By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Los Angeles Times (MCT)
---- — HOUSTON — Colion Noir belongs to the NRA and owns several guns, including a sleek Glock 17 handgun and a customized AR-15 rifle. But as Noir frequently points out, he does not fit the stereotype of NRA members, or what he calls OFWG: “Old, fat white guys.”
At 29, he’s not old. Nor is he fat — he’s slender and stylishly dressed with sneakers made by Prada. He’s also not white.
In the world of gun owners, Noir, an African-American, has become an Internet sensation and his popularity is growing. At this year’s National Rifle Association convention here, he was surrounded by fans when he arrived to film a Sportsman Channel segment on the NRA News stage.
“You are certainly causing some controversies,” said Cam Edwards, host of the radio talk show “NRA News Cam & Co.”
Noir has attracted followers with funny, edgy pro-gun videos — titles include “Gun Control & Bathrooms” and “You Know You’re a Gun Control Hypocrite if … ” He has emerged as a dynamic and unexpected NRA persona.
Gun control advocates dismiss him as an NRA pawn, and some blacks accuse him of being an Uncle Tom. But to many at the convention, Noir demonstrated a historic diversity among gun owners that defies stereotypes.
After Noir left the talk-show stage, fans approached to shake hands and pose for photographs. Most were white. A handful of them, like Quentin Smith, were black.
“Congratulations,” said Smith, 44, a gun owner from Cypress, Texas. “There’s a few of us out there.”
The NRA does not release membership demographics, but according to a Pew Research Center survey, many gun owners in America are white — 31 percent of whites polled this year said they owned guns, compared with 15 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Latinos.
“This is one tie that binds all of us together,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam, describing the group as “the oldest civil rights organization in America.”
Arulanandam noted that the NRA also recently signed on a woman and a young veteran as commentators who speak to other growing demographics within the ranks of gun owners. He said the NRA did not choose Noir because of his race.
“When he speaks, he’s able to relate to a variety of people. That’s why he has a broad following,” Arulanandam said.
Noir was born Collins — “Mr. Colion Noir” is a stage name — son of an executive chef and a registered nurse. He graduated from high school in Houston, went to the University of Houston, where he majored in political science, and earned a law degree from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
Noir is a practicing attorney. He reads fashion blogs, loves gadgets and drives a sports car and a truck — neither with a gun rack, although he keeps a metal candy dish full of bullets in his living room.
Noir said he grew up hesitant to admit he liked firearms because it wasn’t something people talked about in his middle-class neighborhood. He fired his first gun, a little Taurus .40, about seven years ago at the urging of a friend who took him to a shooting range.
“I remember how exhilarating it was,” Noir said, comparing the experience to sky diving.
Soon afterward, he was going to the range weekly and researching guns. He later joined the NRA and bought about half a dozen guns. Noir, who once worked at A/X Armani Exchange and favors tailored suits, worries that a concealed handgun might “print,” or show through the fabric.
“Secret Service have the worst cut suits — big and bulky,” so their guns won’t show, Noir said.
A few years ago he began posting YouTube videos of himself critiquing guns and accessories. Then he started tackling politics and pop culture, addressing mass shootings, assault weapon bans and gun control campaigns by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the rapper formerly known as Snoop Dogg.
Noir said he recently started preparing a video about “stand your ground” laws after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
“I decided to table it because there’s too much complexity,” Noir said.
In one, Noir sits on a plush couch in his loft next to his assault rifle, wearing his black Yankees cap and a modern plaid shirt, tossing off references to Justin Bieber and “Entourage” while mocking the owners of .45 handguns as “the Scientologists of the gun world” because they’ve attributed mythical powers to the .45 bullet — think “Zeus’ thunderbolt or Thor’s hammer.”
The camera cuts again and again to Noir wearing different baseball caps as he plays other characters.
Why carry a .45? The characters explain.
“Because a 9 millimeter only kills your body, but the .45 — that kills your soul,” one says, staring dully at the camera.
“Maybe because I’m too lazy to shoot twice,” another says.
“The only ones I know can survive a .45 is Wolverine and Superman,” says yet another.
Noir reasons there’s not much difference between a .45 and other powerful firearms, like the 9 mm handgun: “Are you going to be any more dead when, in one of her drunken stupors, Lindsay Lohan runs over you with her Range Rover Sport versus Kim Kardashian in her full-size Range Rover?”
Noir was launching his online brand last spring when the NRA approached him. Officially, he’s a paid commentator, not a spokesman, though the videos are branded NRA. He and the group declined to say how much he’s paid.
Once a deal had been struck, the NRA released an ad in March promoting his first video praising the gun rights group for championing the right of blacks to bear arms during Jim Crow and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“The same government who at one point hosed us down with water, attacked us with dogs and wouldn’t allow us to eat at their restaurants told us we couldn’t own guns when bumbling fools with sheets on their heads were riding around burning crosses on our lawns and murdering us,” Noir says in the video as “Washington elitism” flashes across the screen.
It was not a misreading of history, according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, author of “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”
Winkler said that the armed Black Panthers of the 1960s, despite criticism by then-Republican California Gov. Ronald Reagan and many conservatives, paved the way for the NRA’s current interpretation of the Second Amendment: that citizens should be able to carry guns in public, not just for hunting, but for protection, including protection against government tyranny.
Now some in the black community have denounced Noir for what they say is selling out to the white pro-gun establishment, with critiques posted on theroot.com and the Black Entertainment Television website.
“He’s taking more heat from black people than anybody. The racism that exists now is mostly on our side,” said the Rev. Kenn Blanchard, 50, a gun rights activist who is black. He said he advised Noir to accept the NRA deal.
Noir said he expected attacks, but he gets frustrated when critics highlight his race.
“Calling me an Uncle Tom simply because I’m into firearms, it doesn’t even make sense. My entire identity as a black guy is based on my ownership of guns? Really?” he said. “Some of the most influential black individuals have advocated for the use of firearms, so how come when I do it, I’m vilified? Take a look at the Black Panthers, MLK, Malcolm X.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. supported gun rights? Noir noted that after King’s home in Montgomery, Ala., was firebombed, King applied for a handgun permit.
When it comes to outreach to potential black gun owners, Noir will find that the demographics are stacked against him, Winkler said. Figures show blacks and Latinos are more likely to be Democrats who support gun control, especially young minorities in urban areas who associate guns with gangs and neighborhood violence, he said.
Perhaps Noir’s rise says more about the NRA’s acceptance of minorities than the group’s ability to woo them.
At the NRA convention, as Noir left the talk-show stage, Chris Blow of Magnolia, Texas, stopped him. Blow, 59, is a longtime NRA member and had watched Noir’s videos. Where, he wondered, did Noir like to shoot? Noir reeled off a few locations in the Houston area. Blow, who is white, smiled knowingly and shook Noir’s hand.
“You seem like someone I’d like to go shoot with,” he said.