Innis: The Long, Racist History of Gun Control in America

Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), and other leaders from the black community news conference on gun control in February. (CSPAN)

The purposeful restriction of knowledge has been at the heart of untold misery and hardship in this world. Serfs were kept illiterate so as to not jeopardize the feudal system. Slaves were kept in the dark on a variety of subjects so as to not provide them the possibility of escape.

Today, knowledge remains elusive to so many because the media does not allow for facts that run contrary to the narratives they favor. Nowhere is this more evident than in the narratives concerning gun control. Though our supposed betters in the media see no reason to share this with the American public, gun control, a sanitized term for the systemic restriction of rights, has its earliest origins in racism. The concept is simple enough: enable the selected group to remain armed while working to disarm the unselected group. In America, this has been mainly black, Hispanic and immigrant populations.

Long before gun control was touted as “common sense” measures, the concept was promoted as a means to keep ethnic populations in an unequal position while assuaging the fears of whites.

Recently, I appeared at a press conference with a dozen black ministers and other leading members of the black community to stand together and voice our support for our right to keep and bear arms. It was here that I discussed the longstanding history of racism behind gun control and discussed the infamous Dred Scott decision, where Chief Justice Taney asserted that the Court could not recognize the humanity of blacks. For if their humanity was fully recognized, they would be afforded Constitutional protections, including the protections offered by the Second Amendment.

After the Civil War, when blacks fought along whites to secure freedom for all, southern states enacted Black Codes, laws that restricted the civil rights and liberties of blacks. Central to the enforcement of these laws were the stiff penalties for blacks possessing firearms.

As these laws came under fire from federal authorities, extra-legal groups sprouted up to terrorize and enforce these laws if not by statute, by sheer intimidation. The most notorious, formed in Tennessee, and was the Ku Klux Klan.

In the turmoil after the Civil War, as America tried to mend itself, Southern Democrats aimed to disenfranchise black voters who voted overwhelmingly for Republicans, the Party of Lincoln. To do so required terrorism by the Klan and other similar groups. Their intimidation campaigns required a disarmed black population.

Over the years, the Black Codes faded away and were replaced with the racist Jim Crow laws that still sought to keep blacks as lesser citizens. And while the black communities were bridled with the shameful laws in the South, the North enacted laws to disarm their ethnic populations. The infamous Sullivan Act was enacted to keep the immigrant populations from carrying pistols and serves as the forefather of today’s modern “may issue” gun permit laws that allow unelected officials to decide who is and who is not upstanding enough to own a gun.

Today, gun control efforts are not only trying to disarm the black community; gun control efforts are creating victims in places where gun control measures are law. Criminals, who, by definition, do not abide by laws, remain armed having circumvented the legal means of obtaining firearms while law-abiding citizens remain defenseless from want of easy, legal means of obtaining guns with which to defend themselves, their families or their homes. While black Americans in urban centers may not be frequently terrorized by members of the Klan, we are terrorized by armed criminal elements that, like the Klan before them, know that the law-abiding have been disarmed for their convenience.

In celebration of the 151st anniversary of Washington DC’s Emancipation Day, I joined several leaders of the black community to hold a Lincoln-Douglas debate to discuss the issues affecting our community. While Al Sharpton hailed gun control measures, he glossed over the long and continual efforts by legislators to disarm blacks. After the Civil War, Democrats still did not recognize the full humanity and maturity of blacks and crusaded to deny them the rights attached to citizenship- in particular, the right of armed self-defense.

Today, that mentality is still alive and serves as an underlying motivation of many Democrats (both white and black) to deny the right to self-protection in inner cities. We are still seeing this abhorrent effort to deny Constitutionally-protected rights in the numerous attempts to ban legal ownership of arms in federally subsidized public housing.

Today, just as it has always been, it is immoral to force a man to choose whether to become a criminal by obtaining the means to protect his family or to become a possible victim of violence.

Days after my press conference with the community leaders, I returned to the barber shop I frequent. This barbershop, decked with Obama pictures and other assorted liberal material, is owned by a black Democrat who I good-naturedly chide about his political leanings. He does the same to me. Though our politics are different, as I walked through the door, I was confronted with a mob of support from fellow black patrons and as the owner hugged me, he explained that he had had no idea about the history surrounding gun control. It was then that it hit me- people needed to know.

Understanding the long, sordid history of gun control in America is key to understanding the dangers of disarming. Free citizens of any race, any ethnicity or background must be wary of any government that claims, “Trust us; relinquish your means of defense.”