Ja Morant’s firearm flap exposes hypocrisy on gun rights

Second Amendment

Michael Paul Williams

Michael Paul Williams

 there were any consistency to the gun rights movement, the NBA’s Ja Morant would be an NRA poster child.

After all, the Memphis Grizzlies basketball star is in a jam following a social media video of him waving a gun inside a motor vehicle in Tennessee. A similar livestream in March showed Morant flashing a firearm in a Denver nightclub, earning him an eight-game suspension without pay for “conduct detrimental to the league.”

But apparently, in each incident, no gun laws were broken.

Morant — insulated by his immense talent and America’s pervasive permissiveness when it comes to firearms — has yet to catch a case.

Colorado is an open carry state. And Tennessee law allows people to openly carry firearms or conceal them, without a permit, as long as they steer clear of schools, public parks and government buildings. (Ironic, the latter.) These lax gun laws have made Morant metaphorically bulletproof from punishment by the law. And yet, he is facing a substantial penalty from the image-conscious National Basketball Association.

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Let me state the obvious: Morant’s behavior is immature and idiotic. He is about to slay his own golden goose. I’m a fan, but he’s exhausted my patience with his faux gangsterism. The all-too familiar mass shootings and the everyday gun violence that plagues Black communities are an American tragedy that shouldn’t be glamorized or romanticized.

But have I missed the Second Amendment rallies packed with gun-toting folks protesting on Morant’s behalf?

The muted response on that front is part of a long continuum of double standards in a nation where Black people were often prohibited from gun ownership, Martin Luther King Jr. was denied a concealed carry permit after his home was firebombed. Gun-toting Black Panthers so unnerved the National Rifle Association during the late 1960s that it backed a gun control bill signed into law by then Gov. Ronald Reagan. There was also the NRA’s long silence after Philando Castile was slain by a panicky St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer during a 2016 traffic stop in which Castile possessed a licensed firearm.

Yes, Morant needs to be punished for his behavior, which is problematic for the social justice-conscious NBA.

But we also need to consider the bigger picture.

Retired pro basketball player JJ Redick, during an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take,” disagreed with another panelist who argued for a half-season suspension. The league’s collective bargaining agreement is unclear on matters like this, he said.

And then, Redick, a former Duke star and a high school All-American from Roanoke, added a much-needed perspective.

“In our country right now, gun culture is pervasive. It’s pervasive,” he said. “We’ve got mass shooting after mass shooting, and nobody’s doing a damn thing about it. So I get why we’re so sensitive to this right now. But there’s no consequence for Greg Abbott telling his constituents that they should go buy more guns, and then we have mass shooting after mass shooting in Texas. There’s no consequence for an elected Tennessee official to send out a Christmas card holding AR-15s with his young family, and then there’s a shooting in his very district. … So why are we trying to lay down the hammer on a 23-year-old who didn’t break the law?”

That Tennessee official is Rep. Andy Ogles, a Republican whose wife and children posed on social media holding assault rifles as part of a “Merry Christmas” message in December 2021.

“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good,” he wrote.

That message, wildly inappropriate for Christmas, didn’t age well. Three children and three adults were slain at a Presbyterian elementary school in Nashville on March 27, 2023.

Redick was also citing an Oct. 28, 2015, tweet by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott saying: “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans. @NRA”

Grizzlies Nuggets Basketball (copy)

The NBA is investigating Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant, who recently caused an uproar when he flashed a gun on social media, the second such incident since March.

Texas certainly picked up the pace of mass shootings, from the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting (26 dead, 22 others wounded) to the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting (23 dead, 23 others wounded) to the 2021 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde (21 dead). Texas has had two additional mass shootings within the past month.

Abbott should be embarrassed.

The truth is, these folks are glamorizing and romanticizing firearms for political gain. There was also this pose by candidate Winsome Earle-Sears, now Virginia’s lieutenant governor. But this being America today, right-wing pundits were bound to spring to Ogles’ and Abbott’s defense. Among them was Jason Whitlock, a “hardcore MAGA” sports journalist.

“Greg Abbott telling people in Texas to arm themselves and use their Second Amendment rights, there is no clear-cut connection between that behavior and these mass shootings you love to talk about,” Whitlock said. He also rejected any correlation between those Christmas cards and gun violence anywhere. But oddly, in the same spiel, he asserted that shooters at a nightclub near his Nashville apartment building “take their clues from people like Ja Morant.”

When Morant is seen as having more influence on gun violence than a sitting U.S. congressman or the governor of Texas, well, Houston, we have a problem.

Morant is a poseur. Youngsters want to be like Ja for his slam dunks on the court, not his foolishness off the court. Gun-wielding hoods would eagerly trade their lifestyle for the gifts Morant would squander.

The numerous allegations surrounding him suggest a pattern of poor judgment by Morant and leniency and enabling by authority figures. But on this firearms issue, as one friend put it, “as usual, young Black athletes are being held to a higher standard as ‘role models’ than elected officials three times their age who are heralded in some circles for flaunting their love of guns.”

When a nation’s political leadership promotes a culture of gun idolatry, you get gun-wielding social media posts — and sadly, much, much worse.

Ja Morant is a symptom. It’s high time America treated the disease.

Michael Paul Williams (804) 649-6815


@RTDMPW on Twitter

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