What if Blacks Owned Guns at the Rate of Whites?

What if Blacks Owned Guns at the Rate of Whites? February 20, 2018

Kali Holloway has a provocative article, originally published at Alternet, about the history of gun control laws being used to prevent black people from owning guns. This was most obvious during Reconstruction, when laws banned gun ownership by blacks out of fear that they would take out revenge on slaveowners.

These policies even predate this country’s official nationhood. The Splinter’s Daniel Rivero points to the “first gun control law,” passed in Virginia in 1640, which “explicitly banned black people from owning guns, even if they were not slaves.” The 1857 Dred Scott decision prohibited blacks from becoming American citizens, in part because citizenship would confer the right “to keep and carry arms…inevitably producing discontent and insubordination…and endangering the peace and safety of the State.” Post-Civil War “Black Codes” were adopted throughout much the South, making gun ownership by freed blacks illegal. The Atlantic notes that to “enforce the gun ban, white men riding in posses began terrorizing black communities….The most infamous of these disarmament posses, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan.”

Martin Luther King, who received endless death threats and was the target of a house bombing in 1956, applied for an open carry permit, but was denied by Montgomery, Alabama’s racist police force. When the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, in accordance with California law, began openly carrying weapons to patrol Oakland’s neighborhoods, the state legislature quickly crafted, and Gov. Ronald Reagan quickly signed, the 1967 Mulford Act ending public carry. On the heels of race riots, Congress Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, followed by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which Georgetown historian Adam Winkler notes included a provision to restrict “‘Saturday Night Specials’—the cheap, easily available guns often used by [black] youth.” The legislation was the first federal gun law in nearly three decades, and proved lawmakers would rather institute widespread gun control measures than potentially have a widely armed black populace.

We’ve seen the hypocrisy of the NRA on this. After the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota, they were almost completely silent until being shamed into calling it a “terrible tragedy.” Here was a guy who did everything right — he was a licensed gun owner, he informed the officer who pulled over the car his girlfriend was driving that he had a gun and was licensed for it and offered to show it to him and give him the license. He was gunned down. Had that been a white guy, do you think for one minute the NRA wouldn’t have been screaming bloody murder? Not a chance. They said virtually nothing.

Holloway points out that less than half as many black households have someone in them who owns a gun than white households (19% to 41%). If that number were reversed, how long do you think it would take to pass serious gun control legislation? A week? But that reality may be starting to change:

But new fears about rising racist violence, an increase in the number of hate groups and the everyday transparent bigotry of the Trump administration are reportedly helping drive up the number of African-American gun buyers. Imagine that this leads to thousands, even millions, of black folks joining the NRA, applying for concealed carry licenses, starting gun clubs around the country and attempting to exercise our rights as citizens. Racism would, as it always has, perk up and put a stop to that, and fast. The official numbers aren’t yet in, but if the needle on black gun ownership noticeably moves, it will be taken as cause for alarm and time to politically act. And once again, black folks will have saved America from itself.

It will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere. All we can do is speculate at this point, but based on past behavior and the political leanings of those who oppose gun control, it seems pretty likely to me that you’d see the NRA change its position and legislation be passed pretty quickly if black people started buying guns in large numbers.

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