The Racist Past of Gun Control Laws

By Patrick Barron, Opinion Writer

Gun control for whom? Given the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, Nevada where a lone gunman killed over 50 people and injured hundreds, the discussion of gun rights has engulfed our country. I strongly loathe hearing of gun deaths, especially when they seem preventable with proper legislation but I caution gun control. Not to mention, I am knowledgeable of its problematic racist past and regard others to address our present problem with reasonableness.

Moreover as Saul Cornell, a professor at Fordham University succulently explained, “Saying gun laws are always racist is just false. Saying that gun laws have never been racist is also just wrong.”

Likewise, former President of the National Rifle Association David Keene said, “You know, when you go back in our history … the initial wave of [gun-control laws] was instituted after the Civil War to deny blacks the ability to defend themselves”. 

Again, gun controls racist origin detracts its current debate and I am fearful of laws that have historically affected African-Americans ability to defend themselves against illegal deprivation of life.

The infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) landmark Supreme Court case rendered Blacks as non-citizens. Scott, a slave sought to sue for his freedom since he moved to a state that outlawed slavery, but the highest court of the land had other beliefs. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney stated, “neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants… were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in [the Constitution].”

To be sure the Supreme Court had its worst decision ever, but it does not quell the issue of those who argue the Constitution was not meant to include them.

During the Reconstruction Era that followed the American Civil War numerous Southern States instituted Black Codes, which disenfranchised African-Americans; among those laws, the prohibition of guns for African-Americans. Effectively stripping self-defense from Blacks gave rise to their gruesome lynching’s, and both psychical and sexual violence from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. It is important to note the hate group used terrorism to prevent African-Americans from exercising their constitutional rights.

With this is mind, it is important to appreciate courageous Black civil rights activists such as Ida B. Wells, Fredrick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman who advocated for African-Americans civil rights even with their lives threatened.

Also speaking of Wells she noted, “the only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.”

Furthermore, by the dawn of the Modern American Civil Rights Movement the egregious Black Codes ceased (replaced by Jim Crow) and numerous African-Americans owned guns to protect themselves from harm as too often the legal system in the South failed to alleviate their grievances. In addition, the common narrative of African-Americans only using nonviolence in achieving their goals is false as some Blacks bought guns as self-defense from enemies desiring to hurt them. However, restriction of their rights to bear arms occurred once more.

In fact, the Black Panther Party, an organization formed in response to the turbulent times of the 1960s, were adamant in exercising their civil liberty to bear arms. In a showcase of their legal rights, members of the organization went to the California State Capitol building holding guns protesting the injustices endured by African-Americans in America. Casting aspersions aside, the group gave plausible reasons but then again, both public opinion and several prominent Republicans in California thought otherwise. 

Then Governor of California and future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which was an unequivocal response to previous Black Panther actions and banned the public carrying of loaded firearms. He cited that, “[guns are a] ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” 

Without doubt, the image of Black men and woman carrying guns in the public invoked irrational fear from others and of whom desired to subjugate them. 

Unfortunately, African-Americans legally owning guns are troublesome to numerous people in America as the abnormal anxiety lingers in their minds and as a matter of fact, it seems no matter what they do, it will cause trouble.

Surely, there are methods to reducing the country’s high gun deaths that do not involve the highly charged issue of gun control. Nonetheless, let us be certain not the repeat the mistakes of the past.


A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 24th print edition.

Contact Patrick at


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