By: Sam Jacobs, Ammo.com
Every schoolchild knows the Declaration of Independence declares that the basic equality of man is “self-evident.” The United States Constitution enumerates what the inalienable rights only alluded to by the Declaration. An inalienable right is one that exists regardless of whether it is recognized by the state. For example, you have a right to free speech regardless of whether the Constitution recognizes it. Thus, any restrictions on free speech are curbs of this pre-existing right, not an actual elimination of that right. Another right is, of course, the right to keep and bear arms. And another is the right to a speedy and public trial.
There’s long been a struggle between the ideals of America and the reality on the ground with regard to race, particularly when it comes to the Second Amendment. What’s more, minorities in the United States are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. Both of these things together make it crucial to understand self-defense and the Second Amendment from the perspective of race in America.
Part of the problem is that, unlike European nations, which grew organically, America is an invention of a handful of Englishmen. They founded the nation on a set of ideas, and there has always been a tension between those ideas and the reality. This is, in some sense, unavoidable: reality will always have trouble living up to an ideal. A failure to live up to that ideal in the past according to terms established today doesn’t make the entire project – or any specific part of it – worthless or suspect.
Before we get into the meat of the matter, we should note that the American ideal has expanded the Second Amendment (and the rest of the Constitution for that matter) to de jure include all Americans. One can be skeptical of the notion of “progress” while seeing the moves to repeal race-based restrictions on firearms ownership as big steps in the right direction.
It is also worth noting – and we will do so at length later – that none of the racially motivated laws on the books in America are uniquely American. Racism, in the sense employed by the average person, not the expanded version used by left-wing ideologues, was not a uniquely American institution, but the norm throughout human history.
Table of Contents
- The History of Oppression in America through Gun Control
- Economic Factors and Gun Control
- A Brief History of Armed Minority Self Defense: Robert Williams and the Roof Koreans
- Robert F. Williams
- Roof Koreans
- Modern CCW Statistics
- Unique Obstacles Minorities Face with Concealed Carry
- Are Black Americans Becoming Second Amendment Voters?
- Defund the Police?
The History of Oppression in America through Gun Control
The Second Amendment does not “give” Americans the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment recognizes the pre-existing right to keep and bear arms that exists independently of the Constitution. Anyone reading this website, however, knows that this right is in constant peril from gun grabbers. And, unfortunately, until the 1960s, this right was particularly imperiled for black Americans and other minorities. It is worth exploring the history of racially motivated attacks on the Second Amendment.
The first gun laws were drafted even before the founding of the United States, with the first General Assembly of Virginia passing what might well be the first gun control law in America in 1619. It was specifically designed to restrict the right of Native Americans to own firearms:
“That no man do sell or give any Indians any piece, shot, or powder, or any other arms offensive or defensive, upon pain of being held a traitor to the colony and of being hanged as soon as the fact is proved, without all redemption.”
There was, of course, logic to this: The government of Virginia was looking for ways to punish colonists who were supplying potentially hostile Indian tribes with weapons that might level the playing field.
Such laws were by no means limited to the English colonies – they were present virtually everywhere in the world. America and the colonies that preceded it are not unique at all in this sense. Until abolition began, first in the UK and later in the United States, slavery was the norm throughout the world. Alongside this came a racial caste system and a series of laws that largely robbed people of their right to keep and bear arms.
While it is currently fashionable to view the United States as somehow a “necessarily racist” nation or even “built on slavery and genocide,” this is simply not the case. In fact, no less a light of the abolitionist movement than Frederick Douglass considered this point of view to be a slander against the Founders. The fact is that the Founders were a product of their time – nothing more, nothing less.
Thomas Jefferson, the very man who wrote that “all men are created equal,” is an excellent study in the contradictory and complex nature of the Founding Fathers. He came from the patrician Southern planter class. As such, he owned more than 600 slaves. But he also spoke against slavery and even made some attempts to legislatively curb it. He called slavery both “a hideous blot” and “moral depravity.”
Among the legislation that he proposed to curb slavery in North America was a Virginia law prohibiting the importation of new African slaves and an ordinance to ban slavery in the Northwest Territory. Yet, he held slaves until he died and, even though it was legal to do so, only manumitted a few on his death.
