue that reasonable restrictions and social norms that govern the way we use guns in society is somehow anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment, I find that to be insane.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 01:43
Yeah, I’m an American who loves freedom. But I also respect that I can’t just skip the line at Trader Joe’s because I’m hangry. But when it comes to avid supporters of the Second Amendment, or 2A as it’s known, they hold their freedom to bear arms to a higher standard, because it is a privilege that is literally enshrined in our Constitution.
Ryan Busse 02:06
Those same people really, you know, quote unquote, here shoot holes and a lot of their arguments because they accept massive restrictions on the Second Amendment every day, and they don’t want about I mean, I don’t hear them saying I should have an A 10 warthog fighter jet in my garage, I don’t hear him say I should have those drones that can wipe out towns from 35,000 feet, and we should all have them. So in other words, they’ve already accepted that there’s a line in society, where rights and freedoms have to be balanced with responsibility. So we’re not talking about establishing some new system, some new set of lines, we’re simply talking about sliding the line a little one way or a little the other way.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 02:48
That sounds so reasonable when Ryan says it, but in practice, any attempt to pass gun legislation has been met with huge resistance. Now, most of that is the work of the NRA, who adopted an all or nothing approach over the last 25 years or so. They have pushed things so far, that I’m often left asking which rights are actually prioritized in the Constitution, the right to own a gun, or the right to live and prosper without the fear of being shot by a gun.
Ryan Busse 03:18
I just think our freedom versus responsibility thing right now is way out of whack and the country way, way, way out of whack. And we need a rebalancing. We don’t do that we’re going to have anarchy.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 03:32
It honestly feels pretty close to anarchy these days. Just as we were wrapping up production on this episode, news broke of yet another mass shooting. This time in Buffalo, New York. 10 people were killed, and three were injured by an 18 year old motivated by hate and carrying a Bushmaster AR15. The shooter drove hours to target a supermarket in the heart of a predominantly Black community. The stories made me so fucking sad and deeply, deeply scared for our country. And that’s what we’re talking about this week. fear and hatred. It’s honestly sad that this was already the plan for this episode. The news just happened to align. But it is not like it’s some big coincidence. We knew going into this season, that horrible tragedies involving guns would inevitably pop up, because that is what happens here. That is what we have accepted as the status quo in this country. And it is terrifying. I know I have said this so many times this season. But fear is a very powerful tactic for all sides of the gun debate. depending on who’s stirring it up It can make you want to buy a gun, stockpile and Arsenal or do everything in your power to wipe every single gun off the face of the planet. So this week, we are tracing all of this fear back to its roots, to figure out who has been feeding this very dangerous fire, and who has been benefiting from the flames. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs, this is LAST DAY. Before Ryan helped grow one of the world’s most iconic gun companies, he was a kid growing up on a ranch in Kansas surrounded by guns.
Ryan Busse 05:53
For me getting a job in the firearms industry. It was kind of like a dream come true, to be honest with you. It’s not unlike a kid who plays baseball and dreams of making it big in the big leagues, you know, and that’s what it was like, for me. Early on getting in to the industry, I got to be in and around these things that were so culturally significant to me.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:12
When he first started working at Kimber, a gun manufacturer that’s known for high quality pistols, the industry looked very different than it does today.
Ryan Busse 06:22
Back in the day, back, you know, when I got in the industry, almost all the firearms that were sold, were sold for very specific reasons, target shooting, hunting, self-defense, they have very specific market segments. Now, with this sort of blow up in this technical culture, it’s very tough to enumerate why these guns are being sold, or why people are buying them. I mean, they sort of manufacture these reasons, right? Like, well, the government might come and, you know, try to take my house away, or I have to be ready for a Black Lives Matter rally. And you look around in Drummond, Montana, and you’re like, dude, it ain’t happening here. You know, I mean, in other words, fear is at the very heart, irrational fear is at the very heart of so much of firearms culture now, and that is frickin dangerous, because these people who have purchased guns and have been told to be fearful with them and told to be fearful of everybody else with them, and told that maybe they might want to use them in a bloody civil war someday. And you just keep pumping more fear and more guns into that equation. I got news for you. Eventually, it’s like the equation is going to eat, it’s going to equal out right.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 07:28
Ryan said that, at the start of his career, the firearms industry had all sorts of self-imposed rules around marketing. For example, trade shows, would never feature the kind of tactical militarized gear that has since become the standard uniform for extremists.
