The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: How Gun-Rights Groups Responded to the Amir Locke Shooting

Amir Locke’s death amidst another controversial no-knock raid highlights the intersection of race, guns, and law enforcement. It also highlights how gun-rights groups react (or don’t) to controversial police killings. And the stark differences between them.

So, Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman examined the contrast and what it means for gun advocacy moving forward.

Beto O’Rourke also reversed himself on confiscating AR-15s. The backtracking isn’t that surprising since he’s running for governor of Texas. However, the timing and strategy were truly odd. I explain why in an analysis piece.

Plus, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp joins the podcast for an exclusive interview on his gun record and his pitch to gun owners for why they should vote him back into office.

blue car on the street during night time
Photo by Michael Förtsch on Unsplash

Analysis: How the Amir Locke Shooting Highlights a Growing Divide in Gun Advocacy [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogleman

In the week since the body camera footage of the Amir Locke shooting was released, supporters and critics of gun rights alike have been locked in a debate over how the gun-rights community should respond to such incidents.

The ensuing response from advocacy groups has thus far been varied. Some issued strong statements of condemnation, others issued more measured statements that expressed concern but reserved outright judgment, and still others chose to say nothing at all as the incident continued to grab headlines.

Questions of politics, police tactics, and thorny legal issues aside—the aftermath of the shooting highlights the growing divide among Second Amendment advocacy groups over how willing they are to address cases in which lawful gun ownership collides with law enforcement.

What Happened

Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by SWAT officers with the Minneapolis Police Department on February 2nd. Locke was shot while police were executing an early-morning “no-knock” search warrant as part of a homicide investigation. Locke was not named in the warrant, was not considered to be a suspect, and did not have a criminal record. Police were searching for his cousin who was known to have access to the apartment but who was instead at his mother’s apartment when the raid occurred.

Body camera footage from the officers who conducted the raid was publicly released on February 4th. The video shows police entering the apartment and shouting commands as Locke, who appeared to be sleeping under a blanket on a couch, gets up holding a gun that his family has said he legally owned. Officers then opened fire, striking Locke three times and fatally wounding him. The entire encounter transpired in less than 10 seconds.

The Public Responses

Some gun-rights groups were quick to comment on the shooting and address the broader sociopolitical issues associated with it. The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus put out a press release the same day the body camera footage was released to the public.

“Mr. Locke did what many of us might do in the same confusing circumstances, he reached for a legal means of self-defense while he sought to understand what was happening,” Rob Doar, Senior VP of Governmental Affairs for the group, said. “The tragic circumstances of Mr. Locke’s death were completely avoidable. It’s yet another example where a no-knock warrant has resulted in the death of an innocent person. In this case, as in others, the public should expect and receive full transparency and accountability from law enforcement agencies that serve and protect our local communities.”

The group also explicitly addressed the racial element of the shooting in their remarks.

“Amir Locke, a lawful gun owner, should still be alive,” Bryan Strawser, Chairman of the group, added. “Black men, like all citizens, have a right to keep and bear arms.  Black men, like all citizens, have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizure.”

The same day, the national gun-rights group Firearms Policy Coalition took to Twitter to address the shooting.

“This is not the world we should be living in,” the group tweeted in response to a video of the body camera footage. “This is not what liberty or moral law looks like.”

In a separate tweet, the group added a fiery condemnation of the police officers involved in the incident.

“Amir Locke had a fundamental human right to keep and bear arms for self-defense,” the group said. “He was wrongfully and immorally killed by armed agents of the state—nothing less than murderous thugs. This is not tolerable.”

Four days after the footage was released, Gun Owners of America (GOA), put out a public statement with a decidedly more reserved tone than previous groups.

“There are many valid questions that need to be answered,” the group said. “We will not rush to judgment because many initial reports are often wrong or incomplete.”

The group emphasized that it did not typically wade into criminal justice issues but suggested it was doing so in this instance to address the gun rights tension inherent to the Locke shooting.

“GOA is not a police reform organization,” the group said. “However, when police actions conflict with Second Amendment rights, GOA will not hesitate to insert ourselves in the public policy debate.”

While GOA did not offer as strong a rebuke against the police officers involved in the shooting as previous groups, it did call for an end to no-knock raids moving forward.

