Negroes and the Gun: A G&P conversation with the author

A professor of law and author of “Negroes And The Gun” told Guns & Patriots his newly released book describes the mostly undocumented historical account of blacks bearing arms.


“I grew up in rural West Virginia.  Everybody I knew had guns,” said Nicholas J. Johnson a professor of law at Fordham University, a Jesuit college located in New York City.  In a score of scholarly articles Johnson has been covering the Second Amendment topic for the past 20 years.

“The book is an extension of my scholarships,” said the Harvard Law School graduate.

Historically blacks were targeted for gun control, he said. “It is explicit as early as 1680 in Colonial America.”

Similar targeted gun control was implemented in post-Civil War Black Codes, which contributed to the passage of the 14th Amendment, he said.

“Much of the conversation surrounding the passage of the 14th Amendment went to the problem of southern state governments who, in an essential act of war, were explicitly attempting to disarm freedmen.”  A freedman was a former slave who was legally released by emancipation or by owner.

Southern states enacted gun control statutes in the post-Civil War period that were de-facto racially motivated, said Johnson. “In the beginning of the 20th century discriminatory provisions were in effect in a variety of places.”

The people who fought against discriminatory practices are American heroes, said the writer for The Volokh Conspiracy a division of The Washington Post.

“Two U.S. Supreme Court cases that recently affirmed our right to keep and bear arms were led by black plaintiffs: Shelly Parker and Otis McDonald,” he said.  “Lots of people thought Parker and McDonald were dupes or fools. It turns out they were an extension of a long tradition of a sober, mature community having access to firearms.”


The book shows that up until the 1970s the image of gun ownership in the black community is more consistent with reality than what is in the popular news today, he said.

During the 1970s there was a new black political group gaining power in the urban context, said Johnson.“Lots of black politicians latched-on to the idea of supply side gun control as an answer to the crime and turmoil in environments that were taken over with gun violence; one can understand how they might have embraced those themes.”

But the promise that gun bans were the answer did not materialize, he said.

In places such as Washington and Chicago, where groups attempted to control supply, the guns did not disappear as expected, the guns were redistributed, he said. “Now the worst people in the community are armed and the best people in the community or not; they are afraid and under siege.”

The empirical work shows that communities end-up with an armed micro-culture which is typically a very small number of young men who are terrorizing communities, he said. Part of this suggests that supply controls were an experiment that did not pan-out.”

Ultimately we must recognize that supply control measures did not work, said Johnson, who is also co-author of “Firearms Law and the Second Amendment,” published in 2012. “In the U.S.A. today there are about 300 million guns.”


After the Heller decision overturned D.C.’s handgun ban a scholarly article suggested that targeted gun control be part of the modern civil rights movement, he said. “They were working to create carve-outs under Heller so that at least in certain black communities’ gun prohibition could be upheld as an exceptional necessity.”

Johnson said it is discriminatory that an acknowledged prerogative of citizenship is denied to the black community.  “The idea that certain communities are just too dangerous and these folks are not prepared for freedom is problematic.”

In relation to gun homicides, the data is fairly clear that the people who murder are extremely aberrant people, he said.

“The stereotype of someone who was otherwise showing no signals of any violent incidences sort-of ‘flying off the handle’ and becoming a murderer are repeated so often in the media people think it is a common thing, when it is actually an aberrant circumstance.”

False stereotypes cause a cultural divide between urban and rural dwellers, said Johnson.

City dwellers have a predisposition against gun rights, while in rural communities their image is much different, he said.  “It is culturally my experience that there are lots of good, honest, sober, mature gun owners.”

In rural America people see guns as tools to be used as a protective measure, whereas in urban areas people are quick to abandon their gun rights and instead – at their own risk – rely on the state’s protection, he said.


“The idea that a government actor is going to swoop-in and solve problems is a little more foreign to rural gun owners than in an urban context.”

Despite the strong evidence that suggest that armed, adult members of the community have the effect of providing an important disincentive to violent crimes, Blacks are still denied the ability to defend themselves, said Johnson.

“How do you tell people who live in a dangerous environment that they have to rely entirely on the state for personal security even though they know as a matter of physics that there is a window in which the state cannot respond?”

People can make their own decisions about their personal security, he said. “The firearm is an important tool in the process of securing our homes and family.”

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