Ryan Busse 07:44
That were probably looking back at it signs of the sort of radicalization and division that we see guns fomenting now. But there was also a very ardent sense of responsibility.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 07:57
That sense of responsibility began to erode. During his time in the industry. It was the mid-2000s. And we were in the middle of a 20 year war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ryan Busse 08:07
War was on the news every night, it was on every website, guys with AR15s, Special Forces, operators, our heroes, our villains, everybody had an AR 15.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 08:09
This was also the rise of social media. So these images flooded the internet. And in 2005, George W. Bush signed PLACA, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This law protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their products that left the doors wide open for anything and everything.
Ryan Busse 08:45
Literally, at the trade shows now, nothing is off limits, I mean, nothing. There’s an AR15 that’s called the urban super sniper that’s branded as that with a big flashy website in a marketing campaign, that stuff would have never flown in the early years of my career. We’re talking about an incredible rapid sort of radicalization that it didn’t happen over 100 years. It didn’t happen over 5, 6, 7 decades. This happened over really honestly about five or six years. I mean, it’s exceedingly rapid.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 09:16
And decisions made during those five to six years have had very real, very fucking scary consequences. Ryan pointed to an ad campaign for the AR15 Bushmaster rifle created by Remington, which featured the slogan consider your man card reissued. They seem to target insecure young men, and even bought ad space in video games.
Ryan Busse 09:40
Then a single mom in Connecticut bought it for a troubled son, who apparently, you know, was trying to get his man card back and ended up taking that rifle to Sandy Hook.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 09:49
Sandy Hook, a moment that, to me felt like a real turning point in America. I kept looking at the people in charge and thinking, how are you doing nothing. 26 kids and teachers were just murdered in an elementary school classroom, and absolutely nothing is being done to stop it from happening again. But despite political gridlock, these families have not stopped fighting. And just this year, they finally got a pretty substantial win. Remington, the company that manufactured the weapon that was used, agreed to pay Sandy Hook families $73 million in a groundbreaking settlement. Despite PLACA theoretically protecting gunmakers. The case took advantage of an exception in the law that allows people to sue if sales and marketing practices violate state and federal law. The prosecution argued that Remington did that by promoting their products in a way that encouraged illegal behavior. This decision was a small glimmer of hope for people like me who have taken to screaming into the void for the past decade, baffled by blatant inaction. But for Ryan, who’s familiar with the other side of this debate, inaction makes all the sense in the world.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 09:49
I’ve been asked 100 times, why didn’t Sandy Hook spur people into action? Because people in the firearms industry can explain that away. I mean, it’s a single, it’s a horrible, horrific thing. But if you ask all of them, they’ll say, well, it’s one bad twisted kid. I mean, forget about the man card campaign. Forget about proliferating AR15 so the bad kid could get one, but it just explained by one bad kid.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 11:41
One bad kid, a bad guy with a gun, guns don’t kill people, people kill people at their core. These phrases are all intended to shift blame away from the guns away from the gun manufacturers. And it works. As they were reaching their settlement, Remington went bankrupt and the Bushmaster brand was bought by a Nevada company. That new company has continued to sell the Bushmaster AR15. Despite the fact that this rifle is associated with the murder of first graders. It’s available on their website, which quotes the Bible verse, Matthew 559, saying, Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be the children of God. A few short months later, that same model rifle was used in the Buffalo shooting to murder 10 innocent people, shameless. But all of this seems to successfully distract from the much more present threats. Why are people not afraid of what if my 10 year old gets a hold of this thing? Or what if I have a moment of despair? And yet the bad guys threat resonates so strongly?
Ryan Busse 12:54
Because it’s very easy to rationalize in your mind, staying away from one bad actor, right? I mean, from one bad thing. The things that are driving fear, aren’t single bad actors. They’re not one kid entering a school, they’re not one person committing suicide, those are easy to dismiss. And in fact, you think about it. Now you can rationalize them. Like for instance, you’ll think well, I’ll go get the gun, I’ll be the person that will be safe, that people down the street may not be but I will be like you can rationalize yourself as apart from that. What you cannot rationalize or what is much more difficult to rationalize yourself as apart from our big social movements that you’re told are threatening your livelihood. Again, armed people of color marching down the street, that’s not like one bad actor, they believe there’s a horde mass coming to get them. And that’s what and that’s why they’re buying guns because of this irrational fear of these larger movements.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 13:49
And this fear has been carefully stoked for years.
