A National Rifle Association spokeswoman said the comments she made this week on the death of Philando Castile, a black man killed by police after disclosing he had legal concealed weapon during a traffic stop, was the organization’s official stance.
Dana Loesch, special assistant to NRA’s executive vice president for public communication and a conservative talk show host, called the incident “a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided” during an appearance on CNN.
“I don’t agree with every single decision that comes out from courtrooms in America,” Loesch said. “There are a lot of variables in this particular case and there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently. Do I believe that Philando Castile deserved to lose his life over a stop? I absolutely do not.”
Loesch made the appearance to defend comments she made in an NRA membership video against critic Tamika Mallory, president of the Women’s March, who appeared alongside her on CNN. Mallory had penned a letter asking the NRA to retract Loesch’s video because it “appear(s) to be a direct endorsement of violence” against people, especially those of color, for exercising their right to free speech. She also requested the NRA, as a civil rights organization, defend Castile’s Second Amendment rights and demand justice for him.
Shortly after the incident last July, the NRA as an organization released an official statement calling Castile’s death “troubling” and that it would “have more to say once all the facts are known.” Loesch has been the only NRA representative to give an official statement since then.
In her brief discussion about Castile, Loesch also highlighted NRA’s new self-defense insurance, NRA Carry Guard, suggesting the training it offers could have prevented the tragedy. She also advised that when individuals licensed to conceal a weapon are in a traffic stop that they have their concealed carry permit card.
“I just want to make sure when individuals, when we’re pulled over, that we make sure that we have our concealed carry permit card. As someone who is hyper-protective of natural rights, like Philando Castile’s, I want to make sure that’s well known, so we don’t have someone who perhaps maybe doesn’t make all the right decisions when they’re going through a stop,” Loesch said.
Loesch’s NRA colleague Colion Noir, who is black and has a law degree, wrote a column outside his official NRA channel after the officer responsible for the shooting, Jeronimo Yanez, a Mexican-American, was acquitted of manslaughter charges last month. Noir suggested “covert racism” — like a negative stereotype reinforced in the media about black men and guns — likely contributed to Castile’s death.
Yanez said he thought Castile was a robbery suspect when he stopped the vehicle. Castile informed Yanez that he had a legal concealed weapon and began reaching for his wallet, but Yanez mistakenly thought Castile was reaching for a gun, so he opened fire.
“Other than Yanez’s testimony, there is nothing I read about the trial or any newly revealed facts to suggest that Philando was going for his gun,” Noir said.
“Personally, I feel because Yanez pulled Philando over under the suspicion that he was a robbery suspect coupled with the presence of a gun, it put Yanez in a heightened state. I feel he lost control of his wits and overreacted,” he added.
Noir shared an anecdote from his teenage years in which he and his friends attempted to ask a police officer for directions and instead of helping, the officer pulled a gun on them. Noir questioned how they could have performed the seemingly harmless gesture — of briefly parking next to an empty police car before backing up — differently or if the officer would have had a different response if they were white.
“I don’t feel (Yanez) woke up that day wanting to shoot a black person. However, I keep asking myself, would he have done the same thing if Philando were white?” Noir asked, adding “My legal mind can see why they couldn’t get to Manslaughter in the Second Degree based solely on the facts at hand, but Yanez walking away from this case a free and clear man is just wrong.”