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The controversy over Killer Mike’s NRATV interview, explained

Killer Mike said he wouldn’t support his kids taking part in anti-gun protests. A backlash ensued.

Rapper Killer Mike of Run the Jewels performs onstage during KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas 2017 at the Forum on December 9, 2017, in Inglewood, California.
Scott Dudelson/WireImage

A popular rap artist and longtime supporter of black gun ownership caused a commotion on Twitter when his interview with NRATV went viral the same day as March for Our Lives protests took over cities across the country.

Killer Mike, best known for his partnership with rapper and producer El-P as part of the duo Run the Jewels, appeared with NRATV host Colion Noir to talk about his support for gun rights and his decision not to permit his children to participate in the National School Walkouts on March 14.

Mike’s interview, in which he said that if his children participated in the school walkouts, they should “walkout my house,” caused an uproar, and he apologized on Monday. But he was expressing an idea with a long history: that gun ownership for black Americans is a civil rights issue.

But the National Rifle Association — whose platform Mike used to make this point — hasn’t always stood up for the interests of these gun owners, and that’s one reason why Mike’s remarks caused so much controversy.

NRATV used Killer Mike to blast protesters

Launched in October 2016, NRATV is the National Rifle Association’s news outlet, streaming at NRATV.com and on satellite radio with hosted programming and gun-themed reality shows.

Leading up to the march, NRATV had already attracted some controversy: While it barely mentioned March for Our Lives on the day the marches took place, the night before, host Colion Noir (a gun rights activist from Houston whose real name is Collins Iyare Idehen Jr.) criticized the teens leading the march. If an armed school resource officer had helped stop the massacre, Noir said to the students, “your classmates would still be alive and no one would know your names” — comments that drew widespread attention and condemnation.

Then NRATV tweeted out a video featuring Killer Mike’s interview (which had actually taken place earlier in the week) at 12:07 pm Eastern on Saturday — while the march on Washington, DC, was taking place.

“What are you really marching for?” Noir said during the segment that NRATV tweeted. “Because from where I’m standing, it looks like a march to burn the Constitution and rewrite the parts you don’t like in crayon,” adding, “No one can point this out better than Killer Mike.”

Throughout his career, Killer Mike has been an outspoken supporter of gun rights for black Americans, for personal security and as a defense against police brutality, an issue he has discussed both in his music and in writing.

He even challenged then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (whom he endorsed) about Sanders’s support for a federal assault weapons ban in a video interview in December 2015, telling Sanders, “I’m an NRA member ... I just don’t like Wayne LaPierre,” referring to the organization’s executive vice president.

During the interview on NRATV, Killer Mike shared an anecdote in which a friend asked him to explain his position on guns, and he responded, “I’m African-American. You know, 54 years out of apartheid. I’m very pro-Second Amendment, this is why. And before you say ‘What about the children,’ my daughter goes to Savannah State University. There was also a shooting on that campus. Talked to my wife and daughter after that, the decision was we’re gonna go to Savannah, she’s gonna get a gun and train more.”

He added that he felt black Americans were being used as “lackeys” by gun control supporters who had yet to speak out on behalf of black people subjected to violence and discrimination. “Why are your allies not fighting your other fights with the same vigor you’re fighting” for gun control?

Gun rights remain highly contentious for black gun owners

Killer Mike’s argument comes from a tradition that views gun ownership as another constitutional right often denied to black Americans.

As I’ve written before, historically, guns — like voting rights, marriage, and access to public education — have been off limits to African Americans. Throughout the South, both during slavery and afterward, black Americans were forbidden from owning guns (and in some regions, even from owning bullets).

At the height of Jim Crow, civil rights luminaries like Ida B. Wells argued that gun ownership was the best form of protection for black Americans, who could not expect any such support from civil authorities. “The lesson [lynchings] teach and which every Afro-American should ponder well,” Wells wrote in 1892, “is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.” During the civil rights movement, guns secured the safety of men and women demanding equality, and who endured a violent backlash for doing so. That’s Killer Mike’s position: In a country permeated by racism against black Americans, gun rights are even more important for black Americans.

But Killer Mike made those remarks to an organization, the NRA, with little voiced interest in expanding those rights.

When politicians tried to restrict black gun owners’ rights in the 1960s, the NRA supported those efforts. California’s Mulford Act, which banned the open carry of loaded weapons in 1967, and the Gun Control Act of 1968, which banned the sale of certain kinds of small guns, were aimed at black gun owners. The Mulford Act specifically targeted the Black Panthers’ “Police Patrols,” which monitored arrests to ensure that those arrested were being treated fairly. Both had the full support of the NRA.

And today, black Americans who own guns legally don’t receive the same support from the NRA that, say, police officers do. The NRA remained silent about the 2012 case of Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot at her abusive husband and whose “stand your ground” defense was rejected. And the organization said nothing about Philando Castile, who in 2016 was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Castile had warned the officer he was carrying a gun, as he was a legal concealed carry permit holder — but he was shot and killed anyway. (Noir spoke out strongly about Castile’s death on his personal Twitter account but did not do so for an NRA outlet.)

“I’m sorry adults chose to do this”

Over the weekend, many people, including black gun owners, called out Killer Mike for working with an organization that has said precious little about police brutality, even when directed at black gun owners like Castile or Alexander.

After an uproar, Killer Mike posted two videos on Sunday apologizing to the March for Our Lives organizers and further explaining his position, while noting that he had no control over when the interview was released.

“I do support the march, and I support black people owning guns. It’s possible to do both,” he said, adding, “To the young people who worked tirelessly to organize, I’m sorry adults chose to do this, I’m sorry NRATV did that, I’m sorry that adults on the left and the right are choosing to use me as a lightning rod.”