SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Gun rights groups, including the NRA, have seen a rise in membership since the school shootings in Parkland, Fla., in February. But one group in particular has had a major increase well before that - the National African American Gun Association. Their numbers tripled after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Philip Smith founded the group in 2015. And he joins us from Atlanta. Mr. Smith, thanks so much for being with us.
PHILIP SMITH: Thanks for having me today.
SIMON: And why did you create this National African American Gun Association rather than just join the NRA?
SMITH: I wanted a voice for our community where we could feel comfortable to gather, a place where we could come and learn about firearms together in a very peaceful and nonthreatening environment.
SIMON: You're a gun owner.
SMITH: Yes, I am.
SIMON: May I ask what kind of guns you own?
SMITH: I have a AK-47. I have a Glock 19. I have a Glock 17. And I have the - as of late, I've got a hunting 783 Remington.
SIMON: Why an AK-47?
SMITH: It's a good gun. It serves a purpose. It's really good for self-defense purposes. And I think it's a very solid tool to have.
SIMON: What's your analysis, Mr. Smith - maybe from conversations with some of your membership - as to why you had this terrific increase in membership right after President Trump's inauguration?
SMITH: Well, I think it's a three-headed monster. I think, one, people are looking at, you know, the state of the United States in terms of robberies, burglaries, things that are happening on your daily basis. Two, I think also - probably just as important - we see what's happening around the world. You know, terrorism is something that scares black folks just like anybody else. So we are aware of that. But also, we look at what's happening in the political arena in terms of the conversations and the types of conversations. We see folks that were on the fringes of society, let's say, eight, nine, 10 years ago. But they're now out front talking about various things that are somewhat disturbing.
SIMON: When you say people on the fringes of society, let me chance to be blunt. Do you mean white racists?
SMITH: I think there are some individuals out there that have negative views of African-Americans. They have gotten bolder and bolder in their conversations in terms of our place in society. We're getting too progressive. Or we're moving too much up the ladder in society, so they want to kind of keep us down. When we hear those things - and me being a black man - your alarms go off. And you say, you know what? I think the days of us sitting back and just turning the other cheek - I think those days are long gone.
SIMON: Mr. Smith, how do you and the African American Gun Association feel about stricter gun laws?
SMITH: From the organizational standpoint, we believe that if you're a violent person and you beat your wife, you never need to own a gun. If you have a violent felony, you never need to have a gun. And a third piece - if you on - are the no-fly list, you need to not have a gun for any shape, form or reason.
SIMON: And what about the argument - I'm sure you've heard - that putting more guns in the hands of more people just adds fuel to a fire that's burning up parts of America?
SMITH: Well, see. I disagree with that argument. And I do hear that particular perspective, and I respect it. I believe that the best way to stop someone with a gun other than law enforcement is to have a gun yourself. I think too often as African-Americans we've been told to not arm ourselves. And I think too often we are just sitting back and letting someone come and save us. If you look at our communities right now across the country, they are in a wreck because we cannot protect those communities. These communities are just literally wide-open markets for violence, and that needs to change.
SIMON: What do you say, Mr. Smith, to those people who might point out that, actually, urban crime has been going down in the United States for a generation?
SMITH: I would say this. If you look at urban areas such as LA or east LA or South Chicago - and there's a lot of gun violence in those areas. Let's be blunt. The reason those areas are having issues are the following - anytime you take a group of young men - black, white or any color - put them in an area in which they have a confrontational relationship with the police and, on top of that, give them no economic skills that can be transferable into 2018, and I'll tell you what's going to happen. All those gentlemen and ladies are going to be very, very frustrated. And they're going to do what they have to do to survive. If that means killing folks and shooting folks, unfortunately, that's what's going to happen. That's what's driving gun violence in certain areas throughout the U.S. It's not because it's the gun. It's that these folks, that these brothers don't have any recourse for anything viable that's going to allow them to have a skill to provide for themselves and their family.
SIMON: Philip Smith is president and founder of the National African American Gun Association. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.
SMITH: Thanks for having me.
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