Gun Control Was – Historically – About Repressing Blacks

Preface:  I was raised to be against guns. My parents hated guns, and believed that they only lead to crime and accidental shootings.

I was raised in a blue state, and I have long been deeply influenced by leading voices for non-violence, such as Gandhi and King.  So – until recently – I was pro gun-control.

As such, I was stunned to learn about the historical background behind gun control campaigns.

The Real History of Gun Control

UCLA Constitutional law professor Adam Winkler – whose commentary has been featured on CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and numerous other outlets, and who is a contributor to The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post – notes (via the Wall Street Journal):

[The history of gun control in America]  was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt.


The KKK began as a gun-control organization. Before the Civil War, blacks were never allowed to own guns. During the Civil War, blacks kept guns for the first time – either they served in the Union army and they were allowed to keep their guns, or they buy guns on the open market where for the first time there’s hundreds of thousands of guns flooding the marketplace after the war ends. So they arm up because they know who they’re dealing with in the South. White racists do things like pass laws to disarm them, but that’s not really going to work. So they form these racist posses all over the South to go out at night in large groups to terrorize blacks and take those guns away. If blacks were disarmed, they couldn’t fight back.

Brendan O’Neill notes at the Guardian:

For years – for two centuries, in fact – gun control was a largely Right-wing, reactionary campaign issue, not a Left-wing one. The fact that it has now been adopted by Leftists is very revealing indeed.

Before the 1980s, Right-wingers and racists were the most vocal in demanding that the states in America should strictly circumscribe gun ownership. Where the revolutionary government of 1791 made the second amendment to the US Constitution, which insisted on the right of the citizenry to bear arms as a safeguard against tyrannical government, successive legislators and campaigners who were freaked out by the prospect of former slaves getting hold of guns called for a rethink of this fundamental liberty. So after the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831, when a band of black rebels shot at white slave owners and freed their slaves, the state of Tennessee altered its constitution. Where once it had guaranteed that “the freemen of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence”, post-Nat Turner it said “the free white men of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence”.

Throughout the 1800s, states passed gun-control laws that were fundamentally racist. So, panicked by the prospect of more black rebellions against white landowners, the North Carolina Supreme Court passed a statute in 1840 that said: “If any free negro, mulatto, or free person of colour shall wear or carry about his or her person, or keep in his or her house, any shotgun, musket, rifle, pistol, sword, dagger or bowie-knife… he or she shall be guilty of a misdemanour, and may be indicted therefore.”

In the 1890s, Florida also passed race-specific gun-control laws. Then, in 1941, a judge in Florida’s Supreme Court called the laws into question when he overturned the conviction of a black man for carrying a handgun without a permit. He overturned the conviction, he said, because this law “was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro labourers … and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied.”

In the modern period, too, there was a hugely reactionary bent to gun-control campaigns. In the early 20th century new laws, such as the 1911 Sullivan Law in New York City, were passed to prevent the huge influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe from getting their hands on guns. As Gary Kleck puts it in his book Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, gun control was anything but a liberal cause: “In the 19th and early 20th century, gun-control laws were often targeted at blacks in the south and the foreign-born in the north.”


Whatever you think of the National Rifle Association, it is hard to disagree with its observation that: “The historical purpose of gun-control laws in America has been one of discrimination and disenfranchisement of blacks, immigrants and other minorities”.

And avid gun control advocate Robert Sherrill notes in his book, The Saturday Night Special:

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed not to control guns but to control blacks, and inasmuch as a majority of Congress did not want to do the former but were ashamed to show that their goal was the latter, the result was that they did neither. Indeed, this law, the first gun-control law passed by Congress in thirty years, was one of the grand jokes of our time.

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  • wunsacon

    “Gun control” and *EVERY OTHER LAW* was used to oppress black people. You can’t tell me that “giving equal rights to black people” means we should put assault rifles in the hands of every idiot — white or black — who wants one.

  • wunsacon

    “Gun control” and *EVERY OTHER LAW* was used to oppress black people. You can’t tell me that “giving equal rights to black people” means we should put assault rifles in the hands of every idiot — white or black — who wants one.

    • Dave

      I love how people use debating tactics to avoid the issue.

    • blagostwin

      Should we perform ink blot tests on drivers license holders? Automobiles kill far more people than any semi auto loading rifle. There are plenty of idiots killing and maiming people on our roads. I probably wouldn’t like the looks of your ride, it may look sinister, black with big chrome wheels and funny tires. That should be enough to start purging vehicles a certain segment of the public purchases.

      • wunsacon

        >> Automobiles kill far more people than any semi auto loading rifle.

        You have to be pretty mindless to make the argument you’re making.

        People drives cars for hours each day to go to work, go to the grocery to buy food to put on the table, drive their kids to soccer practice. Benefit/cost of autos far exceeds your toys.