Ryan Busse 13:53
the same sort of tools that the NRA figured out would drive politics. So fear, conspiracy, racism, you know, those sorts of things that that drove political outcomes. And then I think people look around like, wow, that’s the same stuff that drives gun sales.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 14:11
And as we’ve established throughout the season, fear is powerful. Fear of others fear of bad guys, even the fear of gun control. When Obama was in office, he promised to pass stronger gun legislation, and in response, sales dramatically increased. I think we can all agree that the last couple of years have been pretty fucking intense. And sure enough, gun sales were through the roof following the pandemic and the rise of the movement for black lives. It’s estimated that 22 million were purchased in 2020. That’s up 64% from the year before.
Ryan Busse 14:48
I think it’s very, very dangerous when fear and hatred and conspiracy and racism become a useful marketing tool or become a set of useful marketing tools. Because then that’s in your best interest to propagate those. And that’s what I started to see in the industry 10 or 12 years ago, I’m like that with the NRA sort of stumbled onto this like, Wait, conspiracy theory and hatred and racism can make people do irrational things, and it makes people buy guns, let’s make more of it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 15:17
And they did. And we are still feeling the effects of these decisions every day. Details of the buffalo case are still emerging. But this, this is what Ryan is talking about when he says the equation is going to equal out. The shooter is much more than one twisted kid. As his manifesto demonstrates, he has been radicalized and motivated by the fear, conspiracy and racism that drives gun sales and conservative politics in America. And now we’ve added 10 more people to the evergrowing body count. There are very real consequences to this rhetoric. But the NRA wasn’t the first group to assemble around fear and racism. After the break, we rewind the tape back to the 17th century.
Carol Anderson 16:19
There was this fear of black people that just was so clear that was coursing through the laws, coursing through the language, coursing through the ways of the development that led to the Second Amendment.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 16:33
This is Dr. Carol Anderson. She’s the chair of African American Studies at Emory University, and the author of some of the most important books on race and our country. I’ve never heard someone break down history in a more evocative, fascinating and frankly, entertaining way. You know that saying I could listen to them read the phone book. I really could listen to her read the phone book. I could listen to her read a book on the history of phone books. Her most recent work is called a second race and guns and a fatally unequal America. Incredible book pick up a copy. She started working on it shortly after the killing of Philando Castile, a licensed gun owner who was shot during a traffic stop by a Minneapolis Police officer. This led her to ask who actually has the right to bear arms in this country.
Carol Anderson 17:24
So I start tracking that through regardless of the legal status of black people in the United States. And I see how tenuous those rights are how Ivison rated the moment threat, threat, threat, becomes the key word to explain why. You can have a 12 year old boy gunned down playing with a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio. But you could have Kyle Rittenhouse with an illegally obtained AR15 strolling by police officers, and they welcome him in the midst of a tumultuous situation with an AR15. The juxtaposition between those two is that this White teenager is not seen as a threat, even with an AR 15. A 12 year old black child playing alone in the park, danger, fear, threat. It’s there.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 18:28
So who does the Second Amendment actually protect? To answer that question, Dr. Anderson goes way, way back to when enslaved people were first brought to what is now the US.
Carol Anderson 18:41
I went hunting. And I ended up back in the 17th century with slavery and looking at the ways that the issues of guns and weapons and blackness were just these two things that the laws were making really clear should never be put together without the control and oversight of white people. And that’s what became so clear to me was that the role of anti-blackness, this defining black people as the pin ultimate threat in American society, this threat to the white community, this threat to slaveholders, this threat to all that was deemed good and Justin right in America, that threat, danger, fear, danger, fear, that bedrock sense of anti-blackness course through regardless of the legal status that black people held.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 19:42
Yeah, I mean, I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about specifically how anti blackness is embedded in the second amendment because this is a big idea that people might not immediately understand.
