The Racist Origin of U.S. Gun Control Laws
One Utah gun-rights leader dishes on the impetus for gun control, while another says self-defense is a creator-given right.
Gun Ownership Is a Civil Right
Charles Hardy, Policy director of Gun Owners of Utah, an independent gun-rights organization.
What’s the secret history of gun-control?
Until 1968, we didn’t have a lot of new gun laws on the books in this country. We still had a lot of the old laws on the books that were kind of the result of the old Jim Crow laws in the South. A great essay on this is “The Racist Roots of Gun Control” by Clayton Cramer. If you … look at the origins of why we have gun control, it originated with the slave codes—making sure the slaves were disarmed and not able rise up in rebellion. It grew into making sure that freed blacks stayed disarmed. Cramer argues that gun control has this very ugly and dubious history and really ought to be viewed in the same suspect class of legislation as if someone were to come along and say, “We need illiteracy tests for voting—we want voters to be informed.”
How did such racist fears spark gun-control laws in the ’60s?
A group of them carried their guns peaceably, but intimidatingly, into the California state Capitol. It was this terror at seeing these racial minorities visibly armed that really propelled California down their current road of very strict gun control. It was Gov. Ronald Reagan who signed those first bills into law.
In the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, we got the Gun Control Act of 1968. I think it became obvious that—between that and what happened in California with the Black Panthers—guns were going to be a political issue. So the NRA formed the Institute for Legislative Action, separate from their charitable wing that does training and education.
Was the NRA America’s only gun-rights group?
Up through the ’90s, this word “compromise” got thrown around. And what compromise really meant was not what you normally think of—each side gives up a little bit, and they both get something they want. People who wanted to attack gun ownership asked for the sun, the moon and the stars, then backed off and were happy if all they got were the moon and the stars, and then came back the next year asking for the sun again. It wasn’t really compromise—it was perpetual, incremental losses.
That was really the turning point that resulted in the sea change politically. It energized the grass-roots gun owners into what I think is appropriately termed a modern civil-rights movement—this is one of our civil rights, and we’re not going to let it be incrementally taken from us any further.
In ’94, if you were a gun owner and you were looking to a group to help give voice to your views, your only choice was the NRA. As the independent groups sprung up, there became an alternative. The NRA had no choice but to respond to the fact that there was a demand among the grass-roots gun owners for a more principled stand. I suspect that’s what has pulled them over into being more of a defender of this civil liberty.
Does race still enter into the equation?
Self-defense Is the Air I Breathe
Why belong to the NRA?
What perks does the NRA give members?
How do you read the Second Amendment?
You can interpret the Second Amendment any way you want, but the right of lawful self-defense, the right to keep and bear arms, is always going to be there inherently. It is one of those creator-given rights, much like the right to breathe air—that’s not enumerated, but no one would doubt that we have that right. The Bill of Rights just lists some specific ones that already existed. The right to keep and bear arms is definitely self-defense, and it can be everything from the individual, all the way up to and including to protect the liberty of this land.