Is Garry McCarthy Right About Gun Laws Being Racist?

June 29, 2011  |  

by Charing Ball

Finally somebody is getting in trouble for playing the race card and this time, it ain’t a black person.

Garry McCarthy, former chief of police of Newark, NJ and current Chicago top cop, has ruffled the feathers of the NRA and other pro-gun advocates with some comments he made recently at St. Sabina, a liberal black church in the heart of Chicago’s South Side.  McCarthy, hand-picked by newly elected mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was speaking at a church pastored by the infamous Father Michael Pfleger, an outspoken supporter of limited gun rights.  Well McCarthy must have been caught up in the spirit because he started spouting off about the peculiar nature of gun laws and “government sponsored racism”.

Said McCarthy, “So here’s what I want to tell you.  See, let’s see if we can make a connection here.  Slavery.  Segregation.  Black Codes.  Jim Crow. What did they all have in common?  Anybody getting’ scared? Government sponsored racism. I told you I wasn’t afraid [of race]. I told you I wasn’t afraid.  Now I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of the African American history in this country, and tell me if I’m crazy: Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our black and brown children.”

McCarthy sure has a lot to say about guns and gun laws.  It’s just not clear what exactly it is that he was trying to say.  Is he promoting gun control or does he believe that gun control, in itself, is racist?  If it’s the latter, I happen to agree with him.

Since the days of slavery blacks in one way or another have been the subjects of restrictive gun laws.  Both enslaved and free blacks were prohibited from possessing firearms, except under very restrictive conditions.  Gun restrictions for blacks gained traction after Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831, a revolt that caused the south to become increasingly irrational in its fears.  Even after slavery various black codes adopted throughout the country required blacks to obtain a license before carrying or possessing firearms.

Historically blacks have been one of the major vocal oppositions to gun control, including the Deacons for Defense and Justice as well as the Black Panthers, who infamously marched on the California capitol to protest the Mulford Act of 1967, a bill inspired by the Panthers Police Patrols that prohibited the public carrying of loaded firearms.  Even Clarence Thomas, writing in response to a recent Supreme Court decision to expend gun control, cited his opposition to gun restrictions, suggesting that “…when the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups proliferated, the use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves against mob violence.”  It may seem like ancient history now but remember that after Obama was elected there was a reported run on gun and ammo supply shops, and just last year some members of the Tea Party staged several armed demonstrations around the capital as a “symbol” of their freedom.

But back to McCarthy and his misguided attempt at code talking to “the people.”  If you listen to the whole segment, it is clear that McCarthy is trying to make an impression during his first weeks on his new job.  But giving him the benefit of the doubt, that his intentions are genuine, he does have a point.  Maybe we should begin to insert some common sense back into this debate about gun control.  A couple of weeks prior to his controversial appearance McCarthy made similarly controversial yet not wildly publicized statements about what he felt about a Chicago rally to end the war on drugs: “If we just lock up a drug dealer, we may be actually causing violence.  Because there’s an established market were somebody is going to go, seeking drugs.  That’s demand.  As long as that demand exists at a location, that supply will show back up.”

Many urban areas are awash in gun violence, most of which is the result of the black market sale of drugs.  If we end this losing battle in the war on drugs, we end street violence.  Yet few leaders are prepared to confront this reality and even fewer are willing to acknowledge that gun-control is not about protecting the honest working person.  Stricter gun laws just mean more men without the presumption of violence are incarcerated just for the simple act of carrying an “unlicensed” gun.

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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