Comment On The Always Saddening Anniversary Of The Death Of Dr. King.

Is there the slightest possibility that two political scientists at the University of Illinois just happen to have discovered a possible link between racist attitudes and pro-gun sentiments at the same time that the most successful Republican presidential campaign rests on racial slurs directed at immigrants and a fervent love of the 2nd Amendment?  There has been a vaguely disguised racist appeal to much of the pro-gun rhetoric that links the value of gun ownership to personal protection against crime, some of it not so vague, but now that the Trumpster has made racism a genuinely acceptable rhetorical form during his campaign stops, it figures that some folks on the ‘other side’ of the gun debate would step up the rhetoric as well.  The result is a study which purports to prove that “racial prejudice colors all aspects of the debate regarding gun policy,” and that whites are susceptible to “the emotional and persuasive power of gun rights messaging which invokes the white, gun-carrying every-person who defends home and Democracy against (nonwhite) bad guys.”

The authors of this study define racist attitudes as the “politics of resentment,” which basically means a reaction by whites to what they perceived as the government conferring special privileges on blacks.  In particular, these so-called racially-based privileges included integrating schools and public facilities, preferential treatment in hiring, expanded welfare, in other words, the panoply of government programs which accompanied the elimination of legal Jim Crow in the decades following World War II. In that respect, the notion of gun ‘rights’ as an expression of hostility to government programs followed from taxpayer ‘rights’ that opposed welfare, homeowner ‘rights’ that opposed equal housing, and victims ‘rights’ that came down against more liberal treatment of criminal offenders; i.e., criminals who just happened to be blacks.

At this point the narrative of the article begins to wobble a bit, primarily because the authors veer off into a discussion of how the NRA changed from supporting gun-control laws in the 60s to taking a much more aggressive anti-government tone after the 1977 Harlon Carter putsch.  And the idea that the NRA was a believer in gun control until the Republicans began to develop a Southern base has remained part-and-parcel of virtually every discussion about guns, politics and race. And of course we all know, or at least we think we know that since liberals tend not to like guns, by definition the growth of an active, pro-gun movement led by the NRA and a shift towards the right by the GOP have gone hand-in-hand.

If you take a look at the votes that were cast in Congress for GCA68, the first significant gun-control legislation, the ‘nay’ votes in both the House and the Senate were cast overwhelmingly by the same members of Congress who voted against the civil rights bill in 1964 and the voting rights bill in 1965.  That the NRA was not yet poised to take advantage of the South’s resistance to federal “encroachments” did not in any way alter the fact that the South as a region had always been a gun-rich zone.  What drove pro-gun sentiment in the South was not racism per se, but the extent to which gun-control laws were seen as being forced on the South by the same liberal government that was using law to wipe away the vestiges of Jim Crow.

Gun ownership as an affirmation of racialist attitudes is certainly at play with the same extreme, political ideas that pop out of the mouths of Cliven Bundy and other militia fools and jerks. But I think it’s a little too simplistic and, in fact, somewhat quaint to assume that the emotions driving the gun debate from the pro-gun side largely stem from thoughts and angers about race. The real question we need to ask on this, the 48th anniversary of the shooting death of Dr. King, is what role does violence play in our everyday emotions and affairs?  After all, no violence, no need for guns.




Sorry Folks, But Gun Rights And Civil Rights Don’t Mean The Same Thing.

The NRA has long distinguished itself as the pre-eminent voice in documenting and preserving the history of American small arms.  I was born in Washington, D.C., and spent many happy hours wandering through the NRA’s museum in the old headquarters building that was walking distance from the Capitol and other government sites.  And I continue each month to enjoy the historical articles published in The American Rifleman magazine whose quality, frankly, puts the Smithsonian to shame. But lately, in their effort to find new customers and widen the market, the NRA has shifted away from its focus on the history of guns to explaining the history of why Americans use guns and, in the process, have started to play fast and loose with the facts.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I have never questioned, nor would I ever question anyone’s personal decision to own or use a gun.  God knows I own enough of them myself and I’ve sold more than 12,000 guns to other folks as well.  But I believe that when someone – anyone – makes the decision to become a gun owner it shouldn’t be made without at least acknowledging that guns represent a risk that requires them to be used with diligence and care.  And I will continue to speak out against the NRA and others who pretend that the risk of gun ownership is somehow mitigated by the protection and security afforded by a gun.  I have told many gun friends over the years that I will send a hundred bucks to the charity of their choice if they can prove that guns do more good than harm.  I have yet to write the first check.

            Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Getting back to the history of who uses guns, the NRA has just posted an article based on the newly-opened personal papers of Rosa Parks whose refusal to go to the “back of the bus” sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.  In a brief biographical sketch, Parks describes sitting up at night with her grandfather who kept a shotgun handy in case his family or others in the neighborhood were menaced by the Ku Klux Klan.  The NRA goes on to say that it was “common” for blacks to protect themselves against racially motivated violence and cites other examples of civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who kept guns on or near for self-defense.

I’m happy that the NRA has decided to create greater awareness about the struggle for civil rights and the value that black Americans placed on arming and defending themselves during that time.  But when the NRA uses the history of armed resistance to racism to justify arming the average American as a response to everyday crime, they are moving from past history to present-day advocacy, two positions that have nothing to do with each other at all.

The Klan wasn’t just someone who would break into your house or mug you in the street.  It was, in many areas of the South, an organized vigilante movement whose mission was to recreate the racist political and social structure that existed before the Civil War. That blacks chose to arm themselves in the face of political terrorism directed only at them should never be confused with decisions that people make today about whether personal ownership of guns will protect them from crime.

The NRA now refers to itself as America’s “longest-standing civil rights organization” and by that I guess they mean that somehow the 2nd Amendment ranks above all other Constitutional rights.  But the truth is that the NRA paid lip service at best to concerns about threats to the 2nd Amendment until Harlon Carter took over the leadership in 1977 and began to play the political advocacy game in a much more aggressive way.  By the time the NRA discovered that gun ownership was not just a Constitutional but also a civil right, black Americans had been fighting and winning their civil rights for over twenty years.