John Crawford Case: It’s Open Carry for Whites and Open Season on Blacks

So what if police thought the toy gun he was holding was a rifle when they shot and killed him? Ohio is an open-carry state. Except, it seems, for African Americans. 

Marty and Chris Welch of Cadillac, Mich., carry decorated Olympic Arms .223 pistols at a rally for supporters of Michigan’s open-carry law April 27, 2014, in Romulus, Mich. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

While the attention of America—and the world, for that matter—is on the demand for answers about the death of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., I wanted to take a moment to discuss another officer-involved shooting that happened just four days before Michael Brown was gunned down. 

John Crawford III was shot in a Wal-Mart after police received a 911 call alerting them that a man with a rifle was walking around the store. Officers arrived on the scene and, after a brief encounter, shot the 22-year-old man, who later died of a gunshot wound to the torso. As we now know, Crawford was holding a Crosman MK-177 air pump rifle—a nonlethal replica air rifle, intended for a child—and sold at the very store where he was shot while carrying it. Much of the focus of the discussions around this case has been on this fact: Why would police shoot a man holding a child’s replica gun in the store that sold it? A fair question, to be sure, but I wish to raise another. 

Ohio is an “open carry” state. So even if Crawford were carrying a real, fully loaded rifle, why would that raise any alarms? How could that possibly be a reason to kill him?

I’ll let that marinate for a second while I give you a little background on what open carry actually means. It varies from state to state, but Ohio’s open-carry laws mean an individual can possess a firearm without a permit in most public spaces (including stores) so long as it is fully visible. In fact, in Ohio, you only need a permit if you wish to conceal a handgun. That means if you want to walk around with an AK-47, AR-15 or even a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun, no problem—so long as you don’t conceal it and/or go around threatening people with it.

Which brings me back to John Crawford. He was holding a toy gun in the store that sold it, and even if he were holding an honest-to-goodness rifle loaded with real bullets, he was well within his Ohioan rights to do so. Who was he threatening? We’ve seen open-carry activists all over the country walk around in public and visit major chain stores without so much as a police scolding, let alone a confrontation with police or an actual shooting. 

Here are a couple of shots of open-carry activists:

This guy looks perfectly—gulp—harmless, at least according to the officer keeping an eye on—and not shooting—him. 

And how about this mother of the year, allowed to cuddle with her kid and her gun all at once?