        That’s common sense.

        For the rest of you mindless fanatics on this thread, go read my comments on Washington’s prior post, here:

        Gun zealots make some of the dumbest arguments I’ve ever heard.

        I even heard an otherwise-intelligent friend say “People use pencils to make spelling mistakes. But, we don’t outlaw pencils.” I have to facepalm on that one. If spelling mistakes regularly KILLED people, we would certainly REGULATE the instruments with which people make them.

        The worst part about gun zealots is that they make analogies that are as “accurate” and probative as fun-house mirrors. You gun zealots create distorted analogies and then expect everyone else to listen to you reason from them. You’re farking retarded.

        • Fr33d0m

          What about antidepressants, the real culprit? They even say on the bottle that they cause suicidal thoughts. You’re being spoon fed propaganda and loving every bite. You want to take our only way to defend our freedom… Yeah, that’s REAL smart.

          Carry on trying to belittle people smarter than you because they wont believe the propaganda you’ve fallen for. I bet you would have slaughtered people for being Jewish too as long as they told you it was the right thing to do.

          • wunsacon

            >> I bet you would have slaughtered people for being Jewish too as long as they told you it was the right thing to do.

            Freedumb, you is retarded.

          • a.t.

            Another weak response.

        • People kill people by running them over too. They also kill people using knives, baseball bats, and screw drivers.

          • wunsacon

            I already addressed this bit of idiocy (“knives, bats, etc.”) on the other thread. Read that and reply there. Otherwise, this conversation will be too disjoint.

      • If your truck is black it’s obviously an assault vehicle.

      • Jason headley

        How about liquor… Probably kills 100:1 to guns but last time I checked there’s no shortage at the corners stores!!!! Why is this? Government wants that money! Liquor sales helps there BUSINESS in every form and fashion.

    • Slippery

      Who are you, or who is anybody to say NO???

      We live in what used to be a free country, if I want a SPORTING rifle I will buy one, if I want a single shot rifle, I will buy one….

      By the way, an assault rifle is full auto……

      • wunsacon

        Where’s my bazooka? My tank? Why can’t I buy these things, too? Should be a free country, right?

        • Fr33d0m

          You can own them with proper permit. Time to wake up and realize there are people trying to enslave you.

          • wunsacon

            Oh, really, Freedumb? Yeah. I know. And they’re playing chess, not checkers.

          • a.t.

            That was a weak response.

      • Jason headley

        Btw….ar’s are not full auto!!!!keep mouth shout when you don’t know what your talking about.

    • Idiots are not well regarded in society. I imagine social norms would likely prevent idiots from having assault rifles put into their hands.

    • Anyone who’s not a convicted felon has a right to own a gun of any kind.

  • Old Wolf

    The old argument, including in the Prudence Crandall, and the Dred Scott cases, were that firearms rights were among the privileges and immunities of citizens guaranteed under the Constitution in Article 4 in all states. The argument from the court was that the African race was somehow inferior, and thus the right couldn’t be extended to them, they couldn’t be citizens, etc. The wording of the fourteenth amendment, as well as title 18, section 242, and title 42, section 1983 which were passed subsequent to it, were in direct response to Dred Scott on pages 60 US 416-417.

    “For if they were so received, and entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, it would exempt them from the operation of the special laws and from the police

    Page 60 U. S. 417
    regulations which they considered to be necessary for their own safety. It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognised as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other
    State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night
    without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.”

    Title 18, section 242, made it a crime to, under color of law, deprive anyone of any right, privilege, or immunity guaranteed, or protected, under the constitution or laws of the United States. It was fought from the beginning, and attempted filibusters by the Democratic party across the entire history of the civil rights issue, culminating in the Omnibus Crime Control act of 1968, which was conceived and placed to attempt to deny those rights in violation of law, and the constitution, and as bill of attainders do, have spread to near everyone.

    • Old Wolf

      For a good discussion of this particular title, Monroe v. Pape – 365 U.S. 167 (1961), and Ex Parte State of Va. 100 U.S. 339 (1879)

      McDonald v. Chicago discusses this in relation to firearms rights, and states that it is an individual right, enforceable against the states. It was established for all people, without regard to color, to nationality, or any of the illusions for which mankind has often chosen to deprive other men of the rights which are theirs by virtue of being human.

  • Greg112233

    True, gun ownership is a civil rights matter. For more historical and legal background, refer to Justice Thomas’s opinion in McDonald v. Chicago (scroll down, make some coffee and enjoy; this is a wonderful analysis and a reminder what this country is about).


      NO, Gun ownership is a liberty matter. Don’t get the two confused. Your right to own a gun to defend yourself from thugs (government or street) comes from your inherent right as a human to protect yourself against someone (government or street thug) from harming or depriving you of LIFE. Civil rights are not inherent rights anymore than a drivers license is a right. Civil rights can be taken from you by government because they are dispensed by government. Inherent rights or liberties are given by God (if you are a believer) or by natural law, the fact that you are a human being, sovereign above the king, and can not by their nature be dispense nor taken from you by government.

