by Jonathan David Farley, D.Phil. (Oxon.)
Why do African-Americans side with liberal proponents of gun control? Historically, guns have been the African-American’s greatest friend. The great Ida B. Wells, who, like me, had to flee Klan supporters in Tennessee after writing a newspaper article, said that “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home….”
The National Rifle Association should try to win over black support by officially condemning the 1967 Mulford Act, the shameful law of the California Assembly banning the public display of loaded firearms. The campaign “What Would Django Do?” would also neatly disarm the bogus charge of racism, because the Mulford Act was a successful attempt to disarm black America’s last best hope for redemption, and predictably preceded the decimation of that hope by the notorious cross-dressing racist, J. Edgar Hoover. In 1997, I organized a commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of a protest against the Mulford Act.
The disarmament of black America led to its spiral of internecine violence, not the arms. NAACP officials who blame gun makers for the 8,000 lives lost every year should take the plank out of their own eye and listen to Bill Cosby’s “pound cake” speech. Almost everywhere African-Americans predominate is rife with drugs. As Johnny, a field marshal for the group that protested the Mulford Act, said at my Berkeley event: In the 1960’s, we and the drug dealers had an understanding. They didn’t deal drugs in our community, and we didn’t shoot them.
Recently, Larry Ward, convenor of the Gun Appreciation Day rally in Washington, D.C., said on CNN that if African-Americans had had guns, slavery might not have happened. He’s not the only one. John Brown agrees with Ward. So does the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who cried, “Men of Color, To Arms!”
Larry Ward’s interlocutor criticized him for saying that Martin Luther King would support gun rights. Ward is completely correct, according to the book Gunfight: King actually applied for a gun permit, which the pro-segregation authorities denied him. Regulation precedes extermination, as King’s idol, the Mahatma Gandhi, knew: “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.”
Ward pointed out that gun crackdowns by jackbooted thugs helped set the tinder of the Civil Rights Movement afire. The New York Amsterdam News backs him up, writing of a pastor crushed by a bulldozer at a civil rights protest, explaining that local racists were “worried by the formation of a Negro Rifle Club.” And guns helped keep the fire lit. When “KKK-type racial night-riders” shot up the home of John Salter, a youth organizer for the NAACP in Mississippi, he let it be known that he packed a 44/40 Winchester carbine. “The racist attacks slackened considerably,” Salter observed wryly.
Racism in America is now gone like an exorcised ghost, but African-Americans would do well to remember our history when it comes to gun control. Instead of turning schools into zero-tolerance zones for guns, we should let the NRA teach special classes in gun use, sort of like Drivers’ Ed, and there should be ROTC in all schools.
Gun Appreciation Day is in the spirit of Malcolm X, who said, “Article number two of the constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun. It is constitutionally legal to own a shotgun or a rifle…. [W]e don’t do anything illegal.”
Gun Appreciation Day not only honors Martin Luther King, it honors Robert F. Williams, the Deacons for Defense, and the thousands of African-Americans like Secretary of State Colin Powell who got a chance at life, even success, because at some point they owned a rifle. If African-Americans had had the right to keep and bear arms from the founding of the Republic, America today might be the promised land for African-Americans.
Dr. Jonathan David Farley is a principal of The Warren Group, advisors to a 2010 Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Senate and consultants for a 2010 New York State gubernatorial candidate.