I know it’s probably too early to start handicapping the 2020 Presidential race, but if any of my Gun-control Nation friends are thinking about which Democratic candidate might be the best bet for enacting a serious gun law, they might start paying attention to Beto O’Rourke. Why? Because if Beto grabs the brass ring and the Democrats shove Mitch McConnell and his Trump stooges out of the way, the political alignment will be exactly what worked to produce gun laws in 1968 and again in 1993-94, namely, a Democratic-controlled Congress at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and a liberal Southerner in the Oval Office at the other end.
What this little bit of history points up is the degree to which gun violence may be a national problem, but opposition to gun control is a regional problem because ever since Richard Nixon came up with a brilliant ‘Southern strategy’ and moved the South’s political coloration from blue to red, the self-appointed protectors of our beloved 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ can always find fertile grazing ground in states and regions where the phrase ‘federal government’ is a not-very-disguised code for ‘civil rights.’
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the argument against gun control that pop out of the moths of every GOP politician from below the Mason-Dixon line is just a cynical attempt to ‘hold the line’ against the encroachments against personal liberties by big-government in Washington, D.C. If one out of every three homes in America contains at least one gun, I can guarantee you that in the 13 Confederate states, the 3 border states and some rural swatches of the Midwest, the ratio is one-to-one.
What the GOP is taking advantage of is not some special affinity that Southerners have towards guns. It’s the legacy of history and of historical conflicts that are still being played out. In this respect, the NRA and other Gun-nut Nation noisemakers (e.g., Sleazy Don) are playing to an audience which is large enough to maintain a critical political edge.
In 1865, when the War of the Rebellion came to an end, the South was gun-rein. Or at least the guns had to be kept hidden, because all small arms were confiscated by the Union Army which also enforced martial law. Beginning in 1866, however, with the emergence of white supremacy groups (Ku Klux Klan, Knights of the White Camellia) in response to Reconstruction and the ratification of the 13th Amendment which ended slavery, Southern whites began to rearm.
When Southern states started imposing laws to undo Reconstruction by limiting Black suffrage, segregating public facilities and schools, these Jim Crow measures were often enforced by armed ‘militias,’ such as the South Carolina Red Shirts, who called themselves the ‘military arm’ of the Democratic Party and were particularly active in the election of 1876. Politically-speaking, this was the election that, de facto, returned the South to the racialist divisions which had existed prior to the Civil War. I find the color of the MAGA hats to be very instructive in that respect.
For all the nonsense about how today’s African-American community should arm itself because this would maintain a long tradition of Blacks defending themselves in the post-Reconstruction South, the threat to the Black community didn’t come from the federal government, it came from the armed hooligans and thugs who constituted a real-life form of domestic terrorism. Unless, of course, you would prefer to believe that the burning and bombing of more than 100 Black churches since the 1950’s was nothing more than an expression of religious freedom on the part of some misunderstood Southern Whites.
There are plenty of legal gun owners in the South who keep guns around because they either hunt or enjoy sport shooting, or in some cases have simply decided that they feel better knowing they can grab the old six-shooter just in case. But what makes the South so gung-ho about guns is the degree of violence which this region has suffered for the last 150 years. And remember that guns and violence go hand in hand.
Thanks to Eric Foner for pointing me towards certain key sources.