      • Greg112233

        Civil rights, in a nutshell, mean “all men are created equal”. This is, IMO, a fundamental principle, recognized in the Declaration of Independence and given further recognition in the 14th Amendment. Because gun ownership is, as you correctly noted, also a fundamental liberty matter, it has become a civil rights matter as well, in a situation when certain segments of the society were deprived of that fundamental right.

      • Greg112233

        Civil rights, in a nutshell, mean “all men are created equal”. This is, IMO, a fundamental principle, recognized in the Declaration of Independence and given further recognition in the 14th Amendment. Because gun ownership is, as you correctly noted, also a fundamental liberty matter, it has become a civil rights matter as well, in a situation when certain segments of the society were deprived of that fundamental right.

      • wunsacon

        You’re dreaming. Gun ownership to fight tyranny? LOL. You’re asleep at the wrong perimeter.

        See my other comments here:

        • NCFREEDOM

          And how pray tell does your lack of understanding of the intent of the 2nd amendment diminish the fact that ownership of arms is one based not on government permission as in other governments that reserve it as a privilege to be granted by kings and despots, but one based on God-given/or natural laws of self-reliance, self-preservation, individualism, and sovereignty.

          • wunsacon

            Read my comments made in the previous thread and already linked to here, even before you posted.

          • a.t.

            I read it and you should go back to that link and read what I said. Your an idiot.

        • Fr33d0m

          Yes, gun ownership to fight tyranny. That’s what the second amendment was written for. P.S. Nobody cares about your “other comments” because it’s obvious you’re a propaganda parrot.

  • Undecider

    I would assume that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would disagree.

  • KC Kent

    Oh…the irony. Author said:
    “I have long been deeply influenced by leading voices for non-violence, such as Gandhi and King. So – until recently – I was pro gun-control.”

    Ghandi said
    “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon
    the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.”

    MLK said:”As we have seen, the first public expression of disenchantment with nonviolence
    arose around the question of “self-defense.” In a sense this is a false issue,
    for the right to defend one’s home and one’s person when attacked has been
    guaranteed through the ages by common law.” MLK also owned guns, and yes, military rifles (the non-propaganda term for “assault rifle”)

    • Guest

      I just read this now – you know that Ghandi said that in reference to the British not letting the people of India fight with them during World War I. It has NOTHING to do with gun control.

    • BronzeSavior

      King wasn’t allow firearms, and when he got them he was too afraid to keep them.

  • your a coward and licking elites butt + hell awaits 4 u i hate guns also but i will defend myself and the one i love ( hey we are nor in 1776 but in 2013 and guns are everywhere because your stupid (canada also) government laws ( human and government is human make errors so you brought that on yourself stop winnig big baby 11

  • Thank you. I am grateful and uplifted. It’s posts like this that help me to carry on.

  • No right winger was ever in favor of gun control against blacks. Right wingers are for freedom. Left wingers are for government tyranny.

    • “Right wingers are for freedom”

      If your talking about libertarianism then you would be right but I assume your referring to conservatism since libertarians reject being apart of the right. Lew Rockwell exposes conservatism for what it really is;

      “What does conservatism today stand for? It stands for war. It stands for power. It
      stands for spying, jailing without trial, torture, counterfeiting
      without limit, and lying from morning to night.”

      or if you hate Lew Rockwell which most conservatives do you can also use this quote

      “Conservatism is just pro-war socialism”

      -Anthony Gregory

    • “Right wingers” are only for freedom where the 2nd Amendment is concerned. Did you listen to FoxNews after the bombing in Boston? They said he should have no Miranda rights (1st, 5th and 6th Amendments), he should be tortured in the name of security to find any other bombs (8th Amendment), they should search his house and the houses of all his family and friends (4th Amendment), and Ann Coulter said that the one bomber’s wife should be held just for wearing conservative mid-eastern dress – what kind of freedom is THAT, BILL?

      Most Left wingers aren’t against the 2nd Amendment. We just want to discuss how to make guns safer – registering, background checks, maybe getting rid of automatic weapons.

      Please, Bill, tell me who is for freedom? The right, who wants to suspend 5 of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights, or the left, who wants to discuss safety measures related to one of the Amendments?

      • Scott Pam

        Since when is Nazism gun registration schemes anything other than an attempt to disarm?

  • Sueychop

    i’m against guns, except wait, you mean blacks were once kept from owning guns? Ok, now I’m for guns.
    As Michael Savage says, liberalism is truly a mental disorder.

    • a.t.

      What’s your point? Sounds like you have a mental disorder.

