One night at the Eagle Bar on Germantown Avenue near Erie, a man stopped Maj Toure in the middle of Broad Street and pulled out a gun.
“He pulls his gun out and goes, ‘Yo, can you sign my gun?’” Toure said. “He had a metallic sharpie and he wanted me to sign his Glock.”
The man went on to tell Toure that he saw his informational YouTube videos, and learned more about firearms through them.
Toure, a longtime North Philadelphia resident, is the founder of Black Guns Matter, an organization that works to educate people in urban communities on their right to bear arms through training and education. He’s currently on a tour of 13 cities, including Atlanta and St. Louis.
In Philadelphia, Toure said people will often approach him on the street to tell him how he helped educate them on their firearm rights.
“That’s empowering,” Toure added. “That’s training a person to be responsible and a citizen, a strong, well-armed citizen.”
The idea for Black Guns Matter came to Toure when he began to notice that many of his friends were “catching the same cases,” meaning they were arrested in similar instances for gun possession. He realized many of his friends or acquaintances were not informed about gun rights and the affordability of getting a firearm registered.
He created Black Guns Matter to put people on the path to self-empowerment through knowledge of gun rights and safety.
“A person who can’t defend their rights has none,” Toure said. “That is why it is about people control, not gun control.”
Toure said about 25 people regularly attend his workshops in Philadelphia, hosted at the Universal Negro Improvement Association & African Communities League on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 16th Street.
Toure said he has always had a love for firearms, especially since they have been a part of American culture since the 18th century. He also enjoys the artistry of shooting.
He added that he believes that individuals in urban communities have never been fully aware of their Second Amendment rights, and the lack of education dates back to the Emancipation Proclamation.
After the Civil War, Toure said the United States government created laws specifically to prevent African Americans from arming themselves.
“All gun control laws are a direct result of those rules being created for newly freed or newly liberated by their own hands, people of African descent,” Toure said.
Today, Toure said this is still happening, but being marketed in a different way. He said the government is using “different tactics” to prevent gun ownership and education “for different demographics” and in urban communities.
“Malcolm X was a patriot, Dr. King was a patriot,” Toure said. “These are great, historical figures who put their lives on the line for a greater purpose … because that is not marketed that way to the urban demographic, hell yeah guns have been left out of the conversation.”
During his tour and workshops in Philadelphia, Toure said he will give attendees a “philosophical understanding” of the Second Amendment, attempting to explain its meaning, dispel any myths and also share conflict de-escalation techniques.
Toure said the de-escalation techniques are essential, because most of the time conflicts do not need to end with a firearm.
His program also helps break down the different types of firearms, from revolvers to semi-automatics to shotguns. He also said he will have a National Rifle Association-certified instructor from each respective city to share Second Amendment education.
Outside of the workshops, Toure also hosts speaking events. He’ll be heading to the University of Southern California in December.
“This is my life,” said Toure, who is an NRA member. “I have given myself to this, and the scary part is we see historically what happens to people like me who give themselves to these types of things, mysteriously they get shot or some s–t, but I am going to still do what I am doing.”
Aaron Smith, a professor in the Africology and African American studies department, met Toure 10 years ago when the gun advocate was well-known for rapping on the subway.
Smith said this type of knowledge is especially important now in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, during a time when stop-and-frisk policies and mandatory minimum arrests are implemented.
“We don’t need people who otherwise would’ve been free to work and contribute to their families getting locked up for a mandatory five or 10 years simply because they didn’t know the rules of fire gun ownership or transportation,” Smith said. “That’d be a tragedy and people should definitely get educated.”
In light of the mob attacks near Main Campus on Oct. 21, Toure said everybody in the surrounding community is accountable.
“If all of those kids were in the gym, boxing, shooting sports, at the gun range, they wouldn’t have been organizing that way,” he added. “You gotta give children direction and we’re leaving them. And I say we because this is our community.”
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilyivyscott.