San Bernardino Shooting

How Guns Helped Secure Civil Rights and Expand Liberty

Firearms played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement.


Yesterday's brutal shootings in San Bernardino, California, have reignited America's long-running debate over guns. Much of that debate is currently focused on violent criminal acts committed with the help of firearms. That focus is understandable in the aftermath of this horrific event. But it's important to remember that firearms routinely serve noble purposes as well. For example, guns played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement and its long campaign to achieve racial equality. To illustrate that point, here are three stories from the Reason archives that discuss the ways in which privately owned guns helped to expand freedom and secure civil rights for countless numbers of black Americans.

Why Civil Rights and Gun Rights Are Inseparable:

[A] vast number of nonviolent civil rights activists either carried arms themselves or were surrounded by others who did, including Rosa Parks, who described her dinner table "covered with guns" at a typical strategy session in her home, and Daisy Bates, "the first lady of Little Rock," who played a pivotal role in the famous battle to integrate her city's Central High School. Thurgood Marshall, who stayed with Bates in 1957 while litigating the Central High case, called her residence "an armed camp." Bates herself packed a .45 automatic pistol.

Indeed, from the time of Frederick Douglass, who called a "good revolver" the "true remedy for the Fugitive Slave Bill," to that of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, who braved the worst of 20th century Jim Crow and declared, "I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom," armed self-defense has always gone hand in hand with the fight for racial equality in America.

Yes, Guns Are Dangerous, But They Also Save Lives and Secure Civil Rights:

"I'm alive today because of the Second Amendment and the natural right to keep and bear arms," declared John R. Salter Jr., one of the organizers of the famous non-violent sit-ins against segregated lunch counters in Jackson, Mississippi. Writing in 1994, Salter noted that he always "traveled armed" while working as a civil rights organizer in the Deep South. "Like a martyred friend of mine, NAACP staffer Medgar W. Evers, I, too, was on many Klan death lists and I, too, traveled armed: a .38 special Smith and Wesson revolver and a 44/40 Winchester carbine," Salter wrote. "The knowledge that I had these weapons and was willing to use them kept enemies at bay."

Civil Rights and Armed Self-Defense:

Mississippi doctor, entrepreneur, and civil rights activist T.R.M. Howard saw no reason to separate the struggle for racial equality from the case for armed self-defense. A founder of the pioneering Regional Council of Negro Leadership and a longtime ally of the NAACP, Howard acted as unofficial head of security during the highly publicized murder trial that followed the death of Emmett Till—a 14-year-old African American savagely murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. Among other duties, Howard transported Till's grieving mother, Ebony reporter Clyde Murdock, Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.), and others who gathered to observe the trial to and from the courthouse each day in a heavily-armed caravan. Back at his large, lavishly provisioned home, Howard slept with a Thompson submachine gun at the foot of his bed. Like [Frederick] Douglass before him, Howard understood all too well the deep ties between the white supremacist regime and a disarmed black populace.

NEXT: A.M. Links: San Bernardino Shooters Identified, British Bombers Hit ISIS, Police on Trial in Baltimore for Death of Freddie Gray

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  1. THIS is why I come here.

    Thanks, Damon.

  2. Can’t be said often enough. The use of guns for self-defense against night riders and the KKK has gone down the memory hole.

    Gun control is one of the last vestiges of Jim Crow. Gun control laws were originally passed to keep guns out of the hands of the darkies.

    1. Min Wage also used to keep darkies down.

      1. I would like you, or someone else, to say more about this. Preferably with sources.

        1. “When proposed, the national minimum wage was never some great egalitarian blow for the working man. It became law in 1938 as a cynical, protectionist move by the Congressional delegations of the northern textile industry ? primarily Massachusetts ?against their southern counterparts, whose lower, market-based labor costs made them more competitive.”