Carol Anderson 19:53
Absolutely. So one of the things that I really lay out in the book Is the battles over the drafting of the Constitution and the ratification of the Constitution. So what we have to understand is how the southern states were willing to play a game of chicken, with the United States of America willing to extort as much as they could in that founding. In order to embolden and strengthen slavery and the slaveholders. It was about the South playing a game of hardball.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 20:32
The South was basically like, nice constitution you’ve got there, we’d hate to see it all fall apart at the last minute. I mean, it sounds a lot like how politics work today, where a small group can hold the entire system hostage to get what they want. In this case, what the South wanted was protection. They were terrified that enslaved people would rise up, there had been a few successful rebellions. And the only solution they could see to keep people oppressed was a well-armed militia.
Carol Anderson 21:04
James Madison, who drafted the Constitution, put control of the militia under the federal government. Well, when it came time to ratify the Constitution, the get down to Virginia. And Virginia was like a big dog at the time, a big dog. And, and Patrick Henry and George Mason, looked at that federalization of the militia, and when not today, we will be left defenseless. You know that we cannot trust those states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, to send the militia down when our slaves revolt. And so they wanted that militia under state control.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 21:54
I don’t know about y’all, but I never really thought that much about militias until recently. I mean, now, I associate the phrase with angry shouty men and camo stalking around with AR fifteens. But for many, the militias evoke an image of our nation’s proud history. They were the brave men who stood up to the British and fought for our freedom. It turns out, the history is a little less heroic.
Carol Anderson 22:21
The Militia could not sent off a foreign invasion drove George Washington crazy, because sometimes they show up, sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes they’re taking it on and all of a sudden, they’re like peace out, and they take off running, you know, and it’s really hard to fight a war if you don’t know your people that go and be there.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 22:43
So the militia weren’t exactly the most reliable force, but they were still a key part of the Southern strategy to maintain slavery. So the big dogs in Virginia started pushing for some amendment that would protect them and their White friends.
Carol Anderson 23:01
So when you begin to think about it, you’ve got freedom of speech, the right not to be illegally searched and seized the right to a speedy and fair trial, the right not to have cruel and unusual punishment, the right to a well-regulated militia for the security of the state. That thing is such an outlier. That is the bribe. And what Madison was afraid of was to hurl the United States back to the unworkable days of the Articles of Confederation. He wanted to have this constitution nailed down, and the Second Amendment was that nail.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 23:44
Don’t you want Carol Anderson to teach you everything in the world from now on? Until she said this? It never occurred to me that the Second Amendment is an outlier in the Bill of Rights. But it’s totally true. If you’re not familiar, this is it verbatim the whole thing, quote, a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Unquote. Most of the other amendments are focused on individual rights and the good of the nation. This suddenly throws states’ rights into the mix. Why, what were they so afraid of? You know, another thing it seems like the Haitian Revolution was also a major contributing factor.
Carol Anderson 24:34
This is like that oh show for Sanford and Son where Fred would clutches heart like a Lizbeth when the Haitian Revolution jumped off, and this is after the passage of the Second Amendment, but what you’re seeing here that laws are coming through so you have the 1790 Naturalization Act that says, defined what immigrant can become An American citizen. And what they basically come to is you got to be white. And then you have the 1792 militia act. And what that does is it says, white men between the ages of 18 and 45, must join the militia and must own a gun. So in the law is identifying white men, as the protectors and defenders of the United States of America, that this is foundational to citizenship. This is foundational to the defense of white communities. Now, the Haitian Revolution, Thomas Jefferson is like, oh, this flame will consume us if it gets here. You have George Washington going, it is lamentable, that Blacks are so, I mean that they are in an uproar that they’re in a revolt like this, because Black folks are determined to be free. And these ideas about equality, democracy, freedom, justice, those weren’t meant for black folk. I mean, this is also part of the conversation that is happening among the Founding Fathers, these ideas are going to the wrong people. We have got to figure out how to stop these ideas from getting to the wrong folk. So the fact that Black folks fought White folk in one.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 26:32
This fear, threat, fear threat mentality, and this anti Blackness at the core of our country’s foundation is still very much alive today. According to the buffalo shooters manifesto, a collection of racist screeds copied and pasted from the worst corners of the internet. He was motivated by replacement theory, a white supremacist concept that has a long history in the United States. These conspiracy theories fuel the fear mongering that Ryan talked about. And while some people today see to a as the only thing standing between them and a tyrannical government, we can’t ignore that it was created to actually preserve tyranny. If we want to overcome that history, and grow past it as a country, we have to come to terms with it.
