Philando Castile, a black man in Minnesota who was shot and killed by a 28-year-old police officer named Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop, was about my age. We might have had plenty in common, or not much at all.
But when details of his killing emerged, I learned of one potential similarity between us that also set us a world apart: Like Castile, I have a permit to carry a gun.
I, too, have been pulled over by police. The difference is that Castile was black and I am white. When he got pulled over with his gun permit, he was shot and killed. When I’m pulled over and show my permit, it gets me out of traffic fines.
According to Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who posted a live video to Facebook of her boyfriend bleeding in the driver’s seat while the officer’s gun is still drawn, Castile had a permit to carry a weapon. She says he told the officer he had a firearm and was reaching for his ID when the officer shot and killed him.
“He had a permit to carry,” Castile’s mother said on CNN.
In discussing the killing, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has pointed to Castile’s race as a factor.
“Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?” the governor asked. “I don’t think it would have.”
This is not abstract for me.
I have been pulled over with my own gun permit several times, but I’m a white guy driving a Volkswagen. And since I got my concealed carry permit, I’ve been treated very differently by officers each time they’ve pulled me over. Instead of tickets that lead to fines, I’ve gotten off with warnings. The permit has saved me hundreds of dollars since I got it.
Why? The answer is an anecdote I used to tell at parties. I don’t feel so hot about it now.
In 2009, as a journalist in South Carolina, I took a weekend class and got a concealed weapons permit for a story about the rise in permit applications and firearms sales following the election of Democratic President Barack Obama.
My instructor was a liberal New York transplant who previously taught college English. At the end of our two-day training, he told us— all of us white— about one of the perks of having a concealed weapons permit: We would likely never get another traffic ticket again.
The next time you get pulled over, our instructor said, hand over your permit with your license and insurance card. Tell the officer whether you are armed and if there’s a gun in the car. When the officer sees the permit, the instructor said, his “whole demeanor will change.” We will likely get off with just a warning.
The instructor was right. For me, anyway.
Since I got my permit in 2009, I’ve been pulled over by police multiple times. I have yet to get a ticket.
The first time was in a small South Carolina town where I was clocked at 16 miles over the limit. The officer chided me for not having a gun on me at the time. Getting a written warning, he said, doesn’t happen much in this town, as he handed me one that saved me around $200.
The next time was more egregious. It came in the early morning hours at a DUI checkpoint on a major road in a mid-sized city. My destination was just before the checkpoint, on a side street, and when I turned onto that street two officers chased me down on foot and pounded on my car, yelling for me to stop. They might have thought I was trying to evade the checkpoint. It sure looked that way.
When I handed over my license, gun permit and insurance card, I’ll never forget what the officer said. “All right, brother, concealed weapons permit, you’re good.”
The officer did not ask me— a guy in his 20s who just made a left turn immediately before a flashing DUI checkpoint after midnight— if I had been drinking. Just, “All right, brother, concealed weapons permit, you’re good.” That was it.
The last time I got pulled over was about a year and a half ago in Colorado after making a U-turn in an intersection. I didn’t see the officer in an SUV in a nearby parking lot, but he saw me. I handed him my license, my permit and my insurance card, and thought this is the time I finally get a ticket. The officer let me off with a warning.
There are a few reasons why this happens, my weapons instructor explained seven years ago.
For one, to get a concealed weapons permit, you have to pass a background check, which means if you have a permit you have no serious priors. Your fingerprints are on file, you’re already in the system, you have no outstanding warrants for your arrest.
Another reason is that in some states, if you rack up enough traffic violations, you can lose your gun permit. An officer might appreciate having more well-trained civilians carrying concealed weapons in their communities, and so you might get a warning instead of a ticket that could lead to losing your permit.
But there’s another aspect that went unsaid, perhaps made more clear in light of Castile’s death: It probably helps if you look like me.