To be black and armed in Minnesota

Lucky Rosenbloom inside of his workshop.
Firearms instructor Lucky Rosenbloom sits inside his workshop in St. Paul.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Lucky Rosenbloom's office at the corner of Dale Street and Interstate 94 in St. Paul is covered in signs — hot pink, bright yellow and blue.

The signs promise: Guns. Permit to carry. Men's and women's classes.

Call the number listed and you'll get Rosenbloom's answering service: "Let my experience as a paralegal, military police officer, park police agent, correctional officer and probation officer work for you, in my next permit-to-carry-a-gun class."

He goes on: "Say 'Have a nice day' after the tone, you'll get $55 off my next class."

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Rosenbloom, born and raised in St. Paul, believes he may be the only African-American firearms instructor in Minnesota. (The state doesn't keep data on this.)

When he heard about Philando Castile's death last July, he shook his head. Castile was shot by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop. Seconds before Yanez opened fire, Castile said: "Sir, I have to tell you I have a firearm on me."

"I thought right away, if he had not said that, he would be alive today," Rosenbloom said. "When you tell a police officer you have a gun, let me be clear: There's a difference between a black man saying to an officer you have a gun, and a white man saying to an officer you have a gun."

Rosenbloom said he teaches his gun courses from "a black perspective." That includes how to handle being stopped by police while carrying a weapon.

"I advise my students in my class: Never, ever volunteer to the police officer that you have a gun," Rosenbloom explained. Under Minnesota law, it's voluntary for gun owners and those with a permit to disclose that information, unless they are directly asked.

"There's this fear about a black man with a gun," he said. "It's OK in America for some reason for everyone to have a gun to protect yourself — unless you're a black man."

Rosenbloom was surprised that Castile disclosed his weapon so quickly. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was one of Rosenbloom's students years ago, he said. He taught her what he teaches all his students: Don't tell an officer you have a gun unless asked. And she was sitting in the front seat next to Castile during the traffic stop.

"Reynolds called me, I think it was two, maybe three, days after this incident, and she asked me: 'Lucky, do you think I should still carry my firearm?'" Rosenbloom said.

"I told her, 'You have to make that decision.'"

For Euric Rutherford of St. Paul, Castile's death hit too close to home.

Euric Rutherford stands for a portrait.
"I'm a proud member of the NRA," said Euric Rutherford, a St. Paul resident. "I love my rifle."
Evan Frost | MPR News

Rutherford is 33 — the same age Castile would be now. He's black. He has young children. And he's a gun owner, with a permit to carry.

Until last July, he had never been to a protest over police shootings. He joined the crowd at the governor's mansion on Summit Avenue the night after Castile was killed.

"It's getting to the point where I'm being looked at as a violent person just because of the color of my skin," he said that night. He couldn't watch the video showing the shooting's aftermath without wondering what would have happened if it had been him in that car.

Rutherford carries a gun because he believes in exercising his Second Amendment right: He likes the sport of it, and he wants to be able to protect himself and his family. His wife, who is white, was originally against it.

"I told my wife I wanted to carry a gun and she said, 'Oh my gosh, they're going to kill you,'" he recalled. "She didn't want me to have it because she didn't want everybody else to view me as somebody threatening, you know. And I had to explain to her: I'm 6 foot 3, 310 pounds. I'm already threatening."

Rutherford didn't take his permit-to-carry class from Lucky Rosenbloom. If police approached, he used to tell them he was carrying a gun.

In 2015, he was sitting in his car in north Minneapolis in the middle of the night, around 3 a.m. He was helping a friend move, so the car was filled with stuff. A police officer shone a flashlight through the window, he said. "The cops walked up to the vehicle. I notified them: 'Hey, I just want to let you know I do have a firearm. I do have the gun in the car. I do have a permit to carry,'" Rutherford said.

"At that time [the officer] started yelling at me, swearing at me, telling me to shut up: 'Where's the gun? Where's the gun? Get out of the f-ing car.'"

Rutherford said he was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car while the officers searched his vehicle. After 20 to 30 minutes, they came back and verified that he had a permit to carry.

"The officer turns to me — I'm still handcuffed in the back of his vehicle — and said, 'Yeah, you just have to understand why I had to do that.'"

"'No, I don't. I really don't understand why you had to do that.'"

"What did I do wrong? Who did I assault?" Rutherford remembered wondering. "A lot of common American views in the world today see the African-American man looking very dangerous. They don't see that at the time, I was head of loss prevention for Burlington Coat Factory. They don't see a working-class man. They don't see a father of two kids. They didn't see that I'm married, you know.

"They just saw that I had a gun and there was something wrong with that."

Asked about the encounter, the Minneapolis Police Department replied that it "is not able to comment at this time about the incident that occurred with Mr. Rutherford in 2015 without the incident report and a data request for the report has been made thru the Records Unit."

When Rutherford saw the news last week that Jeronimo Yanez has been acquitted on all charges in the death of Philando Castile, he decided not to tell the next officer he's carrying a gun, unless he's directly asked.

The verdict has reignited conversations about gun rights and police response. But one typically vocal organization has been silent on the issue: the National Rifle Association.

Rutherford called himself "a proud, proud, proud member" of the NRA. "I love my rifle," he said.

Even so, he's not surprised by the group's silence. Last July, two days after Castile was killed, the NRA posted a comment on its Facebook page: "The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known."

The group has not made a public comment since. Repeated requests for comment went unanswered.

Rutherford said that when he joined, he knew the group's base didn't look like him. He knew the base was predominantly white.

"That's their people, that's their base. That's who they represent," Rutherford said. "And for this to happen, and the NRA not to say something, it's showing what they represent."