By John Balson @JJBalson
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / Director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: John Balson, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Maj Toure is the founder of Black Guns Matter, a pro-gun organisation that aims to educate urban populations about their Second Amendment rights.
He believes that years of prejudice have convinced urban populations to associate guns with crime rather than defending themselves, their communities and their rights.
Maj, who was raised in north Philadelphia, said: “Growing up, people always told me that firearms were bad, and that if you have a firearm you either have to be the bad guy or you are law enforcement.
"That’s a lie. It’s just not true. The problem is the lack of information and education about firearms and safety in urban areas.
“There is a deliberate attempt to keep that information away from these highly populated areas because it’s not about gun control, it’s about people control.”
However, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence claims stats suggest removing guns from cities works better, saying ‘guns make violent situations deadly’.
Maj, who formed Black Guns Matter in 2016, has been taking his message across the United States for the past year, visiting areas such as Atlanta, Baltimore and Detroit.
The 29-year-old has also visited Chicago, where there were 3,550 shooting incidents, 4,331 shooting victims and 762 murders in 2016.
Maj believes a greater understanding of laws and education around firearms in Chicago would bring more ‘respect for the tool’ and greater ‘trigger discipline’.
This along with better teaching of de-escalation tactics would help reduce gun violence.
Maj, who is not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, said: “Clearly, gun legislation is not working. They have an extreme amount of gun control law and they still cracked 700 homicides last year.
“So what we do is inform the people better [about guns and the Second Amendment] to cut down on that.
“Information is always better than just legislation.
“A lot of times people in urban areas don’t even associate the Second Amendment with the hood.
“They associate the Second Amendment with guys in the military or crazy white guys down South.
“My job is to make sure that everybody understands the Second Amendment is for every citizen of America. It’s not my job to advocate more firearms. It’s my job to inform people about firearms.
“When you make something a taboo and you ignore it and pretend like it isn’t an issue, then there is no education and no knowledge - and a lack of knowledge is always dangerous.”
According to the American Trends Panel more than twice the amount of white people own legal guns compared to black people.
And while 51 per cent of people in rural areas own a legal gun, just 25 per cent of people in cities own a gun.
Black people were also two-and-a-half times times more likely to be shot by law enforcement than white people in 2015, despite black people making up 13 per cent of the population.
On his trips, Maj meets with community leaders in some of the poorest areas to educate people on their rights to bear arms.
Depending on state laws, they learn what rights they have against the police, sign up to get legal firearms and concealed and carry licenses, and also learn how to shoot properly.
Asked whether he might inadvertently teach criminals or gangs how to shoot straight - Maj said it would mean, ‘they are less likely to hit a kid in a stroller in the crossfire’ if they are more accurate.
He said: “If two idiots want to shoot at each other, I'd prefer they get each other over innocent children.”
However, a big focus is teaching 'de-escalation tactics' to ’stop an argument ever reaching the gun stage’.
“I think a lot of what is left out of the firearm conversation is that it doesn’t have to go straight to a firearm, there is a way to de-escalate a situation,” added Maj, whose first encounter with a gun was finding a rusty revolver lying around unattended at a relative’s property.
“That comes from respect for the tool. And knowing what you have is potentially lethal.”
Maj - a self-confessed ‘former scumbag’ - himself has a license to carry a concealed Glock 45 in Pennsylvania and practices shooting four times as week.
He also believes the general population should not be denied access to firearms the Government can have.
He said: “My firearm is my ability to defend myself, my family and the things I care about.”
Black Guns Matter also links urban residents to NRA certified instructors and Second Amendment lawyers in their area - although the group has not been officially endorsed by the NRA.
One of Maj’s most recent trips was to Compton, Los Angeles, where Sean Brady, attorney and spokesman for the Coalition for Civil Liberties, encouraged more black people to join the NRA.
He said: “The history of gun control is a history of racism. It has always been about keeping others unable to exercise their right.
“There is a stereotype that the NRA and the gun-rights movements is just a bunch of old, white guys and racist rednecks who don’t want us around and don’t want you part of the culture.
“You’ve been lied to. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do we as NRA members want you all, we are begging you to come in.”
The Black Guns Matter event was held at Evans Security Training Academy & Range, which is one of the few ranges in Compton.
Owner, Louis Evans, a former police officer, said: “Black people traditionally view guns as a bad thing. A lot of them don’t have guns in their homes and a lot of them don’t go to range to shoot guns.
“In the neighborhood hopefully they will calm some of these people’s fears if they do realise that they do have a right to protect themselves.”
Andrew Patrick, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said they disagreed with some of the principles of Black Gun Matters.
He said: “Our organisation feels the best way to reduce gun violence - especially in cities - is to remove guns from potentially violent situations.
“There are many different factors and problems that contribute to violence in America, but guns make violent situations deadly.
“The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence believes in evidence-based approaches to reducing gun violence, including common sense laws that keep guns out of dangerous hands.
“The Black Guns Matter project seems to advocate increasing the number of guns; data shows this tactic actually escalates the risk of violence. “
Maj now plans to take his campaign all the way to Capitol Hill to campaign for a nationwide concealed and carry law to be passed.
“Black Guns Matter is going to go as far as it needs to go,” he said.
“This is going to forward until either the people don’t want it or the need for it to exist isn’t there anymore."