The 1619 Project view of American history – that slavery is the defining institution of the United States – is simply false. Few Americans owned slaves and those who did tended to own either one or two or a whole lot.
In the same year, the first African slaves were brought to America when the privateer White Lion had its cargo of 20 African slaves seized from a Portuguese slave ship and brought to Jamestown, Virginia. It took another 21 years for slave codes to begin appearing in the colony. One of the first of these made it illegal for all “free mulattos and negroes” to bear arms. South Carolina instituted similar slave codes in 1712.
Starting in 1751, the French Black Code – aka “Code Noir” – required Louisiana colonists to stop any blacks, and if necessary, beat "any black carrying any potential weapon, such as a cane." This included a “shoot to kill” authorization for any blacks who would not stop on demand or was on horseback. New Spain likewise prohibited all blacks from carrying arms of any kind.
After the Revolutionary War, there were both federal gun control laws, as well as those issued by the states, with Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Delaware all passing multiple laws designed to prohibit people of color from owning and carrying firearms. In 1857, the Supreme Court made the Dred Scott decision that, among other things, determined that free black descendants of slaves cannot be citizens of the United States. Thus, they were not considered to be protected by the Second Amendment or any other provisions of the United States Constitution. Following Turner’s Rebellion, Virginia repealed the law, allowing slaves to bear arms in extremely limited circumstances.
During the War Between the States, the Union Army was badly in need of soldiers and began calling upon blacks to fight with the Militia Act of 1862. Black soldiers generally received lower pay and were often laborers supporting the war effort by taking on other tasks so that the white soldiers could fight. The Militia Act offered freedom to black soldiers and their families for their service. By the end of the war, approximately 185,000 black soldiers served in the United States military through the War Department’s Bureau of Colored Troops. Many of these troops brought their military arms back with them when the fighting was done, only to lose them or be legally prosecuted under the so-called “black codes.”
After the War, several states passed black codes to restrict the rights and even movement of freed blacks. This often meant the prohibition of keeping firearms and even certain classes of knives. During the Reconstruction Era, black Southerners not only enjoyed the same rights as their white counterparts, but often held positions of power in the state governments. For example, the first minority governor in the United States was a black man, P. B. S. Pinchback, who served as Governor of Louisiana in 1872 and 1873. No fewer than six black men served as Lieutenant Governors of southern states.
At the end of Reconstruction, however, many of these rights were repealed in clandestine ways, to say nothing of the constant terror attacks from groups like the White Brotherhood and the Ku Klux Klan. In January 1866, Harper’s Weekly reported that in Mississippi, such groups had “seized every gun and pistol found in the hands of the (so called) freedmen” in parts of the state.
The Black Codes, which attempted to rob newly freed blacks of their freedom, were not without resistance, both from the Reconstruction-era federal government and the black citizens themselves. The first civil rights act in American history made freedmen citizens and criminalized any attempt to rob them of their rights. Senator James Nye explicitly stated that freedmen were entitled to “equal right to protection, and to keep and bear arms for self defense.”
Self defense and the right to keep and bear arms were raised during debate and discussion over the 14th Amendment. Representative John Bingham of Ohio saw the crux of the matter being the “privileges or immunities,” which he said were “chiefly defined in the first eight amendments to the Constitution.” Jacob Howard of Michigan, who sponsored Bingham’s amendment in the Senate, specifically mentioned “the freedom of speech and of the press,” “the right to be exempt from unreasonable searches and seizures,” and “the right to keep and bear arms.”
We believe that the Second Amendment is not restricted to militias as its detractors claim. But even if we grant that it were, the 14th Amendment, which dramatically changed the meaning and function of the Constitution, clearly specifies that it is not. Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar noted that, “Between 1775 and 1866, the poster boy of arms morphed from the Concord minuteman to the Carolina freedman.”
Many Southern states simply began regulating firearms through statute and firearms owned by black Americans more heavily as a matter of custom. Tennessee and Arkansas passed laws banning all handguns except expensive models that most minority populations couldn’t afford, while Alabama and Texas placed heavy taxes on firearm sales. Mississippi took it a step further and enforced gun sellers to keep a record of who purchased handguns and handgun ammunition, basically keeping a gun registration that would later be demanded and used to confiscate the handguns of blacks.
