Racist Origins of Gun Control and the War on Drugs

December 31, 2012   |   Tags:

Much has been written on the racist origins of gun control from a variety of perspectives ranging from the conservative, the liberal, the victims of gun control and and the libertarian view that deems the right to bear arms as a natural right.  If one doesn’t possess the right to defend themselves and their families against violent predators, then what rights can any human being possibly have?  None whatsoever.

Gun Control: White Man’s Law 1985 issue of Reason Magazine

Chances are that you’ve never heard of General Laney. He hasn’t had a brilliant military career, at least as far as I know. In fact, I’m not certain that he’s even served in the military. General, you see, isn’t Laney’s rank. General is Laney’s first name. General Laney does, however, have a claim to fame, unrecognized though it may be.

Detroit resident General Laney is the founder and prime mover behind a little publicized organization known as the National Black Sportsman’s Association, often referred to as “the black gun lobby.” Laney pulls no punches when asked his opinion of gun control: “Gun control is really race control. People who embrace gun control are really racists in nature. All gun laws have been enacted to control certain classes of people, mainly black people, but the same laws used to control blacks are being used to disarm white people as well.”

Laney is not the first to make this observation. Indeed, allied with sportsmen in vocal opposition to gun controls in the 1960s were the militant Black Panthers. Panther Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver noted in 1968: “Some very interesting laws are being passed. They don’t name me; they don’t say, take the guns away from the niggers. They say that people will no longer be allowed to have (guns). They don’t pass these rules and these regulations specifically for black people, they have to pass them in a way that will take in everybody.”

Some white liberals have said essentially the same thing. Investigative reporter Robert Sherrill, himself no lover of guns, concluded in his book The Saturday Night Special that the object of the Gun Control Act of 1968 was black control rather than gun control. According to Sherrill, Congress was so panicked by the ghetto riots of 1967 and 1968 that it passed the act to “shut off weapons access to blacks, and since they (Congress) probably associated cheap guns with ghetto blacks and thought cheapness was peculiarly the characteristic of imported military surplus and the mail-order traffic, they decided to cut off these sources while leaving over-the-counter purchases open to the affluent.” Congressional motivations may have been more complex than Sherrill suggests, but keeping blacks from acquiring guns was certainly a large part of that motivation.

There is little doubt that the earliest gun controls in the United States were blatantly racist and elitist in their intent. San Francisco civil-liberties attorney Don B. Kates, Jr., an opponent of gun prohibitions with impeccable liberal credentials (he has been a clerk for radical lawyer William Kunstler, a civil rights activist in the South, and an Office of Economic Opportunity lawyer), describes early gun control efforts in his book Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptic Speak Out. As Kates documents, prohibitions against the sale of cheap handguns originated in the post-Civil War South. Small pistols selling for as little as 50 or 60 cents became available in the 1870s and ’80s, and since they could be afforded by recently emancipated blacks and poor whites (whom agrarian agitators of the time were encouraging to ally for economic and political purposes), these guns constituted a significant threat to a southern establishment interested in maintaining the traditional structure.

Consequently, Kates notes, in 1870 Tennessee banned “selling all but ‘the Army and Navy model’ handgun, i.e., the most expensive one, which was beyond the means of most blacks and laboring people.” In 1881, Arkansas enacted an almost identical ban on the sale of cheap revolvers, while in 1902, South Carolina banned the sale of handguns to all but “sheriffs and their special deputies–i.e., company goons and the KKK.” In 1893 and 1907, respectively, Alabama and Texas attempted to put handguns out of the reach of blacks and poor whites through “extremely heavy business and/or transactional taxes” on the sale of such weapons. In the other Deep South states, slavery-era bans on arms possession by blacks continued to be enforced by hook or by crook.

The cheap revolvers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were referred to as “Suicide Specials,” the “Saturday Night Special” label not becoming widespread until reformers and politicians took up the gun control cause during the 1960s. The source of this recent concern about cheap revolvers, as their new label suggests, has much in common with the concerns of the gunlaw initiators of the post-Civil War South. As B. Bruce-Briggs has written in the Public Interest, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the ‘Saturday Night Special’ is emphasized because it is cheap and is being sold to a particular class of people. The name is sufficient evidence–the reference is to ‘niggertown Saturday night.‘”

It’s no secret that that the Ku Klux Klan was the first organization in America to lobby for gun control laws and that these gun control laws were specifically designed to keep African Americans from ever owning or possessing firearms.  It’s also important to note that nearly all gun control laws in America originated in the South and were indeed an overt form of racism as well as an abridgment of the civil rights of African Americans.   This issue even managed to catch the attention of the Wall Street Journal in September, 2011 in a review of the book Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America by Adam Winkler in an interestingly titled article.

