Black-ish Recap: The Johnson Gun Debate

"Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun" Photo: Tyler Golden/ABC
Episode Title
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun
Editor’s Rating

The second episode of this season tackles gun ownership and safety. While the show has one season under its belt, Black-ish still needs a little help with its pacing. Each episode starts out with guns blazing (I know, I know), the jokes launched with rapid-fire precision (sorry!), but by the time we head into the final act, all the funny is belly-crawling toward the neat conclusion. This could be a direct result of the family-sitcom formula and have less to do with Black-ish itself, but it would be nice to keep the flow of jokes steady throughout. 

On to the episode:

Neighbor Janine (Nicole Sullivan) has arrived with teenage son Seth so he can spend the weekend with Junior and the rest of the Johnsons. She has a list of items she doesn’t want him near, including peanuts, black mold, and guns. Dre lies and says they have a gun in the house, much to Bow’s frustration, and Janine refuses to let Seth stay with them. Dre explains that he doesn’t know if Janine is part of the recent rash of robberies hitting the neighborhood and that they’ve been lulled into a false sense of security; Bow insists guns are a danger to the house; Dre counters that being murdered by murderers is more dangerous. And so the Johnson Gun Debate begins.

Dre already keeps a cache of weapons around the house: under-counter switchblade, shower machete, and blender nunchaku because you’re never quite as vulnerable as when you’re making a milk shake. When the children learn that Dre doesn’t already have a gun, they’re disappointed and claim to feel unprotected. Junior believes cyberterrorism is the real threat and sets out to “beef up the firewall.” Zoey believes her beauty and popularity make her the real target for any potential criminals, so Pops agrees to teach her the gentle art of karate. There’s a touch of Morpheus-versus-Neo in the moment as the two bow to each other, but that quickly ends as Pops has Zoey performing household chores under the guise of learning martial arts. The twins decide to watch an instructional video that shows kids how to set up their own security system: Home Alone.

Bow is adamant in her belief that guns do not belong in the house, so Dre asks his co-workers for their opinions in a welcome break from Josh’s PowerPoint presentation filled with empty buzzwords. Charlie, Josh, and pistol-carrying Mr. Stevens all agree that Dre should have a gun, which makes him second-guess his stance. However, when Dre gets home, Janine is crying on Bow’s shoulder, having been a victim of a home robbery while she was at her most vulnerable -- making a milk shake.

Dre makes his case again to Bow, but she refuses to back down, so Dre shows her a notebook where he’s kept track of all of their arguments, proclaiming it’s time for him to win one. It turns out that Dre has been losing arguments in preparation for a big one, and being able to keep a gun in the house is the big debate he wants to win. Dre begins the process for gun ownership, and during the ten-day waiting period, Bow tries her best to get him to change his mind. She quotes stats, tries to bribe him with a motorcycle she once denied, plays the episode title’s eponymous game, before resorting to the silent treatment and withholding sex when the gun arrives via mail.

The night the gun is delivered, strange noises send the kids into their parents’ room, sure there is an intruder in the house. Dre tries to review the security cameras to see where the person is, but Junior’s cybersecurity fails. The intruder gets closer to the bedroom, and Bow panics. She demands Dre get the gun and keep shooting until there’s nothing left. Fortunately, the gun is still taped up in its box, and Dre can’t get it out in time to discover a drunken Pops, crashing around the house and looking for more Scotch.

Bow insists that panicking can lead to serious accidents, and while Dre understands, he can’t escape his upbringing of constantly looking over shoulders to see what’s coming. Bow doesn’t want to erase his experiences but hopes he realizes he doesn’t have to live that way anymore. The next day, a sober Pops agrees to hold on to the gun until Dre learns gun safety.

Gun ownership and safety was the larger thread this week, but it was really just a way to examine the many ways to protect loved ones. Janine wants to keep peanuts and the HBO show Girls away from her son. Junior wants to shield everyone from cyberterrorism. Dre hopes to protect his family not only from crime, but also from the life of his childhood. Pops points out that what Dre has built for his family is a far cry from their past. Dre escaping his old neighborhood and moving into an upper-middle-class lifestyle may be better protection than any gun.


  • “White people stole our freedom. You don’t think they’ll come in here and steal my Xbox?”  
  • “Cyberterrorism made burglary possible for fat guys who can’t fit through windows.”
  • “Get a gun, Dre. You’ll need one when it’s time for the … evolution-ray.”
  • Zoey’s fear of someone seeing her in her hair scarf at night.
  • “Do you know how many black belts I’ve shot?”