by Frederick Sparks
Grabbing a group lunch after our latest Los Angeles Black Skeptics meeting, the conversation inevitably turned to the massacre in Newtown and the related issue of gun laws and gun control. One new member expressed his opposition to more restrictive gun laws, primarily because he felt that any new restrictions would inevitably result in African-Americans having disproportionate lack of access to legal fireams, limiting blacks abilities to defend themselves against racist acts.
My immediate response was to argue the far greater harm from the prevalence of firearms in our society. But hours later I remembered the quote above from Wells-Barnett, the anti-lynching advocate, journalist, and women’s suffrage advocate. Barnett offered this observation in her pamphlet titled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, which documented her research on lynching. Barnett felt black families needed to be so armed
…for that protection which the law refuses to give. When the white man who is always the aggressor knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have greater respect for Afro-American life. The more the Afro-American yields and cringes and begs, the more he has to do so, the more he is insulted, outraged and lynched.
Barnett’s call for lethal black self-defense rested against a back drop of discriminatory laws that deprived black citizens of the cherished 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. Many colonies (and later states) passed laws prohibiting both slaves and freemen from owning firearms, particularly after the failed slave revolt led by Nat Turner. Gun ownership was seen by racist whites as a privilege that would elevate “Negroes” to the status of free whites and as a dangerous threat to white rule.
The National Rifle association supposedly opposed gun laws that restricted African-American gun ownership and in some instances offered support to Black Americans seeking to defend themselves with firearms. In 1958, retired Marine Robert Williams opened a chapter of the NAACP in Monroe, North Carolina. Monroe was also Klan country, and the KKK mounted several vicious assaults agains African-Americans in Monroe. In 1960, Williams applied for and was granted a charter to establish an NRA chapter in Monroe; the association also provided firearms training materials. Mr. Williams and other black NRA members in Monroe subsequently successfully defended themselves with firearms against an attack coordinated between the KKK and the local police.
This history prompted erstwhile civil rights icon Ann Coulter to opine that all blacks should be supporters of the NRA; Coulter also recounted the story of Martin Luther King, Jr being denied a concealed weapons permit. Coulter instructed us that, as with slavery, it was the Republican Party and the NRA that were on the side of black people, not the libs and Dems.
This analysis is of course anachronistic. Whatever the NRA and the Republican Party represented then, their coordinated efforts in the current political arena have hardly served the advancement of black American well being. And the type of white racist violence that poses the greatest threat to black lives today is hardly addressed by the 2nd Amendment. Would the fortunes of Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis have been better served by more liberal gun laws? If anything, their deaths were facilitated by a gun obsessed, shoot first culture.
Not to mention the fear of all firearms needed to defend hearth and home being taken away is a red herring. For one, guns in the home are almost never used for self-defense, and in fact, a gun in the home increases the chances that one will be shot by an assailant. Also, feckless politicians are barely getting around to proposing laws that would limit the accessibility of assault rifle and high magazine capacity firearms; even if these laws are passed there would still be plenty weaponry available for self-defense.
For better or worse, that Winchester rifle isn’t going anywhere soon.