The state of California passed the Mulford Act, gun control legislation that prohibited people from carrying loaded weapons in public and was a direct response to the armed Black Panthers who would patrol black communities.
Indeed, the entire civil rights movement informed what was, at the time, largely a conservative-led backlash against Second Amendment rights. There is, of course, the famous example of Governor Ronald Reagan passing the most sweeping gun control law of its time in direct response to armed Black Panthers at the state capitol building. Although Martin Luther King was denied a concealed carry permit during the Civil Rights Movement, his home was described as being like “an arsenal” due to the need to defend himself against violent attacks.
Today, no one would openly suggest that the rights of black Americans to keep and bear arms should be restricted. Thus, those who would restrict the rights of black Americans to defend themselves seek more covert ways of doing so. In the past, Ammo.com has supported organizations dedicated to arming Jews and blacks legally in the United States.
Economic Factors and Gun Control
Slightly tangential to this are a number of gun control laws passed during the late 1800s, designed to deprive freed blacks and poor whites – who had been political allies in the immediate post-bellum period – from owning guns. It was now impossible, thanks to the Reconstruction Amendments, to simply bar blacks from owning guns using statute. Instead, gun grabbers used economic bills, which banned cheap guns generally owned by both freed blacks and poor whites.
Tennessee (1870 and again in 1879), Arkansas (1882) and Texas (1907) all passed laws banning cheap handguns now known as “Saturday Night Specials,” but which were known as “Suicide Specials” in those days. South Carolina went one step further in 1902, by banning gun ownership except for police and specially deputized citizens, many of whom happened to be Klansmen.
These are all worth thinking about today, as well as high costs associated with applying for concealed carry permits, high taxes on guns and ammunition, and bans on guns in public housing, as well as the prohibition on felons owning firearms or receiving concealed carry permits – which includes many non-violent drug offenders who are disproportionately black. Remember that the days of explicit race-based bans on gun ownership are gone. All attempts to disarm black and other minority Americans in the United States will also rob poor and working-class Americans of their rights.
A Brief History of Armed Minority Self Defense: Robert Williams and the Roof Koreans
We have two excellent examples in recent history on the special need for self defense in minority communities: Robert F. Williams and black gun clubs during the Civil Rights Era and the so-called “Roof Koreans” during the 1992 LA Riots. We have more extensive articles on both topics elsewhere, but they are worth retelling here briefly.
Robert F. Williams
First, there was Robert F. Williams, a militant black civil rights leader in the 1940s and 1950s. Tired of harassment by the local branch of the Klan and frustrated by a lackadaisical attitude of law enforcement toward his own safety, he began organizing under the auspices of the National Rifle Association for self defense of himself and his community.
This ended up with serious legal consequences for Williams: He was charged with kidnapping and fled to Cuba and China.
“Roof Koreans” is a term used for the Korean-American community of Koreatown who defended themselves against what was effectively a racial pogrom against Koreans during the 1992 LA Riots. Korean-Americans in that time and place did not want for economic independence, however, they did not have much in the way of political connections. Thus, when the riots broke out, the City of Los Angeles effectively left them defenseless against the rioters.
The Roof Koreans did see their neighborhood largely destroyed. It worth asking the question about how much worse the damage would have been if they were not defending themselves with their own arms. One thing is clear – the LAPD certainly weren’t going to defend them. Without weapons, all of Koreatown might have been destroyed.
Both of these illustrate a point: Minority communities have a special, vested interest in the Second Amendment and oftentimes in collective self defense. The Roof Koreans in particular show that “self defense for minorities” is not simply confined to black Americans.
Modern CCW Statistics
Since the outbreak of the Wuhan Coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter riots, there has been an explosion of gun ownership and concealed carry permit applications. Gun sales spiked a whopping 145 percent in June 2020, with more than two million guns sold. The spring of 2020 saw a total of three million more firearms on the streets.
While hard stats are unavailable, with concealed carry permits increasing regularly and annually, it would be surprising if the number of CCW applicants had not spiked dramatically to keep pace with the massive increase in firearms sales in the United States. And, as black Americans have been driving this massive increase in gun ownership, it would be surprising if they were not also overrepresented in the number of applicants for concealed carry permits.