Carol Anderson 27:32
Anti-Blackness is an incrediblely effective political strategy. Because it drives, or the fear, it taps into the kind of primal fear that your safety is at stake, when we begin to understand how lethal Anti-Blackness is to American society. And when we have the truth out there, we can begin to dismantle it as an operating code we can refuse to be driven by fear. Wow, we can begin to redefine what real safety and real security looks like.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 28:18
I love this distinction of real safety and security, not the trumped up fantasy about some mysterious bad guy coming for you and your family in the middle of the night. Because that is not real. After the break, we’ll meet a Black gun owner in Atlanta, who tells us what safety and security looks like for him today.
Locally, regionally, as well as nationally, I think it’s very, very important that Black folks, I’ll be very candid, know what’s going on from a national perspective when it comes to the Second Amendment.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 29:00
This is Philip Smith, the president and founder of the National African American Gun Association, also known as NAGA.
When I started the organization, I wanted an organization that spoke to African Americans culturally first, first and foremost, I wanted to kind of grab them by the heart and give them information and a visual image of firearms in a very positive way. So when I did that, I put together an organization that focused on training, and shooting in training and shooting and safety.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 29:28
And when the pandemic hit in March of 2020, Phil’s phone started ringing off the hook.
I would say at least I got at least over 100 phone calls from people over time. That said, you know, Phil, I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Is there going to be social unrest? Is there going to be the structural breakdown of society as we know it? I need to get a gun. Philip, what gun do you recommend? That was the initial conversation that I had with White men, Black men, Black women, White women, people all over the country because they were scared. And what you’re seeing is that people are buying guns based on I think what I call the three headed monster, one racial tension, two just an uneasiness with the society, is it gonna fall, is there something going to happen in our community that will drive us to not being safe, and what I call the difference makers the pandemic.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 30:28
Racism, a fear that society is on the brink of chaos, and a global pandemic is one heck of a monster. And it makes sense that people are looking for anything that will make them feel safe. Now, NAGA has over 90 chapters, and more than 45,000 members nationwide. Of these 45,000 members. Black women in particular, are one of the fastest growing demographics of gun owners. But that’s not just a trend for NAGA. Nationwide between January 2019, and April 2021, about half of all first time gun owners are female, 20%, more black and 20% are Hispanic.
We try to empower our folks, our men, especially our women, to let them know that you know, you have the right to carry a gun in a very lawful legal way. Women are no longer waiting for some guy in a white horse good looking or not to come by and save them at two o’clock in the morning when somebody’s trying to break in your house.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 31:25
This is where you see the parallels between Atlanta and Montana. They may look different on the surface. But the fear of someone breaking in, in the middle of a night runs deep across the country. This fear, as we’ve learned is largely manufactured. But very real fears do exist for black Americans.
I think when you look at the heart of the matter, look at our history, we came to this country, we were defenseless. And in many, many cases, we have continued to be defensive. We call that being a soft target. Our community has constantly been attacked, constantly been under siege by various entities out in the larger community that have really looked at us as a point of being a victim.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 32:13
Dr. Carol Anderson has also noticed the rise and people of color becoming gun owners, especially during the last administration.
Carol Anderson 32:22
What the Trump years really, really revealed in ways that the previous years had not was the sense that black people were on their own, that they could not count on the authorities to protect them. That if you wanted to have the tranquility, of peace, you had to protect yourself. So when you think about the killings, the Breonna Taylor, Laquan, when the police are not held accountable for shooting and killing black people, calling the cops to protect you doesn’t seem a viable option. So what are you going to do? And that’s what I’m seeing in terms of the rise in black gun ownership is that we have to protect ourselves. The problem with that is that when blackness is the default threat in American society, when you look at Stand Your Ground laws, for instance, part of what you see is that when Whites kill Blacks under stand your ground, they are 10 times more likely to walk under justifiable homicide than when Blacks kill Whites, under stand your ground.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:10
When you are seen as a threat, you can’t totally rely on the law to protect you. Which is why these open carry laws that keep popping up across the country are really precarious. They always seem to pop up right before election years, which always makes me wonder, do lawmakers actually feel safer with people walking around, slashing their guns? Or are they just trying to get votes? And if the answer is yes, it does make them feel safer. Does that apply to everyone? Because it certainly didn’t seem to for a guy named John Crawford III in Ohio back in 2014.
