Shooting sports and firearms training generally are not hot topics in the African-American community.
But some East Side residents mainly concerned about personal safety are reconstituting a dormant hunting and fishing club with the backing of a local National Rifle Association official.
The Dorie Miller Rifle and Pistol Club will primarily serve African-Americans interested in hunting, fishing, outdoor living skills, and sport and competitive shooting. But its founders also hope to encourage protection of family, property and oneself.
“We are a community under siege because of crime,” said Aqiel Qadir, the interim president of the restarted group, which was named for a black World War II Navy hero. “We’re not safe in the house,” he added, citing home invasions and stray bullets that shatter windows and pierce walls.
Last year, several neighbors contacted Qadir about the gun club. They were concerned that violent crime is “running rampant in our community,” said Qadir, 67, a retired Buffalo Special Police Officer who got his gun permit in 1975.
Since December, 75 people have attended twice-monthly meetings. An NRA charter is pending.
“We’re not safe in the barber shop,” he continued. “We’re not safe in the beauty salons. We’re not safe in the car. We’re not even safe at GiGi’s anymore.”
He recalled an April 2007 incident in which three teenagers armed with handguns held up employees and patrons of GiGi’s restaurant, an institution and communal kitchen for much of the city’s black community since the 1960s.
Members of Dorie Miller will be required to join the NRA. If some are surprised by the connection to the gun rights group – regarded by some blacks as a haven for racists and separatists – the truth is the organization has been “very supportive” of the East Side club and similar ones as far back as the civil rights era, Qadir said.
The Black Guard, for instance, was an NRA-chartered rifle club founded by Robert F. Williams, then-president of the Monroe, N.C., chapter of the NAACP in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A member of the NRA, Williams was an advocate of armed resistance to racial oppression and violence. He wrote the 1962 book “Negroes With Guns,” and the Dorie Miller group showed a documentary about him at a recent meeting.
Qadir also pointed out that African-Americans are represented on NRA brochures and printed materials, such as “How to Organize a Youth Shooting Program.” The cover of the booklet depicts two children – one of them an African-American boy – being trained by an instructor.
The Dorie Miller group also has an ally in Howard W. “Bud” Schroeder, who is deeply rooted in the NRA at the national and local levels. Schroeder, 76, is a member of the organization’s board of directors, chairman and former president of its Shooters’ Committee on Political Education, and president of the association’s Judges and Police Conference of Erie County.
Schroeder has been meeting with members of the East Side gun club.
“They are very enthusiastic about it. I told them, ‘Any way I can help you, I will,’” said Schroeder, who has been friends with Qadir for more than 30 years. Schroeder also is the executive secretary of the Erie County Conservative Party.
Schroeder said the Dorie Miller club can help dispel the myth that guns are only weapons of crime and that they only are used in bad ways. He said “honest citizens” can thwart violent crimes because they have a means of protecting themselves.
“An armed society is a polite society,” he said. “The criminal has his way because too many good people are unarmed. If the next 10 acts of violence perpetrated upon an honest citizen ended up with the honest citizen shooting the attacker, that would do more to cut down on violent crime than doubling the size of a police force. Police don’t prevent crimes. They investigate crimes.”
Buffalo police have no issues with the club.
“As far as the new club, we have no objections to law-abiding, responsible, legal gun owners,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said by email through a spokesman. In fact, some officers have come to the meetings, and three or four retired officers have expressed interest in joining, Qadir said.
The new club, which will shoot at the Niagara Gun Range in North Tonawanda, has three objectives, Qadir said. One is to provide gun training as a way of “protection for ourselves, our families and our homes.” It also is meant to educate the community that “gun control is not in our best interest” and that gun control “has a history of racism,” he said, referring to the notion that it has been used to disarm blacks. The club also wants to teach young people that recreational shooting can be a means to fund a college education, just like other sports.
More than 32 colleges and universities nationwide offer scholarships in recreational shooting, Qadir said. More than 22 have competitive shooting programs, according to a 2009 column by former NRA President John C. Sigler in an NRA newsletter.
“Collegiate shooting is a way to go to college, to help pay to go to school,” Qadir said. “Firearms can take you to college or take you to jail.”
Members of the club must take a firearms safety course from an NRA-certified instructor before applying for a handgun permit, if they don’t already have one. Once members are approved for the permit, instructors will help them select a firearm and provide additional training at a firing range to help the new gun owners better understand how to use a gun safely. Not all gun clubs provide such instruction, Qadir said.
“We’re not just a bunch of people shooting guns,” he said. “We’re a community-minded and [community-]oriented group that wants to make a significant contribution to the community and the quality of life.”