The NRA was recently labeled a domestic terrorist organization by San Francisco. Because of this, it is time we discuss some facts about the NRA and the gun control debate in general.

The left loves to frame the NRA as the big bad gun lobby who would rather make money than keep children alive, but big corporations are not the face of the NRA. For much of US history, the NRA has been a fierce defender of the underdog, protecting marginalized groups from oppressive conditions. In fact, that has been a pillar of the entire Second Amendment movement.

Gun control was not born out of a need to protect citizens from guns. It was born in the post-Civil War era. It started as a mechanism for disarming individuals the government viewed as a threat due to the color of their skin.

Just one month after the end of the civil war, Frederick Douglas spoke before the people of New York urging the federal government to protect black American’s Second Amendment rights. Douglas viewed the right to self defense as integral to a person’s independence. He feared state governments would attempt to disarm black people. He was correct.

Throughout the South, “gun control” became a method of leaving marginalized groups defenseless to lynchings and other forms of public violence.

Under the 14th Amendment, the intent of these laws could not be directly stated. Instead, states like Florida and South Carolina instituted licensing laws restricting the types of guns an individual could carry. In some cases, the most accessible legal guns were former confederate war weapons issued only to soldiers.

As a Florida Supreme Court Justice would later say in reference to a licensing law, “the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers” and “was never intended to apply to the white population and in practice has never been so applied.”

Nonetheless, as racial tensions increased countless stories in Atlanta, Chicago, Oklahoma, and demonstrate that when the law failed to protect black Americans, firearms ownership did. For example, through Charter with the NRA, Robert F. William created the Black Guard in 1956. This armed group committed to defending Monroe, North Carolina’s black population from the KKK when law enforcement did not.

Today, minority and marginalized groups should continue to be the fiercest advocates for the Second Amendment.

Following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, members of the LGBTQ+ community felt a need to defend themselves against increased hate crimes that some felt our politicians were not adequately acknowledging. The Pink Pistols, an LGBTQ gun group that first formed nationwide in 2000, saw a sudden spike in membership.

In 2017, over 500 women, largely women of color, disappeared from DC. As a Hispanic woman living in DC, nothing would have made me feel safer than the ability to carry a firearm. When I discussed this prospect with those in my community I was constantly told it would be “too hard.” DC is listed as having some of the strictest gun laws in the entire country.

We may not be living in the Jim Crow era, where government is deliberately attempting to disarm black communities, but in 2019 people of color are still overwhelmingly victims of violence. In addition, they overwhelmingly populate areas with the strictest gun laws. We must empower diverse groups to protect themselves, as the NRA has done for over 100 years.

Regardless of political beliefs, anyone who feels threatened should be able to defend themselves. At the end of the day, you cannot rely on government, you can only rely on yourself.

We must also never forget that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to protect the people from their own government. The threat of a government working against its own people is not 243 years old, but rather was evident far more recently for minorities in this country. We should all remember our duty to be able to protect ourselves and our neighbors from harm.

When people tell you that the NRA is the big business gun lobby, tell them that the average donation to the NRA is only $35. When they say the NRA is a domestic terrorist organization, tell them the truth. The NRA is the oldest civil rights group in this country.

Gun rights are civil rights.