Did Martin Luther King, Jr., Preach Against Gun Violence? In A Very Big Way.

Exactly one year before he was shot to death, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out publicly against the Viet Nam War.  He did this in disagreement with many of his civil rights contemporaries, who were afraid he would fracture what was becoming a tenuous alliance with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, notwithstanding the fact that Viet Nam was a Democratic war.

king              King’s opposition to the war was entirely consistent with his lifelong adherence to non-violence; simply put, he believed that using violence as a response to the social or economic ills that plagued mankind only produced more violence and could never be justified as the necessary means to achieve a desirable end.  I was at New York’s Riverside Church when King made his first anti-Viet Nam speech, and I recall how the emotions in that hall jumped as King accused his own country of using the same violence to quell the revolution in Southeast Asia as had been used to deny civil rights to African-Americans at home.

How much has changed in the nearly 50 years since Dr. King delivered that speech? I’d like to think that when it comes to the use of violence in response to social and economic problems, perhaps we have moved ahead.  But I’m not sure this is the case, and I’m certainly not about to say that we have learned how to separate the use of violence from the use of guns.

A day doesn’t go by without some pro-gun mouthpiece reminding us that guns protect us from crime.  And basically what they are all saying is that violence can and should be used against violence, except they don’t call it gun violence, they call it self-protection, freedom, and 2nd-Amendment rights. But make no mistake about it, when the NRA promotes CCW or Stand Your Ground laws, they are not only saying that violence is and should be a response to violence, they are asking for legal immunity for anyone taking that path. Now that most states have legalized unconditional CCW when it did not exist as a doctrine during Dr. King’s lifetime, shouldn’t we say that violence has become more, rather than less of an accepted social norm since his death?

Not only is violence sanctioned in the American legal fabric, but when efforts are made to curb violence through lawful means, the gun lobby and its sycophants in and out of the media resist such efforts on a continuous and usually successful basis.  Only 28 states have CAP laws which, by definition, would curb the unintended violence caused by accidental shootings, often committed by young children.  And if this isn’t bad enough, we have the disgraceful attempt by the NRA and several of its loony medical partners to demonize physicians for asking patients about access to guns, as if gun violence, as opposed to other forms of violence, lie outside the accepted purview of medical care.

We could blame this socially-acceptable diffusion of violence on the rhetorical excesses of the NRA, but Dr. King would be the first to object to such a facile explanation. Because in his 1967 speech, King was clear that we would not be able to reduce or eliminate violence at home if we did not find ways to reduce our use of organized, state-sanctioned violence abroad. And while I would like to say that we have learned this lesson from the debacle of Viet Nam, in fact it appears that each succeeding generation needs to re-learn this lesson again.  The $600 billion that we spent on the Pentagon in 2015 represents nearly 40% of military expenditures worldwide, and American military personnel are based in more than 100 countries that do not fly our flag.

Let’s not forget on Dr. King’s Day: the same President who signed the historic Voting Rights Act in 1965 signed the Gun Control Act in 1968.  In between those two dates, he sent half a million young men to Viet Nam.


4 thoughts on “Did Martin Luther King, Jr., Preach Against Gun Violence? In A Very Big Way.

  1. Regarding state-sanctioned warfare, I’m fairly certain that it’s on the wane and will likely be relegated to history by the end of this century, give or take. Even the Middle East will settle down.
    The one factor that could seriously delay war’s demise is climate change and it’s effects.

  2. If the gun loonie republicans control all three branches of government and the SCOTUS we will enter a new round of wars that will effect the world for another 20 years or more. Violence will only increase in the US. Our leaders set an example for the masses to follow. If they solve problems with violence then the average Joe will follow their lead. Vietnam was proven to be a false flag operation (Gulf of Potemkin) and I believe the recent incident in Iran was a failed attempt at another. These are dangerous violent times we are in. There is a division in the US government. We must fight against the warmongers and vote in the peace makers. I am voting for Bernie Sanders because he is the leader of the anti war movement in the US government. I have no problems with people owning guns. I have serious problems with people who think they can solve problems with guns. My family is a family of gun owners and collectors, like my grandfather Giles Wetherill who had a vast collection of guns and even made his own knives that are still being sold at gun shows today. He is noted for helping invent laser guided missiles and worked in government armaments his entire life. Thanks for your insightful posts!

  3. Mike, I’ll bet you the price of a Walther PPK, mint condition, plus a box of ammo for same, that government-sponsored warfare will be essentially in the dust bin by, hmm, I’ll say 2090 – providing climate change gets properly managed.
    So, if your comment above is correct, you’ve got a PPK in your future. (Worth the wait, I’m sure.)

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