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Racist Roots of Gun Control

Gun control doesn't make men safe. Gun control makes men controlled. It is in many ways about subjugation and the concentration of power in the hands of the "right" people and organizations. We see this clearly played out in America with the first gun control laws, which were aimed at disallowing slaves from possessing weapons and being trained in their proper use. After slaves in America were emancipated, the desire to restrict their gun rights continued.

A year after Homer Plessy, who was black, was arrested for boarding a segregated white train car in Louisiana in the famous case that eventually added a Supreme Court imprimatur upon Jim Crow, Florida passed a law that incorporated gun control into Jim Crow by prohibiting the carrying of handguns and repeating rifles without a license. And just as Homer Plessy paid extra for a ticket to the first-class car and was told there was no first-class car for African-Americans, the “separate but equal” gun control laws were likewise only half true because they weren’t applied equally. Florida Justice Rivers Buford’s concurring opinion Watson v. Stone (1941) stated of the 1893 law: “The original act was passed when there was a great influx of Negro laborers …and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the Negro laborers... The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied.”  Article

As David Kopel and Joseph Greenlee have noted, these included laws that banned pistols that were not used by former Confederate officers, severe racial discrepancies in the penalty for unlawfully concealed carrying, as well as gun licensing requirements  that, in the words of a future Florida Supreme Court Justice, were “passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers” and “was never intended to apply to the white population.”  Article

The historical record provides compelling evidence that racism underlies gun control laws -- and not in any subtle way. Throughout much of American history, gun control was openly stated as a method for keeping blacks and Hispanics "in their place," and to quiet the racial fears of whites. This paper is intended to provide a brief summary of this unholy alliance of gun control and racism, and to suggest that gun control laws should be regarded as "suspect ideas," analogous to the "suspect classifications" theory of discrimination already part of the American legal system.

It is not surprising that the first North American English colonies, then the states of the new republic, remained in dread fear of armed blacks, for slave revolts against slave owners often degenerated into less selective forms of racial warfare. The perception that free blacks were sympathetic to the plight of their enslaved brothers, and the dangerous example that "a Negro could be free" also caused the slave states to pass laws designed to disarm all blacks, both slave and free. Unlike the gun control laws passed after the Civil War, these antebellum statutes were for blacks alone. In Maryland, these prohibitions went so far as to prohibit free blacks from owning dogs without a license, and authorizing any white to kill an unlicensed dog owned by a free black, for fear that blacks would use dogs as weapons. Mississippi went further, and prohibited any ownership of a dog by a black person.  Clayton Cramer,  Article

As the Special Report of the Paris Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867 found, freedmen in some southern states “were forbidden to own or bear firearms, and thus were rendered defenseless against assault.” Thus, white supremacists could continue to control freedmen through threat of violence.  Article

Overall, these laws reflected the desire to maintain white supremacy and control. ...blacks had come to occupy the social and legal space of the suspect classes in England. Their right to posses arms was highly dependent on white opinion of black loyalty and reliability. Their inclusion in the militia of freemen was frequently confined to times of crisis.  Article

“A man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.”  Speech by Frederick Douglass in 1867.  Robin Van Auken; Louis E Hunsinger (2003). Williamsport: Boomtown on the Susquehanna. Arcadia Publishing. p. 57.  Article

Starting in 1751, the French Black Code required Louisiana colonists to stop any blacks, and if necessary, beat “any black carrying any potential weapon, such as a cane.” If a black refused to stop on demand, and was on horseback, the colonist was authorized to “shoot to kill.” Because of fear of Indian attack, and the importance of hunting to the colonial economy, slave possession of firearms was at times a necessity in Louisiana. But the colonists had to balance their fear of the Indians against their fear of their slaves. As a result, French Louisiana passed laws that allowed slaves and free blacks to possess firearms only under very controlled conditions. (For more examples see Article also see National African American Gun Association)

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