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Chicago's Top Cop: The Racist Roots of Gun Rights?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, newly appointed by anti-gun Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has wasted no time in sharing his views on Chicagoans’ individual right to keep and bear arms. Less than a month after his approval by the City Council, McCarthy attended a service at St. Sabina’s Church (a parish led by anti-gun extremist Father Michael Pfleger) and made a speech claiming that a lack of restrictive gun control laws is “government sponsored racism.”

Those with a better understanding of history will find themselves confused trying to interpret McCarthy’s logic, as decades of scholarship have proven just the opposite; that gun control, rather than its absence, has often been used as a means of government sponsored racism.

In his 1995 Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy article, “The Racist Roots of Gun Control,” Second Amendment scholar Clayton E. Cramer outlines the historical case that “racism underlies gun control laws.” Cramer notes that racist gun control in America stretches as far back as 1751 with a French law in the Louisiana territory that required colonists to “‘[i]f necessary,’ beat ‘any black carrying any potential weapon, such as a cane.’”

Though Superintendent McCarthy might be excused for not looking that far back, he should certainly be aware of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the case of McDonald v. Chicago.  In a concurring opinion in that case, Justice Clarence Thomas explained that in the years preceding the Civil War, “Many legislatures amended their laws prohibiting slaves from carrying firearms to apply the prohibition to free blacks as well.” After the Civil War, little improved.  Justice Thomas writes: “Some States formally prohibited blacks from possessing firearms… Others enacted legislation prohibiting blacks from carrying firearms without a license, a restriction not imposed on whites.”

Other Reconstruction Era (and later) laws were less candid. For example, an 1870 Tennessee law barred the sale of all but the most expensive pistols, effectively disarming newly freed blacks and the poor.  New York’s Sullivan Law of 1911, requiring a permit for handgun possession, was largely targeted at Italians and other disfavored immigrant groups. (That law is still on the books.)  And the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was denied a concealed carry permit in Alabama under a similar discretionary permitting law—even after his house had been bombed.

We suggest that in the future, Superintendent McCarthy might do a little more research before conflating respect for a fundamental individual right with its antithesis, government-sponsored racism.

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