I’m not really sure why, but a lot of my gun buddies have been asking me about Maj Toure and Black Guns Matter. Like, a LOT. For the most part I’ve been mum, just because I had no first-hand intel to share. I had, however, heard rumors. Since those are just rumors at this point, I’ll leave them on the shelf. Instead, I’ll talk about what I witnessed with my own eyes on December 16th at the Ed Rice Community Center in Memphis, Tennessee.
I had been peeping Maj for a while, hit him up on Twitter a few times, ran into him at the NRA Annual Meeting, chatted with him for a while at the Gun Rights Policy Conference. But I hadn’t been able to make it to any of his Black Guns Matter events, which had taken off like wildfire since he began touring quite a while ago.
According to its website, “The Black Guns Matter mission is to educate urban communities on their 2nd amendment rights and responsibilities through firearm training and education.”
When I finally saw that BGM was coming to Memphis, I immediately signed up. A buddy of mine and fellow trainer, Aqil Qadir, came over from middle Tennessee to check it out too. Aqil had already been to one of Maj’s events in Atlanta, but I had never been. So I was eager to witness the rising wonder in person.
In short, Maj did not disappoint. The first and by far most memorable impression of Maj is that he is a very, very, very smart dude. He’s well-read and knows his history, but it’s more than that. He has a keen social and cultural fluency that guides him well through human interaction. He works a crowd quite expertly, without people noticing they’re being worked. And even though he can be gruff and abrasive in his raw, unapologetic “hood” style, that is counter-balanced by his seemingly genuine motivations and magnetic charisma.
The great thing about that authenticity is that people trust you. Many take comfort in finally meeting an unscripted advocate in the 2A community who speaks from the heart rather than from the talking points. The danger, however, is that Maj is 100% unfiltered. Deliberately and proudly so. He took great pains to distinguish himself from firearms “instructors,” who “have to say certain things a certain way.” He proudly waved his banner of freedom to say whatever he wants and “be real.”
This vexes me. On the one hand, realness is invaluable. I hate automotons as much as anyone, especially the ones purporting to advocate for self-defense freedoms (automaticity and freedom aren’t exactly a match made in heaven). However, there is so much at stake in the 2A community that I’m not sure we can afford to be completely unbridled in our public personas.
Exhibit A. At the beginning of the BGM event, Maj Toure started out by mercilessly trashing a rival of his. Not in private conversation, not in the wings or at the water fountain, not on a break – no. He announced to the entire assembled group all the reasons why he had beef with this other dude and just how zealously they had maintained an extended online cat fight. What was billed as an event to educate the public about 2A rights instead kicked off with a diatribe on he-who-shall-not-be-named and something about restraining orders, rape allegations, thinly-veiled threats of retaliatory harm, and surreptitious campaigns of professional and personal sabotage.
First of all, yawn. Public penis measuring is so ’90s. Secondly, how is this information relevant to the room full of total strangers who made the effort and invested gas money and precious hours of their Saturday to show up and learn about the Second Amendment? Kudos to the folks who did show up, by the way. It was a scant crowd, surprisingly. I was disappointed to see how few people came out. Maj said he had 200 RSVPs, and fewer than twenty showed up (unlike his Atlanta events, which have been consistently overflowing). But for the precious few who did come out, personally, I would have spared them the opening insight on Maj’s latest cyber-tiffs. I definitely saw some uneasy looks among the crowd.
And yet, Maj’s unorthodox intro did get some buy-in from a few in the audience. A few people expressed support and encouraged him to shake off the haters and soldier on. Maj’s justification for spotlighting this silly feud was to just be “straight-up” with his supporters. It was the whole “I got nothin’ to hide” motif. And it hearkened back to his (quite savvy, IMHO) observation that while credentialed instructors have to watch what they say, Maj does not. It’s an interesting dichotomy, to say the least. And I’m honestly torn on whether Maj’s strategic anti-professionalism is helping or hurting his cause. On the one hand, being stuffy and scripted will earn you zero points in the hood. Grassroots folks, especially in urban areas, can smell cultural artifice a mile away. On the other hand, no one should take that to mean that in the black community “being real” means being ghetto. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
And Back to the Good
At any rate, once the actual presentation finally got started, I thought it was, for the most part, excellent. Other than perhaps Maj dropping one-too-many F-bombs for my taste (again, see previous paragraph), his information was solid. He is a gifted and unselfish speaker, articulate and precise in his word choice, and he kept his audience fully engaged. He used nifty analogies to make the material more accessible (like comparing a magazine to a Pez dispenser).