Previously, the increase in permits had been relatively slow, growing from roughly 2.7 million permit holders in 1999 to 4.6 million in 2007. But the number of concealed handgun permits exploded during the Obama presidency. In December 2011, the Government Accountability Office estimated that there were at least 8 million concealed handgun permits. By June 2014, it was 11.1 million. Now, in 2018, the number is now up to 17.25 million. All of our numbers are according to 2019 research by John Lott.
What’s more, there are 16 states with Constitutional carry laws. This means that no permit is required to carry a concealed weapon in public. There would necessarily be no statistics about who is carrying and what their demography is in such states. In all of these states except Vermont, gun owners can obtain a concealed carry permit for the reciprocity it provides in other states.
Unique Obstacles Minorities Face with Concealed Carry
Concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding. In Florida and Texas, permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at one-sixth of the rate at which police officers are convicted.
The current state of dysfunction in the black community (astronomically high crime rates, very low rates of home ownership and single motherhood as the norm – a majority of black Americans claim to know someone who has been shot) are not the natural state of the black community in the United States, but closely tied to the role that social welfare programs play. The bottom line is that with the extreme violence in many areas of the black community, legal concealed carry is just common sense.
For firearm owners in particular, the growth in the “prison-industrial complex” is troubling because felons are forbidden from owning firearms and ammunition under the 1968 Gun Control Act. As the number of laws has grown and the cultural shift for police has gone from a focus on keeping the peace to enforcing the law, more and more Americans are being stripped of their 2nd Amendment rights (not to mention other civil rights like voting – as of 2017, 6.1 million Americans cannot vote because of their criminal records). All told, eight percent of all Americans cannot own firearms because of a felony conviction.
There is a fundamental question of rights involved here: When a person is released from prison, do they or do they not have all of their rights restored? Currently, either with firearms or voting, they do not.
Are Black Americans Becoming Second Amendment Voters?
Is there about to be a “Blexit” from Democrats to the Republican Party around the issue of guns? It doesn’t seem very likely. But it does appear that there is some movement away from the formerly hard line of most black voters against gun rights as younger black Americans embrace the value of self defense.
American radio personality Charlamagne tha God made a bit of a stir when he suggested that black Americans needed to start arming themselves in the name of self defense. Rapper Killer Mike chimed in with similar sentiments around the same time using language that will be familiar to any champion of the Second Amendment: “[T]he only person you can count on to protect yourself and your family is you.”
The National African-American Gun Association (NAAGA) isn’t much like the NRA: It focuses on self defense and training without skimping on legislative efforts. They do not make their membership numbers public.
While there might not be evidence of a sea change with regard to black voters and gun rights, there’s one thing we do know: Gun ownership is highly correlated with voting Republican. Whether or not there is a long-term trend of gun ownership among black Americans and a related pattern of voting Republican remains to be seen.
Defund the Police?
The question of self defense for minorities is particularly pitched with all of the recent talk about “defunding the police.” This is largely a movement in urban areas and, it is worth noting, not actually very popular: Black Americans oppose defunding the police by 78 percent. However, cities such as Minneapolis are abolishing their police force entirely, while others, such as New York and Los Angeles, are subjecting their police departments to significant cuts in funding.
While there certainly is reason to be critical of the degree to which the police have been militarized – and we have been – this is not the same thing as targeting the police for elimination or significant budget cuts. The New York Police Department, for example, was forced to cut their entire plainclothes division.
Who will be most impacted by this? Poor and working-class communities, among whom minorities are disproportionately represented, who are unable to afford their own private security forces to replace the police. While this issue is by no means limited to minority communities, it would be naïve to suggest that they will not be heavily impacted by the removal of police.
Because black Americans have a higher chance of being victims of crime both from the government and private citizens, the right to self defense is absolutely crucial. But a right is like a muscle – when it’s not exercised, it begins to atrophy. Thus it is absolutely crucial for minorities to understand their rights, as well as exercise them. The Resistance Library offers a variety of resources for all Americans seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
What’s more, members of other, often overlooked minority groups such as Asian Americans and those who identify as LGBT should be interested in self defense both collectively and individually. This is particularly important for “model minority” groups who can often become scapegoated during times of social upheaval, as seen with the experience of Roof Koreans during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
Self defense is not tied to any other political belief or set of beliefs and stands on its own. For those who feel that they cannot trust the police to protect their lives, their property and their rights, there is no other alternative than armed self defense.