LA Times Admits Gun Laws Have Racist Roots

AP Photo/Marina Riker, File

Gun laws have their origins in racist laws.

This is an indisputable fact, and if you ascribe to the belief that unequal outcomes make a law racist, they still are racist.


I don’t actually hold that view, but I will acknowledge that gun control does seem to disproportionately impact black and brown folks.

But the history is what we’re talking about here and now, and history matters in the post-Bruen United States.

This creates an issue that the LA Times was forced to admit:

As attorneys for the state of California prepared recently to defend in federal court a state law requiring background checks for ammunition purchases, they found themselves in an awkward position.

Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 2022, gun control measures are legitimate only if they are deeply rooted in American “history and tradition” or are sufficiently similar to some other centuries-old law. The state lawyers had conducted a deep dive through hundreds of years of American jurisprudence and identified dozens of historical laws that they felt bolstered the modern law’s legitimacy by showing that the government has long limited access to firearms and ammunition.

But there was a problem: Many of the historical laws they found were virulently racist, restricting access to weaponry for enslaved people, Indigenous Americans and other racial minorities.

In the end, the attorneys in California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office decided to push ahead and cite the laws, but with a major caveat.

In the meantime, the question of whether California and litigants in other gun cases nationwide can invoke old, racist laws remains unsettled, and it’s unclear whether the Supreme Court will allow such laws to inform the “history and tradition” standard moving forward.

In a nation built on chattel slavery and the brutal colonization of Indigenous communities, racist laws are an inescapable part of our legal tradition despite efforts at reform. And that reality is now front and center in cases challenging gun control measures across the country — to the discomfort of nearly everyone involved.

“If we look at ‘history and tradition,’” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who focuses on 2nd Amendment law, “we see a whole bunch of racist gun laws.”


The thing that bothers me here is that they don’t seem to ask why these gun laws were created in the first place.

There’s no doubt that laws expressly disarming certain populations were racist. They don’t get more racist than that, nor does it change how gun laws that were passed in the Reconstructionist South with the understanding that they wouldn’t be enforced on white people were just as racist, even if not as explicit.

But these laws weren’t created out of nothing. They weren’t just to be mean.

All of these groups were subject to violent attacks because of who they were. Guns represented the means by which they could resist these attacks and it seems bigots don’t like being shot at when they’re trying to injure or kill someone.

At that time, they had the power so they sought to disarm these individuals.

Guns have always represented the means by which the powerless could defend themselves. Even back then, they know the law would only impact the law-abiding, especially before NICS checks and permits to purchase firearms were even considered. They knew it and were, ultimately, fine with that since they weren’t overly worried about criminals.

They wanted the bulk of minorities disarmed so they could be attacked without any viable recourse until well after the fact.

The right to keep and bear arms matters because we all have the right to protect ourselves and our nation. That doesn’t go away simply because of the color of your skin and it doesn’t go away because it makes some progressives in various legislatures feel better.


That’s not how our rights work, thank God.

Right now, these racist laws are the only framework anti-gunners have to use. The fact that they’re not so disgusted by doing so is pretty telling to me, as is the fact that they’ve done so and not learned the important point about that history and tradition.

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