I was pleasantly surprised that he also had the courage to check black folks on their occasional looseness with accusations of racism. He quipped that he often hears black people complain about getting the cold shoulder from gun counter commandos, but then he challenged the audience: “Is that because you’re black, or is that because you just carelessly pointed a gun at him?” Touché, Maj. Well played. I’ve often talked about the dangers of being trigger happy with the R-word, so I was happy to hear Maj go there.
A Bit More Ugly … Perhaps Turned Into Good
Besides the shiny object that is the Maj Toure Show, perhaps even more intriguing was his audience. As far as I could tell, everyone was black. Mostly male, maybe three or four females including me. One person had come up from Mississippi, and another had driven all the way from Georgia. Again, kudos to all of them for showing that effort (I wish more people would). But some of the questions were, well, startling. One guy had absolutely no idea what the laws and basic parameters were for concealed carry. Several harbored the misconception that guns in Tennessee had to be “registered.” Another was particularly proud of his EDC, which I think was some kind of Uzi pistol that he stuck in his pocket with no holster. Anther person asked those dreaded “can I shoot if” questions (man, I hate those).
And several times I heard people (including Maj) talk about “killing” when what they really meant (I hope) was “stopping the threat.” I finally had to speak up on that one and explain the very important, very consequential difference. It was making my eyeball twitch every time I heard it.
One lady recalled being recently car-jacked and lamenting the fact that she didn’t have her gun on her at the time. First off, I am glad she survived that encounter. I count that as a win. I’m also glad she seemed to have at least gained from that experience a good lesson about having your sh*t on your person. It’s not very useful otherwise. However, my concern was that she seemed to be upset not because she was carjacked, and not because she had been lax on carrying her pistol, but because she had missed an opportunity to… I dunno… to exact whatever ballistic justice would have magically been at her disposal if only the gat had been within reach.
If someone gets the drop on you, hang it up. Chances are, you can’t draw and fire faster than someone with a gun to your head can press that trigger (especially if you’re belted in your car). But more importantly, I was troubled that this poor lady was so eager to blast somebody. Instead of being relieved that she didn’t get killed, she was irked that she had missed her turn at bat.
Thankfully, my buddy Aqil chimed in and clarified things. He took the conversation down a slight detour on mindset, priorities, basics of defensive tactics, situational awareness, and “last resort” theory. I’m glad he did. And I’m glad Maj welcomed the exchange. It was in moments like this where Maj’s efforts to distinguish himself from instructors really paid off. He gave due credit to Aqil for dropping some knowledge, and he encouraged the audience to seek out training from reputable instructors like Aqil. Maj explained that his BGM events are basically like on-ramps. They are a gateway to more formal, more structured training. He rejects the “instructor” label so he can attract folks who aren’t interested in instruction (or don’t yet appreciate its value); and then, after he grabs their attention, he explains why they should seek out formal training after all. He encouraged everyone to exchange contact information, especially with the instructors in the room (as far as I know, the only instructors were Aqil and me).
I ended up handing out several cards and having lots of conversations with folks who might have discovered a newly whetted appetite for more information on guns. And regardless of what people may think of his, uh, delivery style, I have Maj Toure to thank for that.
P.S. Incidentally, Maj mentioned that he was scheduled to speak at the NRA Board of Directors meeting soon. Not sure if that’s happened yet. I’m anxiously awaiting news on how that goes and whether any interesting projects or collaborations will emerge from it.