Sportscaster Bob Costas' misplaced anti-gun rant during the halftime of NBC's broadcast of Sunday Night Football has received considerable media coverage and has been roundly criticized for interjecting politics into a what should be an entertainment program (please see related story above). Much less attention has been paid to the inspiration for the commentary; the work of Foxsports.com columnist Jason Whitlock.
Perhaps this is a blessing, because a day after Whitlock posted a column attacking the Second Amendment and shifting blame from a troubled man to an inanimate object, he made the following profoundly ignorant statement in a podcast with CNN contributor Roland Martin: "You know, I did not go as far as I'd like to go because my thoughts on the NRA and America's gun culture; I believe the NRA is the new KKK. And that the arming of so many black youths and loading up our community with drugs, and then just having an open shooting gallery, is the work of people who obviously don't have our best interests."
NRA is a civil liberties organization that is viewed favorably by the majority of the U.S. electorate and is dedicated to preserving those rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. To equate the NRA with a violent terrorist group whose goals are the elimination of the rights of others is absurd and reflects a dearth of knowledge concerning the American gun control and civil rights experience.
In the years following the Civil War, a primary Klan activity was depriving freedmen the use of arms. In his book Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, Stephen P. Halbrook outlines numerous incidents of Klan violence against armed blacks. Halbrook cites testimony given to an 1871 Congressional committee by a former Klan member from South Carolina, who said of the Klan, "it was part of their business to disarm negroes."
The old adage that "gun control is people control" is an accurate one, and through much of this nation's history, the people governments sought to control were minorities. State and local governments eventually moved away from the obvious attacks on the rights of minorities of the 1860s and 1870s to more "facially neutral" laws that accomplished the same ends. Licensing procedures were enacted that gave local officials the power to keep minorities from carrying firearms. In states including Tennessee, Alabama and Texas, taxes, and restrictions on the sale of inexpensive handguns, served as economic barriers that were erected to keep blacks from owning handguns.
While the NRA has been successful in removing many of these laws, relics from the racist anti-gun past remain with us today. New York City's Sullivan Act stands as a monument to such laws, as it was originally used to target those of southern and eastern European descent. With the current oppressive and expensive New York City permitting process, some might argue the Sullivan law is still helping to fulfill its drafters' bigoted intent against a different set of minority groups.
Whitlock's statement also neglects the experience of the brave men and women of the civil rights era who practiced armed self-defense when law enforcement was either in league with or unwilling to confront violent racists. In a 1988 article in Against the Current, lifelong community organizer and NRA Life Member, Professor John R. Salter, Jr., reflected upon the need for civil rights activists to be armed, noting that in the area of North Carolina he worked in, "local law enforcement was almost completely dominated by the United Klans of America in some counties." Salter goes on to write "There is no question but that the known existence of pervasive firearm ownership in Southern Black communities prevented much (though not all) massively violent racist retaliation." Sixties civil rights worker, Don B. Kates, shared a similar sentiment in a 1976 debate that appeared in the Civil Rights Review, stating, "During the civil rights turmoil in the South, Klan violence was bad enough; it would have been far worse with gun control."
Another testament to the importance of armed self-defense during the period is the leadership of Robert Williams, a local NAACP activist in Monroe, N.C. during the 1950s and 60s, who chartered an NRA club in order to better prepare his community for defense against violent bigots. Similarly, in 1964 the well-armed Deacons for Defense and Justice were founded in Jonesboro, La., following a Klan caravan through the city's black community aimed at intimidating a local desegregation campaign. The Deacons, and their philosophy promoting self-defense, quickly spread to other regions of the country; a story which Tulane Professor Lance Hill chronicles in his book, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement.
Additionally, Martin Luther King Jr. applied for an Alabama carry permit in 1956, following the bombing of his home. Operating under a "may issue" permitting system, the local police denied a permit to King. A near-term NRA goal is to make Alabama a "shall issue" permit state.
In the future we hope that Whitlock and others educate themselves on the sordid history of gun control, along with the defensive use of firearms during the civil rights era, before making inflammatory comments about an organization that has worked for generations to protect the rights of all people.