“With our review of the currently available facts, we are very troubled and saddened by the killing of Mr. Locke and call upon legislators to ban ‘no knock’ raids where no life is in imminent danger,” the group said.

Those That Stayed Silent

Other prominent advocacy organizations have chosen to remain largely silent on the incident. Groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) have yet to put out any public statements, though SAF founder Alan Gottlieb did condemn the use of no-knock raids in a statement given to The Reload.

“Unfortunately, we have seen too many bad consequences for lawful gun owners from the use of no-knock search warrants,” Gottlieb said. “It is past time to limit them except at times when it is urgently time sensitive to save lives.”

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment on the incident.

The NRA has drawn heavy criticism for not speaking out on the Amir Locke shooting thus far, and it is hardly the first time the group has found itself in such a position.

After the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop, the NRA declined to make a public statement on the matter. Castile was killed during the stop after informing the officer he had a gun on him for which he was licensed to carry. The shooting was live-streamed on Facebook and made news across the country.

The NRA faced questions over why the largest gun-rights group in the country would choose to stay silent in response to the killing of a lawful gun owner by police.

Philip Smith, president of the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA), was among those who criticized the lack of response from the NRA to the Castile shooting. He spoke to how that has since permanently alienated some black gun owners.

“Philando Castile. Lawful gun owner. Good guy. Loved by his family, loved by his peers, all-around community guy. Just well-liked,” Smith said on The Weekly Reload Podcast. “When you fail to respond to that, to a group of people that are basically saying we just want to hear something, something that we can gravitate to. But when you hear nothing but mice droppings, that makes folks say ‘why should I join you when you don’t hear me?’”

NAAGA has criticized the Locke shooting with Smith declaring “No Knock Equals No Justice” in a statement.

The Strategy Moving Forward

There are legitimate reasons why gun-rights groups might choose not to wade into the broader debate. Officer-involved shootings can be complex, subject to interpretation, and divisive amongst the general public. And it is in the interest of a donor-supported advocacy group to appeal to as broad a range of interested people as possible.

But the outcry in this instance has been significant. Some criticism, no doubt, is coming from those who are simply happy to find a reason to stick it to the NRA and other gun-rights supporters. Those voices may be less motivated by support for Second Amendment or criminal justice concerns. Other criticism, however, is clearly coming from a place of genuine concern. Some gun owners are incensed by the incident and see gun rights advocacy in the broader context of civil liberties.

With first-time gun ownership on the rise, and as the demographics of gun ownership continue to grow more diverse, a new class of gun-rights advocate has slowly been emerging. One that does not appear to be satisfied with shying away from incidents where gun rights and broader socio-cultural concerns intersect.

Given those trends, it may not be tenable for gun-rights groups to stay on the sidelines of these issues moving forward.

Podcast: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Why Gun Owners Should Re-Elect Him [Member Early Access]
By Stephen Gutowski

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R.) joined the podcast this week to discuss his approach to gun policy and why he thinks gun owners should vote for him.

We started off by discussing his background with guns. He talked about how he got into hunting and how members of his family have become concealed carriers themselves.

Kemp also explained getting permitless gun-carry passed this year is his top priority. He said he was confident the policy would pass this year because lawmakers will be more motivated after the rioting of 2020. He said voters would prefer his record to promises made by his primary opponent former Senator David Perdue (R.).

“I think that’s what people want,” Kemp said. “They want a governor that’s got a record of not only saying what they’re going to do but actually doing it when they’re in office, which is what I’ve done. Versus somebody like my opponent who promises everything, goes and does something differently or is a johnny-come-lately to the policy side of this.”

He accused Perdue of supporting permitless carry out of political convenience.

“Anybody who gets into the governor’s race is now supportive of Constitutional carry,” Kempt said. “I would remind you that I was for it back when I campaigned back in 2017 and 18. I’ve got a strong Second Amendment record.”

Kemp also went after Abrams during our interview. He attacked her as somebody who wants to confiscate firearms.

“Well, I think if you really translate what she’s saying is she doesn’t want law-abiding people to have firearms and to be able to carry,” Kemp said.

He also said her objections to permitless carry were unfounded and said it was vital for gun owners that she not win the race.

