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The Great Equalizer: Civil rights and the Second Amendment
food for thought for the day:
and to be clear about the roots of much gun control...In her harrowing 1892 treatise on the horrors of lynching in the post-bellum American South, the journalist, suffragist, and civil-rights champion Ida B. Wells established for her readers the value of bearing arms. “Of the many inhuman outrages of this present year,” Wells recorded, “the only case where the proposed lynching did not occur, was where the men armed themselves.” She went on to proffer some advice: “The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense. The lesson this teaches, and which every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”
non-violence != no self-defense...So it would continue to be. Speaking in favor of the proposed Gun Control Act in 1968, the mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, griped that Americans, “especially the non-white, are buying guns right and left.” “Someone,” Daley thought, “ought to do something,” lest the riots that had been sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. turn into a minor insurrection. That year, Congress obliged, passing a set of harsh restrictions on the importation of firearms and in effect outlawing the inexpensive foreign weaponry on which most inner-city blacks had come to rely. “It is difficult to escape the conclusion,” the historian Barry Bruce-Biggs has argued, “that the ‘Saturday night special’ is emphasized because it is cheap and is being sold to a particular class of people.” The left-wing writer Robert Sherrill put it even more bluntly in his classic anti-gun tome The Saturday Night Special (1973): “The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed not to control guns but to control blacks.” In California a year earlier, legislators had been so vexed by the sight of armed Black Panthers protesting outside the statehouse that they passed legislation outlawing all open carrying of firearms — the first such ban in state history and, at the time, perhaps the strictest ordinance in the country. Governor Ronald Reagan happily signed the bill.
The distinction between insurrection and self-defense was one that Martin Luther King Jr. himself insisted be observed. While “violence as a tool of advancement, organized as in warfare, deliberately and consciously,” was likely to invite “incalculable perils,” King held, “violence exercised merely in self-defense, all societies, from the most primitive to the most cultured and civilized, accept as moral and legal.” Or, as the Mississippi farmer and civil-rights activist Hartman Turnbow put it with more élan, by opening fire on 🤬 members who were attacking his home, “I wasn’t being non-nonviolent, I was just protectin’ my family.” Both men were tapping into a long and proud instinct within what Johnson refers to as “the black tradition of arms.” Asked in 1850 what advice he would give to escaped blacks who feared the slave-catcher’s embrace, Frederick Douglass responded: “a good revolver, a steady hand, and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap” them.
...Cobb should know. He was there. “I worked in the South,” he recalled during his interview with NPR. “I lived with families in the South. There was never a family I stayed with that didn’t have a gun. I know, from personal experience and the experiences of others, that guns kept people alive.” Martin Luther King’s home, Cobb recollected, was an “arsenal” — not an uncommon thing for blacks who felt that their lives were in danger. Fannie Lou Hamer, the driving force behind the Mississippi Freedom Summer and a remarkable orator in her own right, always “kept weapons nearby in case she needed them.” She once wrote to a friend that “the first 🤬 even looks like he wants to throw some dynamite on my porch won’t write his mama again.” Another woman, Cynthia Washington, responded to the murder of a fellow activist by keeping a handgun in her purse at all times. It would, Washington said, be an “unforgivable sin to willingly let someone 🤬 my mother’s only child without a fight.” Annie Colton Reeves of Mississippi, Johnson records, was told by her father that “it’s better to have ammunition than food,” and she took him seriously: She owned two rifles, two handguns, and a shotgun, and proved more than happy to use them. “Women like Annie Colton and Fannie Lou Hamer offered no high theories about armed self-defense versus political violence,” Johnson contends. They just wished to survive.
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