  • Chrystalia

    You neglected to do some research. Over the years, the definitions of our parties have changed, repeatedly. It was originally “democrats” or more accurately “conservatives”–mostly plantation owners–who formed the KKK. The “republicans” were the party in power during the civil war–including Lincoln (who wanted to send all former slaves back to Africa after the war, and told Benjamin Banneker that blacks were inferior to whites–a view BOTH groups held at the time). Lincoln freed the slaves in the southern states, to fight in the war–not the northern states. Emancipation was merely a means to win the war. The “republicans” at the time were only slightly more “liberal” than the “democrats”. Consistently throughout the history of BOTH parties, the only only standard that has held true is this: that conservatives believe the individual states should have as much power as possible, and liberals want power to be vested in the federal government. Regardless of the history of “gun control”, the current issue is the wish to restrict the freedom of ALL law abiding citizens in regard to gun ownership–which will do nothing to restrict the criminal element from gun ownership. By the way–MLK was a gun owning republican.

    • BronzeSavior

      Um, MLK did, then he got rid of them. He speaks on it. I think he was afraid of what they might do to him because of those guns. Because he was denied them many times.

  • The Voice

    To discuss this topic with your community, please visit:
    Your voice matters.

  • Mr.Sharp

    The real problem with this misleading little article is the south is now more right wing then left wing, that was not the case when all those raciest laws where written. Am I the only one here that remembers the good old boy Southern Democrats? I do remember my Texas history, the first Republican Senator from Texas wasn’t till 1960. The Republicans didn’t really get strong here till the late seventies. Now the Republicans control most of the state and arguably Texas is the most pro-gun state in the union, so tell me again who the raciest are, the people who pasted those “Jim Crow” laws all across the south, oh thats right it was the good old Southern Democrats.

  • no-name

    A spat of gun misuse and the congress wants to undo the foundation. No, no, no.

  • no-name

    A spat of gun misuse and the congress wants to undo the foundation. No, no, no.

  • no-name

    A spat of gun misuse and the congress wants to undo the foundation. No, no, no.

  • Washington76

    Choose Your Own Crime Stats

    An interesting look at Crime Stats in the United States using data from the FBI that doesn’t seem to be getting much discussion from either the press or politicians. There has been a 50% reduction in the violent crime rate in the last twenty years and neither political party is taking credit for this? I thought politicians always wanted to take credit for good things? Perhaps they don’t want to draw attention to the fact that higher crime rates seem to correspond with inner cities? The great thing about living in the United States is you’re Free To Choose, at least for now, so feel free to Choose Your Own Crime Stats if you don’t like these.

    Rate of Killings Rises 38 Percent in Chicago in 2012

    These results in Chicago are the result of making self defense illegal!

  • B T Phillips

    you know what I am more sick of then anything in this Country. It is Republicans always blaming everyone but them self.and no matter how much you prove they are wrong not one knows how to say I was wrong, instead they turn it on everyone else, as long as there are these kind of ignorant people in our Country our Country will always be on attack alert from republicans because they are just plain nuts!!!

  • mrgrimme

    Yes, because as we all know…gun bans in Tombstone and other “wild” west towns were all about keeping the guns out of the hands of former slaves

    A law professor is NOT a history professor….obviously.

    OH WAIT!!!! Let me quote Mr Winkler himself:

    Yet this is all based on a widely shared misunderstanding of the Wild West. Frontier towns — places like Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge — actually had the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation.
    In fact, many of those same cities have far less burdensome gun control today then they did back in the 1800s.

    Guns were obviously widespread on the frontier. Out in the untamed wilderness, you needed a gun to be safe from bandits, natives, and wildlife. In the cities and towns of the West, however, the law often prohibited people from toting their guns around. A visitor arriving in Wichita, Kansas in 1873, the heart of the Wild West era, would have seen signs declaring, “Leave Your Revolvers At Police Headquarters, and Get a Check.”

    A check? That’s right. When you entered a frontier town, you were legally required to leave your guns at the stables on the outskirts of town or drop them off with the sheriff, who would give you a token in exchange. You checked your guns then like you’d check your overcoat today at a Boston restaurant in winter. Visitors were welcome, but their guns were not.

    hmmmmm….most restrictive gun laws in the nation at the time and not a single mention of blacks?


  • nicola

    Does it matter whether it was a right winger or a left winger when they all believed and still believe they are superior? This is about the people who didn’t have power AND the weak minds of the people who were given racial power/pride/status and used it in the most inhumane ways .It’s about what happens when everyday people are given unearned power and how disgusting any human being who has power can be horrible to another human being simply bc they can. Unearned power means no gained experience with power and power + ignorance = inability to consider your actions. So guns were the tool to maintain ignorant, false power. The fact that it made whites feel safer from the consequences of their evil actions is very telling of how it was easier for them to lie to themselves and project upon blacks rather then be accountable for their actions.