Video of Amir Locke just before he was shot by Minneapolis police, under a blanket on a sofa and with a gun in his hand, is seen by many observers — including Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison — as evidence enough that a Minneapolis police officer, under current law, was in their right to use deadly force.
The sight of Locke holding his gun was seen as an immediate threat. It resulted in a Minneapolis police officer shooting and killing Locke. As state law stands today, due to the presence of the gun in Locke’s hand, police had the right to take deadly force. Because of current law, Freeman and Ellison came to the conclusion that it’d be nearly impossible to make a case that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the officer who shot Locke was acting without reasonable cause — and thus, there would be no point to charge the officer with a crime.
To other observers, namely licensed Black gun owners, Locke may have fallen prey to the perception that a Black man with a gun is an immediate threat. Minneapolis police were executing an early morning, no-knock search warrant on Feb. 2 when they encountered Locke. Locke was legally in possession of the gun and was not the subject of the warrant.
A white man with a gun doesn’t always elicit a sense of imminent danger, said Devon Gilchrist, a Black gun owner who teaches a gun safety course in Minneapolis.
“We talk about what you can do, what you could do and what you should do. There are some things that I can legally do but I will not do because of the potential for a negative outcome to occur. Minnesota is an open-carry state. I can legally walk with my gun in my hand down the street. I’m not threatening anybody, I’m open-carrying. But I know if I do that, there will be ramifications for my actions. I know it will be viewed differently.”
During Gilchrist’s course — Black Diamond Firearms Training, which holds training, classes and organizes trips to gun ranges — he said he advises participants to find their personal comfort level. If Black people want to build the comfort to open-carry, it’s their choice.
“I choose not to open-carry, for obvious reasons,” said Gilchrist.
Gilchrist first came across guns while attending St. Thomas Academy High School, which he said had a gun range in the school. Since becoming a gun owner, Gilchrist keeps a gun at home and sometimes carries one with him. But mainly Gilchrist uses his gun for sporting activities like sharpshooting at a range.
His courses are for everyone, but he said Black people single him out for his specific expertise in owning a gun while Black. Like in the instance when a Black gun owner is pulled over while legally carrying a firearm.
Philando Castile was in this precise circumstance and was shot multiple times and later died. Castile was killed July 6, 2016, during a traffic stop when he alerted police that he was in legal possession of a firearm. In an attempt to show police his permit to carry, Castile was shot seven times.
“Some training places will tell people, ‘Well, just tell the police that you have a permit to carry,’” said Gilchrist. “Now, that can end very poorly. We’ve seen it happen. And it’s not right. We should be afforded the same rights (as white gun owners).”
Richard Robinson Jr., another Black gun instructor in the Twin Cities — he’s the CEO of Strong Arm Protection —said he also refuses to open carry in order to avoid someone seeing him as a threat and calling the police or taking action themselves.
But, when it comes to basic human rights — even though the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution — he does not see gun ownership as one of them.
“I don’t think it’s a right,” said Robinson. “It’s a privilege. You often hear people saying, ‘This is my God-given right,’ and I’m like, ‘No, it is not, I’m sorry, sir.’”
He likens a gun permit to a driver’s license — it’s not a right to be able to use the potentially fatal machinery, he surmises, but a privilege that ought to be bestowed upon those who show the proper care and responsibility.
Robinson didn’t grow up around guns or a gun culture like hunting. When he pursued gun ownership, he said he first took the time to learn gun safety.
The reason Robinson Jr. does carry is for his protection. He always carries a gun with a round loaded in the chamber. He also keeps a firearm by his bedside, and said, like Locke, had he been awoken from his slumber to find people in his home, heading toward him, he would also reach for his gun for protection.
In a press conference announcing their decision against charging the police officer who killed Locke, both Freeman and Ellison said that law needs to be changed so that police don’t have the right to engage with deadly force when they simply see someone with a gun.
Robinson adds that it would help if police and non-law enforcement civilians alike stopped viewing the mere sight of a Black person with a gun as grounds to attack — and that people are more aware of how such perceptions impact and threaten Black people’s lives.
“I think about it all the time,” said Robinson Jr. “I have to.”