Civil Rights and Guns

David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy follows up a previous post on the importance of gun rights in the civil rights struggle in the 1960’s. Kopel highlights the work of civil rights activist John Salter against the tyranny of the Ku Klux Klan, and the importance of armed self-defense to that struggle.

In 1965 in North Carolina, the FBI and Justice Department told Salter than an informant inside a United Klans klavern had reported on a plan to bomb Salter’s home in Raleigh.The FBI agent told Salter and his wife that the federal government could not do anything about it. Of course, “Local law enforcement was not reliable. Fortunately, we lived in the middle of a heavily armed Black community,” and Salter’s neighbors were “very protective.” They and Salter put out the word that the community was armed for defense. Thus, “We were not surprised when the bombing effort never materialized.”

In the summer of 1970, Salter was Southside Director for the Chicago Commons Association. As such, he was a community organizer for mostly “Black, Puerto Rican, and Chicano” people. On the South/Southwest side of Chicago, the racism was “often more violent and sanguinary than the Deep South of the previous decade. The Richard Daley machine was openly antagonistic to us . . .” In some but not all districts, the police were in league with the racists.

Death threats were frequent. When they were phoned in, Salter told the callers, “that I had a ticket for them, a pass to permanent eternity via my Marlin .444.” One day while Salter was at work and his wife was at home, some men with knives came to the home, but a vigilant neighbor with a revolver frightened them away.

In Chicago in 1973, Salter’s community network of nearly 300 block clubs “set up public citizen ‘watch-dog’ patrols.” These were generally unarmed, with “primary backup from a network of armed citizenry in the neighborhoods,” with whom the patrols stayed in contact via Citizens Band radio and telephone. “The effects of this well known campaign in deterring while racial violence were consistently substantial.” Soon, and as a result, politicians instituted “increasingly responsible and egalitarian law enforcement practices. But the patrols and vigilance of armed neighborhoods continued.”

Salter write that firearms are not an absolute guarantee of safety for community organizers;  Medger  W. Evers (NAACP Field Secretary for Mississippi) was murdered in June 1963, but being armed did help him to live for nine years longer than most people expected he would when he took the job in 1954.

In sum, “I am stating categorically that the number of fatalities” was “much smaller” because “organizers and their grassroots groups”  were “sensibly armed for self-defense.”

The Left will often attempt to dismiss the right to bear arms as an anachronism, or tie it to hunting or some other sporting activity. But it remains clear, especially given the example of the civil rights movement, that the right to bear arms is what enables citizens to secure their other rights from those that would deprive them of those rights. All of our rights depend upon our right to be free of forced coercion, and to prevent it with deadly force if necessary.


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