by Women & Guns staff
A major highlight of last fall’s 30th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference was the announcement that the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) was launching an important new educational program, an urban initiative in which the gun community would be reaching out to youth and adults in minorities throughout the country.
The announcement made by SAF President Joseph P. Tartaro and Rashad Gray, co-director of the National African-American Gun Association and CEO of Ohio-based Urban Sports Unlimited training company, was greeted with enthusiastic support from the 500 gun rights activists from all across the nation who were in attendance.
They apparently agreed with Tartaro when he said, “Within the next 20 to 30 years, the US white population will no longer be the majority. The Latino minority is already greater than the black minority, and both combined, along with new legal immigrants, will swell the influence of the predominately anti-gun urban Democrats. A handful of big cities will wag the state dogs, as some already do. And a handful of populous states will dominate the Electoral College.”
“We need a pro-gun urban initiative,” he continued. “We’ve needed it for years. But now the Second Amendment Foundation, with the help or support of other organizations, is launching an Urban Initiative, especially with the help of our natural allies in the inner cities, regardless of color.”
The object of this bold, non-partisan initiative is to develop, establish and expand a long-term relationship with minority populations in urban communities across the nation by linking the Second Amendment friendship and residents of those communities through a beneficial program that educates and mentors residents for the personal benefit of individual participants and the betterment of their communities.
It would attract teens and adults by providing free hands-on learning experiences taught by qualified volunteers with ties to the same target communities. Firearms safety, responsibility and marksmanship would not be the only subjects taught. Participants would get a primer in basic civics so they can participate actively in local, state and national government, as well as conflict resolution, neighbor-to-neighbor citizenship, and outdoor sports and conservation.
“Over 80 percent of the US population lives in urban cores,” said Gray, a veteran and firearms instructor. “We need all the help we can get.”
Gray spoke of “a large constituency” of African-American gun owners in inner cities that few know about because “they never talk about it.”
“A lot of this has to do with the understanding in the community that the laws don’t work for them,” he claimed. “Policy was designed with a history going back through Jim Crow to take away their rights and their firearm ownership.”
Just three weeks after the GRPC, the first meeting of interested stakeholders—people from several states who expressed interest in the initiative—attended the first start- up meeting held at a Cleveland, OH, hotel. The majority were people of color who embraced the initiative’s agenda, most of them veteran firearms instructors, but also including other community activists, pastors, a state lawmaker. Some already had been conducting their own educational activities in their home states, or searching for such a program.
The meeting approved a broad curriculum, a name for the new urban outreach program, and moved forward toward a permanent structure.
The outreach program will be known as the Community Initiative for Safety and Education (CISE).
It will be sustained as a project of the tax-exempt Second Amendment Foundation, and it will be managed by a separate Advisory Board representing activists in several states.
CISE will primarily be funded by tax-exempt donations from individuals, foundations and corporations as well as by local fund-raising events and activities necessary to sustain local volunteer groups in each community.
The firearms friendship, which includes national, state and local organizations as well as most legally organized rifle and pistol clubs, has long been characterized as a predominately white, well-to-do, mostly partisan and “closed” community. But this picture is far from accurate.
Gun ownership in America cuts across all color, ethnic, political and economic lines. Gun ownership is based on personal circumstances and decisions.
While participation in the varied firearms sports has always cut across racial, ethnic, educational and economic lines, recreational shooting has been growing steadily in the past 20 years or so. But growing even faster is concern for safety and as a motivation for firearms acquisition for personal and community defense. The public’s decision to acquire, keep and bear defensive arms is based on a thoughtful awareness that crime is a serious national problem, especially in many urban communities..
In addition, growing public concerns about disorder due to natural disasters or possible terrorist attacks on American soil have driven firearms sales across the country.
These minority segments of the American family also have an interest in self-defense and many wish to legally acquire firearms, which would be their right under the Constitution.
Thus there is a greater need than ever for education in the safe and responsible ownership and use of firearms, which CISE would bring to their communities.
In doing so, CISE would draw upon and coordinate the experience and talents already resident in those communities and already available through other diverse organizations from the National Rifle Association and various other shooting groups devoted to specific disciplines, to the Civilian Marksmanship Program and 4H, schools with riflery programs, and even the firearms industry.
Playing a leading role in this community safety and education program will be African-American firearms instructors and military veterans whose centuries-old struggle for equal rights has also given them a long tradition of firearms ownership that has not previously been recognized, but which helped provide protection for even the non-violent freedom marchers of the 1960s.
As a nation, we have needed a pro-gun urban initiative for many years. Now the Second Amendment Foundation, with the support of other organizations, is launching CISE with the help of our natural allies in the inner cities, regardless of color or sexual orientation.
CISE plans to provide everyone a free and entertaining hands-on learning experience in firearms safety, responsibility, firearms and civil rights history, marksmanship fundamentals, outdoor sports and civics, taught by volunteers with knowledge experience.
As part of the original announcement at GRPC, Gray urged his fellow members of the Second Amendment Foundation ”to take this very seriously.” Gray, who can trace his family’s gun ownership back generations, said his uncle, a gunsmith, took him shooting for the first time when he was six years old. “I fired a .22 down a city alleyway with a bunch of kids from the neighborhood,” he recalled. “Those were the days, you know? When they let you fire a gun in the city and not get arrested.” More important than the lesson in marksmanship, Gray said, were the words of wisdom he says his uncle imparted: “‘Being a black man and being a gun owner, it’s your birthright.’”
John Annoni, a veteran teacher and president of Camp Compass Academy in Allentown, PA, encouraged the CISE Cleveland meeting audience with a review of his own experiences in setting up an inner city program linking firearms safety and responsibility education with scholastic achievement. He minced no words about the ups and downs in such a venture, drawing on some 20 years of his own experience.
He explained that the students who want to advance in his Camp Compass program must also maintain acceptable levels of scholastic performance in order to participate in later hunting, fishing and camping adventures, but said those who do achieve that level become an inspiration for their inner city peers.
In many ways, Annoni’s program is seen by many as a blueprint for a similar national effort.
No one attending the Cleveland meeting was able to lose sight of past Black history involving firearms and the long struggle for equal rights. Cary Dixon of the Dorie Miller Rifle & Pistol Club in Buffalo, NY, showed a video produced by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership called “No Guns for Negroes.” That video, still available online through jpfo.org, provided an historical review of the Black community’s experience with guns and gun control in America.
He followed that up with a model study and discussion review based on the law review articles of Prof. Nickolas Johnson of Fordham University School of Law. Dixon’s club uses the outline in classes they conduct for new club members and the general public.
The film and study program were just a small sampling of the teaching materials that CISE volunteers will be able to draw upon as they move forward.