We hear plenty of lectures today about teaching America’s “true” or “complete history,” but what about the racist roots of gun control? Fortunately — and mainly because of ignorance on the left concerning history — the issue is receiving overdue attention in today’s news cycle.
In late July, the ACLU sent out a tweet that read, “Racism is foundational to the Second Amendment and its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.” Absurd, of course, and watching the ACLU elevate partisan talking points over the Bill of Rights offers a striking irony, given their supposed commitment to individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
The post was prompted by the anti-gun views of two Emory University professors, tying the Second Amendment to fear of black Americans. Yet, most Second Amendment advocates have long been aware of the truth that gun control laws gained momentum because of racism and the desire to control and terrorize non-whites.
Peak crackdown on racist driven gun laws occurred in the American South during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Martin Luther King Jr. was famously denied a pistol permit after his house was firebombed during the Montgomery bus boycotts in the 1950s. This fact wasn’t taught in any school I attended, but I read it in David J. Garrow’s brilliant biography on MLK, “Bearing the Cross.”
Here in North Carolina, pistol permit laws, enacted in 1917, are directly tied to a desire to keep black North Carolinians from having firearms, at least ones easier to carry or for self-defense. Reason Magazine called the legislation the “Klan’s favorite law” in a brilliant piece by David B. Kopel in 2005. Kopel traces how states, mostly in the South, passed registration and permit laws to keep blacks unarmed. Except for North Carolina, every other Southern state has repealed its pistol permit laws.
Additionally, slave code laws frequently targeted not just slaves from owning any firearms, but also free blacks. The state Supreme Court upheld a ban on allowing free black arms in North Carolina in State v. Newsom in 1844. The decision echoed the same logic of the infamous and racist Dredd Scott decision at the U.S. Supreme Court a little over a decade later by claiming that blacks were denied constitutional rights on the basis that they weren’t considered citizens.
In a Boston Globe column, Jeff Jacoby offered one of the best overviews this week on this issue in a piece titled, “The very racist history of gun control.” Jacoby notes “the soaring rate of gun ownership among Black Americans,” something evident in North Carolina too, particularly given the uptick of minorities in the state filing for concealed carry permits, especially among black women. “A favorite formulation of Frederick Douglass was that if black people were to be really free, “they must have the cartridge box, the jury box, and the ballot box to protect them,” writes Jacoby.
Of course, this is true for all law-abiding citizens. The fundamental right to keep and bear arms — central to our Bill of Rights — posits that government is subservient to the free individual, and the entire reason we implement government is to secure those rights.
While gun violence is a serious issue, gun control will continue to fail — not only because of its racist history — but it’s an admission by the government that it can’t control the lawbreakers. So punishment and restrictions are doled out for only those who follow the law.
The racist history of gun control laws remains an important reminder of the dangers of government overreach. Thankfully, by highlighting their ignorance, the ACLU brought the issue to the forefront of today’s Second Amendment debate.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.