          The first minimum-wage laws were advocated by progressive economists on the assumption that if you forced employers to pay a “white man’s wage,” they’d only hire white men. As the sociologist E.A. Ross put it in the context of Chinese immigrant workers, in the early 1900s, “the Coolie cannot outdo the American, but he can underlive him.” The Davis-Bacon Act, still cherished by Democrats and their labor-union patrons, was passed in 1931 to prevent blacks and immigrants from competing with all-white unions for federal contracts during the Depression. And Jim Crow laws certainly locked millions of blacks out of the middle class.

  3. This post does not conform to my preconceived notions, so I am just going to dismiss it mockingly.

    LOL libertarians think guns helped give blacks rights LOL.

    1. WTF? Libertarians don’t think blacks should have rights. /progderp

      1. It’s true. That’s why I’m black on my left side.

        1. That should not have made me laugh as hard as it did.

        2. Why did that make me think of Star Trek …

          1. “We must therefore conclude that this alien is that often unaccountable rarity. A mutation, one of a kind.”

            – Spock, on Lokai’s bi-colored appearance

            Shortly before arriving at what was once an entire planet of them.

        3. That’s why I’m black from the waist down.

          1. You can dunk a basketball?

  4. “Yes, guns are dangerous”

    What, like a mountain lion? Do they burn the house down if you leave them unattended?

    1. Always remember to store your matches in a place where the mountain lions can’t get to them.

  5. Gun control was originally intended to oppress blacks. Same with minimum wage. And the policies worked.

    But through the magic of good intentions, strengthening those laws will now have the opposite result!

    1. “Gun control was originally intended to oppress blacks. Same with minimum wage.”

      And same with the Davis-Bacon Act too.

  6. Stop it, Damon. Everyone knows that guns hate black people and rampage through our cities of their own volition every single day.

  7. Ya gotta love the civil rights activists choice of weapons, too. 44/40 carbine and especially the Tommy Gun are just badass. Note that the carbine probably held 10 rounds and one in the pipe (it depends), so it would be “high-capacity” gun.

    The Tommy Gun speaks for itself.

  8. Well, yeah, maybe guns helped with the civil rights thing that happened, like, forever ago, fine. But it’s sooo different now, like, y’know? Like now guns are used to keep minorities intimidated and oppressed! So we should ban all guns now! #SanBernadino #Crisitunity #YesAllGuns

  9. A gun is not a weapon, Marge, it’s a tool. Like a butcher knife or a harpoon, or, uh… or an alligator.

    You just need more education on the subject.

    Tell you what – you come with me to an NRA meeting, and if you still don’t think guns are great, we’ll argue some more.

    1. That was a great episode. Homer’s his particular idiotic self with the gun, and the other NRA members see how much of an idiot he’s being with gun safety and kick him out.

      And then good guys with guns save the motel from being robbed by a bad guy with a gun.

      1. God, that was such a great show back in the ’90s

  10. This is also important as it relates to the idea of using guns to protect oneself from government tyranny. When that idea is mentioned the proggies generally respond with mocking laughter because they think it means futile one-man stands against the entire U.S. Army. A far more likely scenario is one that the civil rights activists actually faced: local police and judges prejudiced against them who would knowingly stand by while klansmen launched violent attacks. (And never mind the times that some of the guys under those hoods were the cops and judges!)

    1. This x 1000. You can learn alot at HnR, and one lesson is how political oppression works.
      Compare Kristallnacht to the Korean shopkeepers during the LA riots.

    2. Nevermind that the reason for wanting guns is irrelevant, in that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

      1. Right, like the ludicrous “may issue” permit laws that keep getting smacked down, ignored, and re-passed by pants-wetting city councils/state legislatures. These are the ones that make you ask permission to have a gun, come up with a good reason for asking, all subject to the whim of the chief pig who may or may not perform an act of lessez majestie and grant the permit. Can’t remember which particular one…maybe Maryland’s…got stuffed pretty hard by a ruling that included the phrase “the existence of the right is the only justification necessary.”