“Obviously, those individuals shouldn’t be allowed to carry,” Kemp said. “The legislation would prevent that. But when you have people that break the law, they don’t really care about this. This is about letting lawful people be able to carry their weapon and protect themselves.”

He said he was the only candidate on the Republican side who could defeat her.

Oddly, both Perdue and likely Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams (D.) told The Reload they question Kemp’s commitment to permitless carry since he was unable to pass it during his time in office. Each campaign fired back at Perdue’s comments on the show. You can read more about the Perdue and Abrams exchanges in our reporting from Friday.

Kemp also talked at length about how he is bringing gun companies to Georgia, whether the state is turning purple, and how he believes Georgia Democrats have moved too far to the left on guns.

Plus, Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman joins me to talk about the Air Force being forced to compensate victims of the Sutherland Spring shooting and Beto O’Rourke backtracking on his pledge to take away people’s AR-15s.

You can listen to the podcast on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here.

You can also watch the video podcast on our YouTube channel.

A rack of AR-15s at SHOT Show 2022's range day
A rack of AR-15s at SHOT Show 2022’s range day / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Beto’s Bizarre Backtracking on Seizing AR-15s [Member Exclusive]
By Stephen Gutowski

Beto O’Rourke does not want to take your AR-15. Or, at least, that’s what he’s saying now.

The Texas Democrat, who is currently running to unseat incumbent governor Greg Abbott (R.), claimed on Tuesday he doesn’t want to seize any guns. In fact, he positioned himself as a defender of gun rights.

“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone,” O’Rourke told supporters during a campaign stop in Tyler, Texas on Tuesday. “What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment.”

Of course, that’s a direct contradiction of what he said back in 2019. He was rather emphatic that “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” during a presidential primary debate.

The backtracking is blatant but what’s bizarre is the timing.

O’Rourke announced his candidacy in November. He stood by his confiscation call. A few weeks later, he doubled down on it.

“That AR-15, that AK-47 has one single solitary purpose. And that is killing people as effectively, as efficiently, in as great a number, in as little time as possible,” O’Rourke told CNN. “We saw that in Kenosha. We saw that in El Paso, Texas, where 23 people were murdered by someone with an Ak-47 just in a matter of minutes. This is crazy, and we should not come to expect this as a matter of course in America. And, the thing is, we don’t have to.”

So, it’s pretty odd to try and reverse course now rather than before starting his campaign. O’Rourke’s move to get ahead of the pack on gun confiscation in the 2020 presidential primary did not work. It was fairly clear from the beginning it wouldn’t work in Texas either.

It’s difficult to see the strategy behind the way this played out–if there was one at all.

Certainly, there was some polling that showed O’Rourke was significantly trailing Abbott on gun policy. Quinnipiac University found the incumbent had a 27 point lead on who would handle the gun issue better. That reaffirmed the idea O’Rourke’s support for confiscation was, indeed, hurting him in the race.

It also came out around the time O’Rourke stopped making news by doubling down on seizing ARs. He has focused his campaign on other issues like green energy and covid restrictions. Even his gun policy focus has shifted to attacking Abbott for signing permitless gun-carry into law.

Tuesday’s reversal came as the result of a question during a campaign stop. It wasn’t an announcement and it’s still not clear what exactly his new position on ARs actually is (I’ve emailed his campaign, but received no response). The off-the-cuff nature of the comments could explain why they were so blatantly contradictory.

But, ultimately, this was an issue everyone could have seen coming. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone this position would poll poorly in Texas. And O’Rourke’s campaign ought to have known that before even making the official campaign announcement.

Adam Serwer, a Texan and staff writer at The Atlantic, was among those who predicted all the way back in October he’d have to change positions on gun confiscation. He said the flip flop may not doom O’Rourke’s campaign, but it will be difficult to overcome.

“It’s a question of whether Texas voters believe his walk back,” Serwer said on The Weekly Reload Podcast. “Whether they prioritize other issues besides that. Maybe they don’t believe him but prefer him to Abbott anyway. Obviously, Texas is a state with a lot of gun owners and people who support gun rights. So, it’s going to be an issue for him.”

It was always going to be a hard sale for O’Rourke to walk back what was among his most famous declerations. It’s doubtful doubling down at the start of his latest campaign before ultimately trying to land the move will help.

That’s it for now.

I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Stephen Gutowski
The Reload

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


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