Slavery was abolished in the United States with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865. But inequality and racial segregation continued across the South.
Coded Gun Control
The Ku Klux Klan initiated a campaign of intimidation and violence against newly freed slaves and anyone who showed those slaves support. “Black Codes” were passed to restrict the freedom of African Americans and maintain white power. Mississippi and South Carolina enacted the first Black Codes, followed by other states such as Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky.
These codes prohibited African Americans from carrying or possessing firearms. The civil rights activist Albion W. Tourgée noted that “almost universally, the first thing done was to disarm the negroes and leave them defenseless.” For example, Alabama forbade African Americans from carrying guns or deadly weapons. Other states imposed taxes or banned inexpensive firearms to restrict gun ownership among African Americans. This left them at the mercy of Klan Knight Riders and unable to protect themselves and their families.
The Great Migration
Gun control among African American communities continued well into the 20th century. It even made its way to northern states. Between 1910 and 1970, roughly six million African Americans migrated from the South to the cities across the Northeast, Midwest and West in what was known as “the Great Migration.” African Americans left the poor economic conditions in the southern states to work in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York City and Philadelphia. But they were still unable to shake discrimination. Anti-African American gun restrictions popped up as they had in the South. Selected permitting in cities such as New York enabled authorities to choose who received firearms, regularly denying them to minorities.
African American soldiers returning from service in World War II resisted racist gun-control laws. The combatants had experienced some freedoms abroad and carried arms in defense of their country. The veterans returned home confident, with a sense of self-worth and now trained on how to use firearms. Some used guns to defend themselves when confronted with violence.
As the Civil Rights movement was in full swing, Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968. According to David Babat in “The Discriminatory History of Gun Control,” the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (1963), Malcolm X (1965), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968) and Robert F. Kennedy (1968); violence stemming from the Civil Rights movement; and Vietnam War protests “all served to harden the public’s view on firearms.” Journalist Robert Sherrill argued that the act “was passed not to control guns but to control blacks.” He indicated that Congress used the act to disguise its main goal: to keep weapons out of the hands of African Americans.
Black history is shackled to gun control. Racial gun laws still exist in cities where African Americans live in the greatest numbers. These prohibitive measures have endured for well over 150 years.