Adam Serwer // A National Rifle Association spokesperson says Botham Jean would still be alive if he’d had a firearm. But when African Americans legally bearing arms are shot by police, the organization’s media outlet doesn’t defend them.

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Loesch’s reaction is an example of what one might call the “Rice rule,” after Tamir Rice, the 12-year old killed by a white police officer while playing in a park with a toy gun: There are no circumstances in which the responsibility for a police shooting of an unarmed black person cannot be placed on the victim.

At the same time, scolding dead people for being unarmed is standard procedure for the NRA, which attacked Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church, where nine parishioners were massacred by the white supremacist Dylann Roof, for supporting gun control. The group similarly suggested that shootings at Planned Parenthood; at Umpqua Community College in Oregon; in Fresno, California; and at the Capital Gazette in Maryland were so deadly because the victims weren’t armed. The NRA even faulted James Shaw Jr., who prevented a mass shooting at a Waffle House by tackling the shooter, for not being armed while he did it. Ted Nugent, the closest thing the NRA has to a celebrity spokesperson, once called mass-shooting victims “losers” who “get cut down by murderous maniacs like blind sheep to slaughter.”

But the NRA’s conspicuous lack of outrage after the shootings of Philando Castile, Jason Washington, and Alton Sterling, all black men killed by police while in possession of a firearm, suggests an impossible double standard. When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. To this day, Loesch defends Castile’s shooting as justified—despite the fact that Castile informed the officer he was carrying a firearm. In Washington’s case, Loesch said she was “never going to keyboard quarterback what police are doing.”

There’s also a catch-22 here: If Jean had been armed, Guyger would have a much more plausible defense. If innocent unarmed black men like Jean are shot, it’s because they lack firearms; if innocent black men who are armed like Castile or Sterling are shot, it’s because they had a gun. Heads, you’re dead; tails, you’re also dead.

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