Carol Anderson 34:48
Ohio is an open carry state. John Crawford’s in Walmart where they sell guns and he picks up a BB gun and he’s carrying it in the store as he’s picking up groceries. I mean, this is just as innocuous as it can be. And there is a White couple behind them who are afraid of this Black man carrying this gun. And so they call the cops and they talk about he’s threatening people. He’s waving that God. So the police rushed in thinking they’re in an active shooter situation. And they gun John Crawford down.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 35:29
A White man called 911 said he saw John Crawford loading the gun with live ammo, and pointing it at women and children. sounds terrifying, right? None of it is true.
Carol Anderson 35:45
And when you began to see the video in Walmart of what’s happening, all that the people who were complaining about, oh, he’s threatening folks never happened. But you saw a Black man with a gun, threat. Because it’s not the gun that becomes the threat. It is the Blackness, that is the threat, and the gun increases exponentially that sense of threat.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 36:12
This is where it gets complicated when it comes to Black gun owners. Phil believes that they need to arm themselves against the genuine threats of the three headed monster, racism, fears of societal collapse, and the pandemic. But that comes with real risks. Take the murder of Philando Castile, who we mentioned earlier.
When I saw that video, it was so gut wrenching, it was real. It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t, you know, played up. It was this raw footage of a man getting assassinated in my estimation. And I want to say this before I go any further. So everyone knows my perspective. I have the utmost respect for law enforcement. But when I saw what happened to Atlanta […] the one thing that jumped out to me more than anything is that this guy did not even give him the benefit of the doubt. What I saw was somebody that was either ill trained, or had stereotypical ideas about black men, and that either one is not acceptable to me. I will never accept that.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 37:19
This event was unacceptable to Dr. Anderson to remember, this is what motivated her to dig into this work in the first place. She reviewed the details of the story over and over again, trying to find logic in such an illogical tragedy.
Carol Anderson 37:36
The cop asked to see his ID and Philando Castile following NRA guidelines, you know, alerted the police officer. I have a license to carry legal weapon with me. I am not reaching for it. I am reaching for my ID and the cop began shooting five bullets with a child in the backseat. And there was virtual silence from the NRA, this defender of the Second Amendment, because let’s be clear here. Philando Castile wasn’t threatening the police officer. He wasn’t brandishing the weapon. He wasn’t pointing it at anyone. He was killed simply because he had a license to carry weapon. This should have been easy slam dunk, easy for the NRA. Instead it was and you had Black members of the NRA, compelling that organization to make a statement. And the statement was so milquetoast we believe that everyone has the right to bear arms.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 38:42
Except in this case, Philando Castile. With NAGA, Phil often points to this case, as a warning to all black gun owners of the potential threat that is all too real for them as licensed carriers.
I tell everyone that I talked to do exactly what the law enforcement officer says. Roll down your windows, turn off your car, turn off your radio, get rid of the attitude. And I hate saying all these things, but the goal is to get home. I don’t care if he calls you the N word or she calls you the N word, I don’t care, whatever they do, let them do, get that ticket or that warning and go home, then address it legally with an attorney if you think you’ve been wrongfully stopped or whatever.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 39:28
How does that make you feel? I mean, I hear that..
