Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Klan and Gun Control

David Kopel (of the Volokh Conspiracy) has a column at Reason Online detailing the relationship between gun control and the post-Civil War South. This may not be news to everyone, but it is a useful reminder nevertheless. Some tidbits:

After the Civil War, the defeated Southern states aimed to preserve slavery in fact if not in law. The states enacted Black Codes which barred the black freedmen from exercising basic civil rights, including the right to bear arms. Mississippi's provision was typical: No freedman "shall keep or carry fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition."


In areas where the black militias lost and the Klan or other white groups took control, "almost universally the first thing done was to disarm the negroes and leave them defenseless," wrote Albion TourgeƩ in his 1880 book The Invisible Empire. (An attorney and civil rights worker from the north, TourgeƩ would later represent the civil rights plaintiff in Plessy v. Ferguson.)


In deference to the Fourteenth Amendment, some states did cloak their laws in neutral, non-racial terms. For example, the Tennessee legislature barred the sale of any handguns except the "Army and Navy model." The ex-Confederate soldiers already had their high quality "Army and Navy" guns. But cash-poor freedmen could barely afford lower-cost, simpler firearms not of the "Army and Navy" quality.
For those of you who don't recognize it, that last point is an ancestor of the "Saturday Night Special" laws prohibiting cheap handguns that we are still living with in most big (i.e. blue) cities.

Kopel concludes with the following, echoing my own sentiments:
That gun control has a very unsavory past does not, in itself, prove that all modern gun control proposals are a bad idea. But it does offer reasons to be especially cautious about the dangers of disarming people who cannot necessarily count on their local government to protect them.

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