Love Your Gun? Thank the Black Panthers, Says New Book

In his research for “Gunfight,” Winkler also noted a close intersection between guns and racism. “It was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt.” he said. “The KKK began as a gun-control organization. Before the Civil War, blacks were never allowed to own guns. During the Civil War, blacks kept guns for the first time – either they served in the Union army and they were allowed to keep their guns, or they buy guns on the open market where for the first time there’s hundreds of thousands of guns flooding the marketplace after the war ends. So they arm up because they know who they’re dealing with in the South. White racists do things like pass laws to disarm them, but that’s not really going to work. So they form these racist posses all over the South to go out at night in large groups to terrorize blacks and take those guns away. If blacks were disarmed, they couldn’t fight back.”

Winkler also said that in the 1960s, laws passed by social conservatives to disarm black urban radicals like the Black Panthers in turn sparked a backlash that became the modern gun-rights movement.

Adam Winkler’s extraordinary piece published in the 9/2011 issue of leftist leaning The Atlantic basically says that white conservatives were largely behind gun control laws because they opposed 2nd amendment rights for African Americans.

The Secret History of Guns

The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there’s no resolution in sight.

THE EIGHTH-GRADE STUDENTS gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must

take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.

Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.

It was May 2, 1967, and the Black Panthers’ invasion of the California statehouse launched the modern gun-rights movement…..

OPPOSITION TO GUN CONTROL was what drove the black militants to visit the California capitol with loaded weapons in hand. The Black Panther Party had been formed six months earlier, in Oakland, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Like many young African Americans, Newton and Seale were frustrated with the failed promise of the civil-rights movement. Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were legal landmarks, but they had yet to deliver equal opportunity. In Newton and Seale’s view, the only tangible outcome of the civil-rights movement had been more violence and oppression, much of it committed by the very entity meant to protect and serve the public: the police.

Inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X, Newton and Seale decided to fight back. Before he was assassinated in 1965, Malcolm X had preached against Martin Luther King Jr.’s brand of nonviolent resistance. Because the government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of blacks, he said, they had to defend themselves “by whatever means necessary.” Malcolm X illustrated the idea for Ebony magazine by posing for photographs in suit and tie, peering out a window with an M-1 carbine semiautomatic in hand. Malcolm X and the Panthers described their right to use guns in self-defense in constitutional terms. “Article number two of the constitutional amendments,” Malcolm X argued, “provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.”

Guns became central to the Panthers’ identity, as they taught their early recruits that “the gun is the only thing that will free us—gain us our liberation.” They bought some of their first guns with earnings from selling copies of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book to students at the University of California at Berkeley.

While the Black Panthers, Bobby Seal and Huey Newton vigorously defended the 2nd amendment and raised the very legitimate issue of horrific police brutality against African Americans, they were also Marxists and socialists who were perceived as advocates for violent revolution.  The 1960’s were extraordinary times for America.  From the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy to the civil rights marches to anti-war protests, the Vietnam War to the quest for racial equality, the 60’s literally ripped the soul of America apart as a new national conscious and consciousness were born.

While it’s absolutely true that gun control laws are the Ku Klux Klan’s favorite laws, it’s also true that Caucasian liberals and conservatives have done everything humanly possible to guarantee that African Americans and other ‘brown folks’ are unarmed.  In modern American history, the first major gun control legislation was the 1968 Gun Control Act that was signed by President Lyndon Johnson as one of his ‘Great Society’ schemes to churn America into a Soviet styled ‘command and controlled’ police state with a state run redistributionist economy. LBJ is reported to have told 2 governors on Air Force One “I’ll have those n*ggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.” according to Ronald Kessler’s book Inside The White House, here.

The Brandy Handgun Violence Prevention Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton on 11/30/93, required background checks on all gun purchasers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, here, and there’s an online quiz to determine eligibility to own or purchase a firearm, here. A ‘yes’ to any of the following questions will generally disqualify an individual from legally purchasing a firearm.

Q: Have you ever been convicted of any crime for which the maximum punishment was two years or more in prison?

Q: Have you ever been indicted for a crime punishable by more than one year?

Q: Do you currently have outstanding criminal warrants?

Q: Are you a user of illegal drugs?

Q: Have you ever been involuntarily committed to a mental institution?

Q: Are you in the United States illegally?

Q: Were you ever dishonorably discharged from the armed forces?

Q: Have you ever renounced your U.S. citizenship?

Q: Are you currently subject to a restraining order for threatening violence?

Q: Have you ever been convicted of a crime involving domestic violence?

It is well documented that African Americans and people of color are arrested, criminally prosecuted and imprisoned at far higher rates than Caucasian folks, probably because they are easy targets, tend to be much poorer and lack the financial means to defend themselves in a court system that is stacked against them.  In a world with sane and equal justice, the criminal justice system should be based on “No Victim, No Crime” but people of color are frequently victimized by a perverted judicial system that bases its success on arrests by the police and convictions by prosecutors.  Many folks of color are arrested, convicted and imprisoned for victimless crimes like pot possession.

In a piece titled Marijuana law just creates criminals CNN reported on June 6, 2012:


More than 50,000 people in 2011 were arrested in New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana — the majority of whom were black and Latino — at a considerable judicial and financial cost. New York City spends about $75 million every year on arresting people for recreational marijuana possession.

