Preaching for God and Guns
By James L. Pate
SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
April 3, 2003
Black ministers practicing politics from the pulpit are nothing new. Since the genesis of the modern civil rights movement a half-century ago, no group has had more influence on the politics of rank-and-file black voters than their clergy. Top Stories
But seldom have black preachers mixed Bible readings, political debate and target practice.
Meet Kenneth Blanchard, the “Pistol Packing Preacher.” That is the title of a motivational compact disc aimed at black and Hispanic audiences, his chosen demographic for preaching about the “sacred right” to self-defense.
“Gun rights are civil rights,” says Mr. Blanchard, who is licensed as an assistant minister by the Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Washington. “Self-defense is a divine right.”
Citing the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 22, verses 36-38, he tells listeners that “after the Last Supper, Jesus told his homeboys that they must be ready to defend themselves, and that if you don’t have a sword, sell your clothes and buy one.
“The sword mentioned was for defense, not offense,” he cautions. “It was not a steak knife, but a fighting tool.”
Asked to reconcile his self-defense advocacy with the Christ’s admonition to turn the other cheek, Mr. Blanchard said the two philosophies are compatible.
“Jesus was not some pacifist wimp, as many like to portray him, but a really tough guy,” Mr. Blanchard said. “His advice to turn the other cheek did not mean to lie down and give up, but to be cool, careful and calculated. It means to control your emotions and actions through inner, spiritual strength, to not react in anger or rage, but carefully.”
Mr. Blanchard also advises in the CD that “churches that allow evil men to deny the right to self-protection by hosting [gun] buybacks and turn-ins should be” opposed.
He is among a growing number of black activists who are increasingly vocal against gun control.
In an interview with The Washington Times at his home in Prince George’s County, where blacks make up about 63 percent of the population and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-to-1, he condemned the state Democratic Party.
“They have absolutely exploited their black constituents on the issue of gun control,” he says. “Democrats in Maryland want to keep people in fear and ignorance. Our country has more than 40,000 gun laws on the books and not one has ever saved a single child’s life.
“It’s a travesty and a sham. You cannot legislate human behavior,” says Mr. Blanchard, who is working on a divinity degree.
“Ignorance can be fatal. Knowledge is power. We must educate our people, not feed them feel-good gun-control garbage.”
David Paulsen, spokesman for Maryland’s state Democratic Party, said, “I don’t know Blanchard, but if he’s a Democrat, he is certainly not the only one to share those opinions about gun laws. He may be shortsighted politically, but I certainly respect his opinions on the Second Amendment.”
Mr. Blanchard is no backyard novice when it comes to firearms. After five years in the Marine Corps, he joined the operations directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency, which deployed him in the Middle East and elsewhere on still-classified antiterrorist operations.
When Mr. Blanchard came home, the CIA loaned him to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia to teach firearms and personal security to rookie agents.
Now married to a former law-enforcement agent and a father of two, Mr. Blanchard is a government consultant on security and antiterrorism issues.
He is not the first black civil rights activist to mix politics, religion and guns.
While Martin Luther King and his disciples preached nonviolence during the bloodiest days of the civil rights movement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and other civil rights activists relied on armed parishioners for protection from lynchings or shootingsby the Ku Klux Klan.
Known as the Deacons for Defense, they trained with rifles, shotguns and pistols to provide security for CORE voter registration workers and other activists against the threats of violence and even death.
“We relied heavily on the Deacons for Defense for our protection,” says Roy Innis, a noted veteran of the civil rights struggle in the South and national chairman of CORE.
Mr. Innis, also a National Rifle Association board member, says it is “very sad that the civil rights movement … turned its backs on gun rights. Many of these people are educated and in leadership positions. … But they are willing to sacrifice our Second Amendment … to appease so-called liberals.”
Mr. Innis says civil rights activists are “guys who will picket forever to join some golf club, but they won’t even stand up for their constituency to protect and preserve what’s spelled out in the Constitution.”
“If you’re going to stand up for civil rights, you must stand up for all civil rights,” he says.
Not all self-described black liberals would disagree with Mr. Innis, says Absalom Jordan Jr., a veteran of local Democratic Party politics in Washington and a life member of the National Rifle Association. He is a certified instructor for rifles, pistols and shotguns.
Gun-control advocates, he says, “can’t prove by their own facts that gun control in any way reduces crime. … People in my [Northeast D.C.] neighborhood are scared to go outside on their own street.”
Other blacks in the area are working in quieter ways to advance their cause with minorities.
One is Ricardo Royal, a former paramedic supervisor with the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services, who left after 18 years to start his own firearms business, Best Shot Professional Training. He grew up in a single-parent home in which his mother adamantly opposed guns.
As Mr. Royal, now 45, struggled with his studies at Roosevelt High School, his mother got a family friend who was a minister to tutor him in reading. “My joy of reading meant reading gun magazines,” he said. “My mother didn’t like them, but she knew I was reading them, and away I went.”
At age 15, he joined a gun club in the District, the Junior Pioneer Hunting Club, founded by Mr. Jordan and others in the 1960s. He received basic instruction in handling pistols, rifles and shotguns. Now he is one of fewer than a dozen Marylanders certified to teach others to become instructors.
Mr. Royal has allied himself with other professional trainers to form the Community Association of Firearms Educators (CAF), “to unify folks through education. I tell these kids that education is the key to freedom, to survival and everything else important in life.”
Mr. Blanchard, who has spoken throughout the country on the issue, has a Web site: blackmanwithagun.com.
Talking to a group of Boy Scouts recently, Mr. Blanchard reminded them that “shooting firearms is an equal-opportunity sport. You don’t have to be fast, or particularly agile or tall or muscular. What you have to have is discipline between the ears.”
“But you must first master safety and learn the discipline, because if you mess with a gun without any training, there are only two places that you’re likely to end up and that’s in the graveyard or in jail.
“And that’s happened to too many of us already. Let me hear you say, ‘Amen.’ “