It hurts. You know, because I mean, I’m not gonna see you go over the top. But I mean, it hurts because I have a son. He’s 6’1. He’s bigger than me. He’s got big hands. He’s athletic. He’s darker than me. He fits in a lot of people’s view, that stereotypical view of a black guy. And I’ll give you a small story. This insight into what really this Sunday really happened to our family. So one day my son took my daughter or to the movies. In the route to going to the movies, a law enforcement officer got behind them, and put on the lights until my son pull over. So my son looked at me and said, me and he goes, pull over. So my son pulled over. And my son, he’s been told what to do. Car off, radio off, windows down, don’t move, tend to. So law enforcement officer comes up and he goes, what’s your name? And he said, you know, I think you your taillights out, and my son said, I’m sorry, officer, be very respectful. And then officer said, you have any warrants. And my son said, no. Ever been arrested? He goes, no, stop by the police before? My son said no. And then officer and this, it really almost brought me to tears. The officers literally looked at my son and said, you mean it’s something we haven’t got you yet. And I’m like, my kid is 17 years old. No record. And it hurt me, hurt my soul that the conversation on the side of a road with two kids from a good family that the officer drilled down and could only say that, oh, we haven’t got you yet. And looked at my son and I was I, I got home and I hugged my kids, I almost cried. You know, I’m not trying to overstate it. But it bothered me, that bothered me as a father.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 41:24
When you’re a parent, that kid is the most precious thing to you in the world. And I’m gonna go a step further. And bet that this cop gun in his holster, pressuring this teenager, probably also has a kid at home, who he thinks is the most precious thing in the world. Why are these two kids not the same? I mean, thank God, it didn’t come to this. But the presence of that officer’s gun during a routine traffic stop, where he said that disgusting thing to Philip’s kid makes the line between life and death, razor thin. And often, the thing that determines which way it’s going to go, is how much fear has been pumped into that cop. This brings us back to Ryan Busse. After decades in the industry, he saw how fear was used to manipulate people and heighten the tension in this country. It’s why he ultimately walked away.
Ryan Busse 42:24
The whole industry was spiraling out of control, the gravity of it was getting much larger. I was trying to convince myself all along that I was somehow staying above it on some imaginary high road by picking little battles and fighting little wars. And it became more difficult, more difficult as the as the industry got so large that the gravity of it got so big, I’m like, you know, it’s sucking me into. And so at what should have been the height of my career at age 50, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I walked away, and I had to write this book. I opened the book with my son being attacked at a Black Lives Matter rally by armed Second Amendment patriots. And that, for me, was a bit like saying, you know, being an executive in a food company and walking into a grocery store, you know, holy crap, there’s the macaroni and cheese that I developed, right, like, that’s the product that my industry developed. And here it was attacking my son.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 43:21
It is a great big lightning bolt of an aha moment when you acknowledge your own accountability. And it’s rare to have one of those. Most of us are just walking around, clinging to our belief system, doing everything we can to justify our behavior. But when you do get struck by lightning, and you’re not pushing mac and cheese, you’re peddling lethal weapons. It’s a lot easier to see the blood on your hands. Ryan realize that he contributed to the culture of fear that put people like Philips son at risk. He was struck by lightning; he changed his belief system. And in today’s Ultra polarized world, saying my team got it wrong just doesn’t happen very often. Ryan’s actually an amazing example of someone who didn’t have to completely change sides. He still lives in a very conservative part of Montana. He still strongly identifies as a gun owner, but he’s also doing everything in his power to expose what he thinks is wrong with an industry he helped to build. And this feels more important than ever, because it is going to take a big, big movement to change the way this country thinks about guns and safety. The truth is, we agree on more than we’re led to believe. And that’s the place we need to build from. That’s the foundation. As long as we are distracted with petty fights and manufactured fear. We can’t make any real progress. But my friends, change is possible. Next week, we look at what is realistically on the table when it comes to gun laws in America.
LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. Jackie Danziger is our supervising producer. Our producers are Kegan Zema and Giulia Hjort. Hannah Boomershine and Erianna Jiles are our associate producers. Music is by Hannis Brown. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. We are thrilled to partner this season with the Candida Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, Levi Strauss and Co, and Everytown for Gun Safety. You can find more mental health and legal arms restrictions resources along with info about some of the voices on the show in the show notes and at lemonadamedia.com/show/lastday. If you want to hear more LAST DAY, we have two whole other seasons. Please go listen to them wherever you’re listening right now. And while you’re there, I implore you to take a moment to rate review and subscribe. It is the number one way that you can help the show. Join our Facebook group to connect with me and fellow LAST DAY listeners at www.facebook.com/groups/lastdaypodcast. You can find us on all social platforms at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @wittelstephanie. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. See you next week.