Maj Toure is second amendment activist, North Philly native, hip-hop artist, and founder of Black Guns Matter, an organization that holds firearm safety and training sessions in cities across the country and aims to shift the mentality surrounding black communities and gun culture nationwide.
Maj wants to change the stigma and taboo he says is attached to gun usage; for him, ‘gun violence’ is a misnomer based in ignorance and misunderstanding. He hopes his work will help reduce irresponsible actions of gun carriers by exposing them to practical arms training, and particularly hopes to shift the perspectives of young adults so that that they too can learn and practice firearm safety. Ultimately, Maj believes that gun safety education can help save lives, especially in urban, black communities.
Second Amendment Right
“Black Guns Matter is a firearm safety and training organization. We go to urban areas and teach people in those areas about … Second Amendment rights, how that relates to them, the laws of their land, and we try to link them up with reputable firearm instructors, lawyers, [and] people that know about firearm safety and training. So we help them foster those relationships in their community, then we move on to the next town.
“Ignorance: [it is] the same thing that’s causing [gun violence] everywhere else. There’s no respect for the tool, because the tool is made to look taboo.
“A major part of the reason why people are running around ragged is because there’s no facilities for them to train. They’re not getting young people involved in the shooting sports. There’s not taking away the stigma of firearms, so people are a lot more irresponsible than they could be or should be, or have been in the past when these types of things are more available. So creating ranges, creating young people’s ... shooting clubs, safe shooting clubs, creating a better understanding of what it means to be a responsible safe firearm owner in urban areas, those are all short-term goals.”
“That term is a misnomer, ‘gun violence.’ It’s not real. It’s made up, like Black on Black crime. Have you ever heard the term on the news White on White crime? Why? Why? ‘Cause that’s not what they told you to think … It’s a media-created term to get you to agree that the gun is the violent thing, not the person.”
“You used the firearm to gain your independence from Britain, so what are you talking about? … How are guns the problem if that’s how America came to be?... How can you celebrate the 4th of July and think that citizens that want firearms to defend themselves, to be responsible, trained, safe, legal citizens, how can you say this is a bad thing?
“The fireworks symbolize something. Gun shots. Cannons. Violence. Defending this is what we believe in. So you can’t say something that’s that intricately interwoven into American society is bad all the time, you can’t say that. You gotta acknowledge it as a tool.
“Those are the things that are missing in Philly - that information. And the funny thing is [in] 2016, we did most of our work in Philly…Violent crime in Philadelphia as of 2016 was the lowest it’s been since 1979. I would like to believe that our work had a small hand in that ‘cause all of our classes was packed. And we was on every newspaper cover.”
“Pain. You just see people dying, and it’s fixable, you know what I mean? You see young people picking up a firearm and it could’ve been secured properly. You know, last summer it was like 3 or 4 children in Philly that just got access to firearms. We’re talking about preventable stuff; we ain’t even talking about shooting each other. We’re talking about young people picking up firearms that their parents, or whatever adult around, should’ve known how to secure that firearm properly. When you see those types of things, you gotta do something about it. So why not do something about it as well as secure, you know, the freedoms that we have naturally … of the ability to defend yourself? So it’s a double bubble, and it’s a double win.
“But when you keep seeing that [when] you go to other ‘hoods, travelling around as a hip-hop artist, you see, ‘oh this is marketed differently’ in this neighborhood - it’s not taught. It’s not taught here, but it’s taught over here. So you could cry about it, you could bitch about it, or you could just create a solution. You know, we solutionaries, so we just created something that could address that.”
A Unifying Tool
“That little modicum of hope, and dealing with education around the thing changes the mentality. Because we’re not just talking about the anatomy of a firearm. We’re talking about conflict resolution. We’re talking about de-escalation. We’re talking about slowing down. We’re talking about knowing the law. We’re talking about turning … people into stronger citizens. That is how you effect change. And that’s not what’s happening in most of these places. Trying to sweep this under the rug so you don’t have to address it, because then, if you address it and you empower the public, the people, now you can’t have the lion’s share of the resources. Because the people are … confident now. You can’t control confident people.
“We want equality, we don’t want to be controlled. Nobody does. So that’s why we’re going around, informing people what time it is, like in Philly, and if we keep doing it … you gon’ start seeing differences in crime rates and things like that … In a place where there is no BGM, and there’s a lot of them, does that same level of gun control law help? No. What helps is education and training. And informing people … In that sense firearms can be more of a unifying tool, more so than what we’ve been told, ‘it has to be a separatist tool.’ It doesn’t have to be.”
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February 2017 | Interview by Chelsea Alexander, George Porter, and Toni Walker | Text by Britney Firmin | Portraits by Alexander Atienza