“A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.” 5 —Ida B. Wells
It is universally true that would-be criminals, oppressors, and tyrants prefer their targets to be disarmed, a principle underscored by the sordid and overtly racist history of gun control in the United States. Prior to the Fourteenth Amendment, most meaningful restrictions on the private possession or use of weapons were limited to slaves and other disfavored “non-citizens,” such as Native Americans.
Even after the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification, many states implemented facially neutral gun control laws with a clear intent that they be stringently enforced in a discriminatory manner against disfavored populations like immigrants and African-Americans. Consider the words of a Florida Supreme Court Justice in a 1941 concurring opinion that analyzed a Reconstruction Era handgun licensing law:
The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers….The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied. We have no statistics available, but it is a safe guess to assume that more than 80% of the white men living in rural sections of Florida have violated this statute…[but there has] never been, within my knowledge, any effort to enforce the provisions of this statute as to white people.6
While it may be the case that most modern gun control advocates harbor no racial animosity, the result of their policies is to disarm many minority Americans. The right to keep and bear arms for self-defense is uniquely important for non-white Americans, who have historically been targets of violent oppression, and even today are disproportionately victims of violent crime. For this reason, the practical protections of the Second Amendment are even more important.
5. Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws In All Its Phases (1892)
6. Watson V. Stone, 148 Fla. 516 (Fla. 1941) (Buford, J., Concurring).