      2. Tell that to the police chief when you’re filling out your request for a permit.

        1. Assuming you request a permit in the first place. I’ve found it’s much easier to just buy the thing somewhere else and not tell the local goon squad I have it. Kind of like a building permit, but it’s tougher to use that new electrical wiring to shoot a burglar or overthrow the regime.

  11. The slavers never let a crisis go to waste. So the reasoning behind gun control is that criminals go around ignoring the liberty of others by shooting law abiding citizens, so law abiding citizens should have their right to self defense either monitored and limited, or to the extreme, they be disarmed and have a zero chance of self defense.

    The criminals don’t care about the law. They get their weapons either from gov’t operations like fast and furious, or by other means.

    Because I choose fists and legs, I dont have a right to take away someone else’s right to bare arms. The same goes for the pants wetters who would rather wait minutes, while the matter of life and death can happen in seconds.

    Because they’re too scared to defend themselves or their families and would rather be weak and defenseless, doesn’t give them the right to force others to be the same way.

    1. You don’t get it. Legislation is a magical incantation. Get the incantation just right, and *poof* all gun violence will magically disappear.

      1. I like your magical prowess. Just be sure to invite me in at night…..and please, no garlic.

        1. If you kill a vampire with garlic chicken, is it undead again in a half hour?

          1. Garlic chicken? Oh I see, you want to see if the garlic chicken will render me powerless…..but not dead. You’re sick.

            I see you’re going to be tough. I might just have to “come” down your chimney. But then you might like it so much you’d try and trap me and keep me.

    2. Once the self-defense case is removed they can really crack down…

    3. I’m just wondering how long it goes on before we get a civil war. I mean, if every time a black guy was involved in a shooting, a bunch of politicians stood up and blamed it on the 13th amendment, even though it only fucked themselves over politically for the most part, eventually someone on the fringe is going to decide that the risk of ending up on a plantation outweighs the risk of the civil unrest that will follow from taking out those politicians. And I’m pretty sure there are more gun owners than black people in this country.

  12. I turned to an automated system where I can manage my leads. This autopilot system is working for me now, but I didn’t start this way. I think it’s worth a try when you get to the point of wanting some automation.[][]
    Here’s a link for anyone interested in this strategy, and it’s free

  13. The hard-left Marxist and Islamists who infect our federal government plus the MSM media prostitutes who protect them will gleefully lie, falsify, fabricate, slander, libel, deceive, delude, bribe, and treasonably betray the free citizens of the United States..

    Second Amendment foes lying about gun control – The Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting. The Second Amendment has nothing to do with personal self-defense.Firearms are our constitutionally mandated safeguard against tyranny by a powerful federal government. Only dictators, tyrants, despots, totalitarians, and those who want to control and ultimately to enslave you support gun control.

    No matter what any president, senator, congressman, or hard-left mainstream media prostitutes tell you concerning the statist utopian fantasy of safety and security through further gun control: They are lying. If their lips are moving, they are lying about gun control. These despots truly hate America..

    1. These tyrants hate freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, and private property. But the reality is that our citizens’ ownership of firearms serves as a concrete deterrent against despotism. They are demanding to hold the absolute power of life and death over you and your family. Ask the six million Jewws, and the other five million murdered martyrs who perished in the Nazzi death camps, how being disarmed by a powerful tyranny ended any chances of fighting back. Ask the murdered martyrs of the Warsaw Ghetto about gun control.

      Their single agenda is to control you after you are disarmed. When the people who want to control you hold the absolute power of life and death over your family, you have been enslaved. The hard-left Marxist and Islamists who infect our federal government plus the MSM media prostitutes who protect them will gleefully lie, falsify, fabricate, slander, libel, deceive, delude, bribe, and treasonably betray the free citizens of the United States into becoming an unarmed population. Unarmed populations have been treated as slaves and chattel since the dawn of history.

      Will we stand our ground, maintaining our constitutionally guaranteed Second Amendment rights, fighting those who would enslave us?

      American Thinker

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