In a city awash in violence, where a homicide or two is reported every few days, Maj Toure believes more guns – in the hands of the right people – could help stem the bloodshed.
“The good guys -- the people that want to be more informed, more responsible, that want to be card-carrying good guys and girls -- those are the people that we’re talking to,” said Toure, a North Philly native and rapper.
It's a similar message to the one espoused by the powerful lobbyist the National Rifle Association, which responded to calls for stricter gun control laws after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School by saying more good guys with guns would deter future shootings.
On Saturday, Toure, 29, is hosting “Black Guns Matter,” a free event to help African Americans apply for a license to carry – required in Philly for gun owners to keep their guns on their person – with firearm safety training and information on gun laws.
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Toure is best known for selling his music on SEPTA trains, but he is also a strong SecondAmendment supporter and NRA member who believes black residents would be safer if more people exercised their constitutional right to bear arms legally.
“Some of the guys that are 21, 22 years old, they buy a firearm, pass a background check. They want to protect themselves,” he said. “They don’t even know they have to have a license. When that 21-year-old is more responsible, more informed, he turns into the good guy or the good girl, as opposed to the knucklehead.”
Philadelphia has seen 99 murders so far in 2016 – a 15 percent increase over this time last year, according to the police department. There were 280 murders and more than 1,000 shooting victims in 2015.
At a recent City Council hearing on gun violence, Dr. Joel Fein of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia described what youth victims of violence tell him: “Guns are everywhere … I don’t want a gun, but the world is just so crazy right now.”
Even activists who work to tighten gun laws to increase public safety think there are benefits to Toure’s approach.
“This shouldn’t be a hidden conversation in back alleys with kids trying to teach each other,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA. “Mr. Toure is right that if you are going to carry a gun, it should be legally, you should get your concealed carry permit, be trained, trained in safe storage, safe handling, safe usage – none of which is required to buy a gun or get you a concealed carry license.”
But Goodman asserted that more guns don’t necessarily mean safer streets.
“The data shows that a higher concentration of guns and looser gun laws lead to more gun deaths and injuries,” she said, citing the example of violence in Atlanta: “More people are shooting first because they assume the other person is armed.”
But Toure had a litany of reasons why legal gun ownership could make Philly neighborhoods safer: not just for individual protection, but to also improve community relations with police.
“Police officers wouldn’t feel as nervous if they know this person is a responsible card-carrying good guy,” Toure said, adding that legal gun owners don’t face the stress of someone who might have an illegal gun when they encounter police: “I’m not running to my car. I’m handling myself with a certain protocol.”
“It’s just me being from the hood and saying this is how we can inform people and this his how we can help people. This is how we can help police officers do their job better.”
Black Guns Matter will be held on Saturday, May 21, from 11-2 p.m., at the Philly Firearms Academy (933 Spring Garden).