But what many people don’t know is that the state decriminalized this offense more than 30 years ago, making private possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana a violation punishable by a $100 fine. Possession of the same amount in public view remains a criminal misdemeanor.

Despite this change in law, arrests for small quantities of marijuana over the last decade have skyrocketed, with more than 400,000 people arrested and unceremoniously run through the criminal justice system. Marijuana possession is now the No. 1 arrest category in New York.

Why is this happening?

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people in New York are stopped, questioned, frisked and searched, often without justification, under the “stop and frisk” policy. The vast majority of these people live in communities of color, and almost 90% are immediately released without arrest or even a summons.

Most of the folks arrested in NYC for marijuana possession are blacks and Hispanics. Furthermore, the NYPD’s draconian ‘stop and frisk’ policies specifically target people of color. You better believe that Fuhrer Bloomberg’s Militarized Police State is blatantly racist.

While this is an issue that gets some media attention, nothing ever changes and these horrid police assaults on folks of color continue unabated and so do the arrests and prison sentences.

The War on Guns and the War on Drugs are closely related as well as overtly racist because because the criminal justice is guilty of imprisoning folks of color for victimless crime convictions like marijuana possession and at far higher rates than Caucasian folks are prosecuted for the same crime despite there being no difference in the rate of marijuana use by people of color and Caucasian folks.  Some folks are awake on the issue of how punitive and racist the War on Drugs really is.

Ron Paul: Drug War In U.S. Has Racist Origins  The Huffington Post

Dylan Ratigan: Racism was rebranded ‘the war on drugs’  The Raw Story

The War on Drugs Is Really a War on Minorities  Alternet

The New Jim Crow: How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste

Common Dreams

Racism and the Drug War  The Future of Freedom

Not only is the War on Drugs immoral and racist, it’s a hugely expensive waste of money.  Cato estimated a few years ago that we were spending $88 billion a year on the War on Drugs.

Drug criminalization policies in the United States drain $88 billion annually from state, local and federal government coffers, according to a report released Monday by the Cato Institute.

“The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition,” by Harvard economist and Cato Senior Fellow Jeffrey Miron and Katherine Waldock, concludes that current drug policy costs governments $41.3 billion each year to implement, while depriving their budgets of $46.7 billion in potential revenues from taxation of legal drug sales.

The revenue figure was derived assuming roughly the same taxation rate currently used for alcohol and tobacco sales. Also factored in is the tax revenue on the income earned by producers–currently concealed in a shadowy black market–that would be subject to standard income and sales taxation.

“State and federal governments in the United States face massive looming fiscal deficits,” Miron and Waldock write. “One policy change that can reduce deficits is ending the drug war.”

Read the rest here
Cato Institute

Over a period of 40 years, we’ve spend over $1 trillion dollars on the idiotic War on Drugs, here.   

The War on Drugs is a BIG fail; we totally failed to even put a dent in the flow of drugs and we have more drug users than ever, plus a whole lot of recreational drug users in prison and with criminal records.  The economic impact on the poor who are the primary victims of the government’s War on Drugs is devastating.  The War on Drugs needs to be renamed the War on the Poor.

Folks with criminal records can’t get jobs, their family suffer enormously and their lives are essentially ruined.  

But then again, that’s what government does best – it deliberately and maliciously ruins human lives for the exclusive benefit of the Police State and the Prison Industrial Complex.  The racist origins of the War on Drugs is also well documented and DrugPolicy.org addresses this issue.

Race and the Drug War

The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. We believe that the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s.

The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to exposing disproportionate arrest rates and the systems that perpetuate them. We work to eliminate policies that result in disproportionate incarceration rates by rolling back harsh mandatory minimum sentences that unfairly affect urban populations and by repealing sentencing disparities. Crack cocaine sentencing presents a particularly egregious case. Since the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, with African Americans disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms.

When we think about all the injustice and racism we have created with an insanely unjust criminal justice system, by far the biggest victims are people of color.  Yet, hideously immoral and racist Caucasian liberals and Caucasian conservatives continue to endorse this supremely overt and systemic racism.

How Can Anyone Not Realize the War on (Some) Drugs Is Racist?  LewRockwell.com

The drug war is a violent campaign against black men and by extension the black family, among many others (not all of them black, by the way); it has been so since it started. Furthermore, almost every prohibition of substances consumed in the United States of America has had as its raison d’être the subjugation of one group (generally some “minority” group – whatever group happens to partake of that substance) to the benefit of one other specific group of statist, power-mad megalomaniacs.

Equal Protection Under the Law?  Forget it.  It just doesn’t exist.  Folks of color are routinely persecuted, prosecuted and denied justice.

If America truly wanted to do something productive and just for folks of color, it would DECRIMINALIZE all victimless crimes and empty the prisons of non-violent folks.  However, the top five lobbies against marijuana decriminalization are the police unions, prison guard unions, the private prison corporations, the beer/booze industry and Big Pharm.

In America, public sector union job security and corporate profits always trump justice.

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