Anti-Gun Expert Ignores History of the Racist Roots of Gun Control

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

I've been on a deep dive into the Reconstruction era over the past month or so, both because I'm an out-and-proud history nerd and because of the gun control laws that were imposed in many southern states in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. 


As you might expect, the right to keep and bear arms was critically important to the newly-freed slaves as well as Unionist supporters in the South, especially given the violence that was inflicted on them in the years after the surrender of the Confederacy

As historian Eric Foner's details in Reconstruction: 1863-1877, a wave of violence swept across the South almost as soon as the surrender was formalized. 

In Texas, [Freedmen's] Bureau records listend the "reasons" for some of the 1,000 murders of blacks by whites between 1865 and 1868: One victim "did not remove his hat"; another "wouldn't give up his whiskey flask"; a white man "wanted to thin out the n****** a little";  another wanted "to see a d------d n****** kick". 

Freedmen in many communities took up arms for both individual and community defense against these depraved acts of violence, even as unreconstructed lawmakers in states like Georgia and Mississippi imposed laws that explicitly or implicitly targeted the freedmen's right to keep and bear arms. 

As Second Amendment attorney Kostas Moros recently detailed, the federal government is now citing some of those laws in defense of modern anti-gun statutes, while blithely ignoring the racist roots of those policies. 


The level of dishonesty we deal with from government "experts" is so tiring. The image below is an excerpt from a law review article published in 2017 that the federal government is citing in an NFA-related criminal appeal in another circuit.

The article was written by a historian who is now frequently used by state governments as an expert witness. Even if you set aside that Georgia and Mississippi weren't even readmitted to the union until 1870 and so these laws are of dubious value (and probably passed to prevent newly freed black people from bearing arms), the article omits critical context. The Georgia law only applied in three counties, not the whole state. Similarly, the Mississippi law only applied in Washington county. The author of the article even includes a "...." where he omitted language while quoting the Mississippi law. 

What did he omit? Well:"[A] tax of not less than five dollars or more than fifteen dollars shall be levied and assessed annually by the board of Police of Washington county upon every gun and pistol which may be in the possession of any person in said county, which tax shall be payable at any time on demand, by the Sheriff, and if not so paid, it shall be the duty of the Sheriff to forthwith distrain and seize such gun or pistol, and sell the same for cash..."

It's just so dishonest to omit the part that reveals that the law only applied to one county. And of course he also did not include the beginning of it either, which likewise made clear this was just one county. 


As Kostas discovered, it's actually worse than DOJ simply claiming that a law that applied to one county is part of the national tradition of keeping and bearing arms. 

The Mississippi law cited favorably by the DOJ was essentially a prohibition on gun ownership for newly freed slaves. A $15 tax in 1867 would be more than $300 in today's terms; a nearly impossible burden for freedmen to meet at a time when the South overall was cash-poor. This was a backdoor way to ban gun ownership among freedmen, using the power of the purse to prohibit their lawful possession of firearms at the very moment the Ku Klux Klan was establishing its reign of terror in the state. 

Now the DOJ is actually citing this law (and other Reconstruction-era statutes aimed at freedmen) in support of the taxes imposed under the National Firearms Act.  It was dishonest of the scholar who penned this law review column to represent this law as proof that taxing gun ownership is a part of our national tradition of gun ownership, but it's downright deplorable to see the DOJ cite this racist law as evidence of the NFA's constitutionality. We've come a long way over the past 150 years, but the anti-gunners would be happy to drag us back to a time when the Second Amendment rights of disfavored Americans could be stripped from them under the color of law... leaving them defenseless against those who sought to terrorize them into political, cultural, and social subjugation. 


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