Jemel Roberson was a good guy with a gun. The 26-year-old security guard at Manny’s Blue Room Lounge took up arms to defend patrons from a would-be shooter, just days after a dozen people were murdered by a gunman who had opened fire in a California bar.
A group of intoxicated men had earlier been ejected from Manny’s bar, according to local news reports. One then came back with a gun and started shooting. Roberson returned fire and was ultimately able to disarm and detain the shooter after putting his knee on the assailant’s back.
Sounds like a Second Amendment success story, the kind we are routinely told are a virtual impossibility in the wake of any mass shooting incident, as the efficacy of gun control is highlighted and “thoughts and prayers” are declared to be futile.
Except for what happened next: the police arrived and shot and killed Roberson. The suspect lives. The young black man who may have prevented the next mass shooting is dead. His nine-month-old baby now has no father.
“Everybody was screaming out, ‘Security!’ He was a security guard,” a witness chillingly told the Chicago news station WGN9. “And they still did their job, and saw a black man with a gun, and basically killed him.”
Many find such quotes enraging. Some high-profile police shootings of black men have, on careful examination, turned out to be more complicated than a simple morality tale about the misconduct of a bigoted cop. Baselessly smearing all police officers as racist has itself triggered violence, both in the form of rioting and murderous attacks on law enforcement personnel. The Chicago area, it will inevitably be pointed out, is no safe haven from black-on-black crime.
Yet the cold resignation in the witness’s account originates in the experiences of many African Americans. There is a burgeoning number of cases in which the police conduct that results in a dead black man is at least highly questionable.
So too is the relative silence of gun rights groups when these situations entail law-abiding black gun owners’ interactions with law enforcement. The most prominent example is Philando Castile, a valid gun permit holder who was slain despite informing police officers he was armed. The National Rifle Association faced questions about its handling of the incident—not least from its own members.
Unless new information emerges that radically changes what we know about the underlying facts, Roberson represents the next test for gun rights supporters. He stopped a bad guy with a gun, fulfilling the promise of the Second Amendment, and then died at the hands of government employees who would exercise a near-monopoly on firearms ownership if the most extreme anti-gun activists had their way.
Beyond guns, there is also the vexing question of national cohesion in an era of division and disunity. Slowing immigration and strengthening our assimilative institutions can help—and so can a refusal to treat all politics as identity politics, whether practiced by progressives of color or white conservatives.
Roberson reportedly wanted to be a Chicago police officer, the true path of a good guy with a gun. A local minister put it this way in an interview with WGN9: “He was getting ready to train and do all that stuff, so the very people he wanted to be family with, took his life.”
A sad commentary in an often maddening time.
W. James Antle III is editor of The American Conservative.