The Racist Roots of Gun Control

Copyright 1993 Clayton E. Cramer All Rights Reserved. Electronic redistribution is permitted as long as no alterations are made to the text and this notice appears at the beginning. Print reproduction or for profit use is not authorized without permission from the author.


The historical record provides compelling evidence that racism underlies gun control laws — and not in any subtle way. Throughout much of American history, gun control was openly stated as a method for keeping blacks and Hispanics “in their place,” and to quiet the racial fears of whites. This paper is intended to provide a brief summary of this unholy alliance of gun control and racism, and to suggest that gun control laws should be regarded as “suspect ideas,” analogous to the “suspect classifications” theory of discrimination already part of the American legal system.

Racist arms laws predate the establishment of the United States. Starting in 1751, the French Black Code required Louisiana colonists to stop any blacks, and if necessary, beat “any black carrying any potential weapon, such as a cane.” If a black refused to stop on demand, and was on horseback, the colonist was authorized to “shoot to kill.” [1] Slave possession of firearms was a necessity at times in a frontier society, yet laws continued to be passed in an attempt to prohibit slaves or free blacks from possessing firearms, except under very restrictively controlled conditions. [2] Similarly, in the sixteenth century the colony of New Spain, terrified of black slave revolts, prohibited all blacks, free and slave, from carrying arms. [3]

In the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s, the slave population successfully threw off their French masters, but the Revolution degenerated into a race war, aggravating existing fears in the French Louisiana colony, and among whites in the slave states of the United States. When the first U. S. official arrived in New Orleans in 1803 to take charge of this new American possession, the planters sought to have the existing free black militia disarmed, and otherwise exclude “free blacks from positions in which they were required to bear arms,” including such non-military functions as slave-catching crews. The New Orleans city government also stopped whites from teaching fencing to free blacks, and then, when free blacks sought to teach fencing, similarly prohibited their efforts as well. [4]

It is not surprising that the first North American English colonies, then the states of the new republic, remained in dread fear of armed blacks, for slave revolts against slave owners often degenerated into less selective forms of racial warfare. The perception that free blacks were sympathetic to the plight of their enslaved brothers, and the dangerous example that “a Negro could be free” also caused the slave states to pass laws designed to disarm all blacks, both slave and free. Unlike the gun control laws passed after the Civil War, these antebellum statutes were for blacks alone. In Maryland, these prohibitions went so far as to prohibit free blacks from owning dogs without a license, and authorizing any white to kill an unlicensed dog owned by a free black, for fear that blacks would use dogs as weapons. Mississippi went further, and prohibited any ownership of a dog by a black person. [5]

Understandably, restrictions on slave possession of arms go back a very long way. While arms restrictions on free blacks predate it, these restrictions increased dramatically after Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831, a revolt that caused the South to become increasingly irrational in its fears. [6] Virginia’s response to Turner’s Rebellion prohibited free blacks “to keep or carry any firelock of any kind, any military weapon, or any powder or lead…” The existing laws under which free blacks were occasionally licensed to possess or carry arms was also repealed, making arms possession completely illegal for free blacks. [7] But even before this action by the Virginia Legislature, in the aftermath of Turner’s Rebellion, the discovery that a free black family possessed lead shot for use as scale weights, without powder or weapon in which to fire it, was considered sufficient reason for a frenzied mob to discuss summary execution of the owner. [8] The analogy to the current hysteria where mere possession of ammunition in some states without a firearms license may lead to jail time, should be obvious.

One example of the increasing fear of armed blacks is the 1834 change to the Tennessee Constitution, where Article XI, 26 of the 1796 Tennessee Constitution was revised from: “That the freemen of this State have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense,” [9] to: “That the free white men of this State have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense.” [10] [emphasis added] It is not clear what motivated this change, other than Turner’s bloody insurrection. The year before, the Tennessee Supreme Court had recognized the right to bear arms as an individual guarantee, but there is nothing in that decision that touches on the subject of race. [11]

Other decisions during the antebellum period were unambiguous about the importance of race. In State v. Huntly (1843), the North Carolina Supreme Court had recognized that there was a right to carry arms guaranteed under the North Carolina Constitution, as long as such arms were carried in a manner not likely to frighten people. [12] The following year, the North Carolina Supreme Court made one of those decisions whose full significance would not appear until after the Civil War and passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. An 1840 statute provided:

That if any free Negro, mulatto, or free person of color, shall wear or carry about his or her person, or keep in his or her house, any shot gun, musket, rifle, pistol, sword, dagger or bowie-knife, unless he or she shall have obtained a license therefore from the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of his or her county, within one year preceding the wearing, keeping or carrying therefore, he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be indicted therefore. [13]

Elijah Newsom, “a free person of color,” was indicted in Cumberland County in June of 1843 for carrying a shotgun without a license — at the very time the North Carolina Supreme Court was deciding Huntly. Newsom was convicted by a jury; but the trial judge directed a not guilty verdict, and the state appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Newsom’s attorney argued that the statute requiring free blacks to obtain a license to “keep and bear arms” was in violation of both the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, and the North Carolina Constitution’s similar guarantee of a right to keep and bear arms. [14] The North Carolina Supreme Court refused to accept that the Second Amendment was a limitation on state laws, but had to deal with the problem of the state constitutional guarantees, which had been used in the Huntly decision, the year before.

The 17th article of the 1776 North Carolina Constitution declared:

That the people have a right to bear arms, for the defense of the State; and, as standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power. [15]

The Court asserted that: “We cannot see that the act of 1840 is in conflict with it… The defendant is not indicted for carrying arms in defense of the State, nor does the act of 1840 prohibit him from so doing.” [16] But in Huntly, the Court had acknowledged that the restrictive language “for the defense of the State” did not preclude an individual right. [17] The Court then attempted to justify the necessity of this law:

Its only object is to preserve the peace and safety of the community from being disturbed by an indiscriminate use, on ordinary occasions, by free men of color, of fire arms or other arms of an offensive character. Self preservation is the first law of nations, as it is of individuals. [18]

The North Carolina Supreme Court also sought to repudiate the idea that free blacks were protected by the North Carolina Constitution’s Bill of Rights by pointing out that the Constitution excluded free blacks from voting, and therefore free blacks were not citizens. Unlike a number of other state constitutions with right to keep and bear arms provisions that limited this right only to citizens, [19] Article 17 guaranteed this right to the people — and try as hard as they might, it was difficult to argue that a “free person of color,” in the words of the Court, was not one of “the people.”

It is one of the great ironies that, in much the same way that the North Carolina Supreme Court recognized a right to bear arms in 1843 — then a year later declared that free blacks were not included — the Georgia Supreme Court did likewise before the 1840s were out. The Georgia Supreme Court found in Nunn v. State (1846) that a statute prohibiting the sale of concealable handguns, sword-canes, and daggers violated the Second Amendment:

The right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, and not such merely as are used by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all of this for the important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State. Our opinion is, that any law, State or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void, which contravenes this right, originally belonging to our forefathers, trampled under foot by Charles I. and his two wicked sons and successors, reestablished by the revolution of 1688, conveyed to this land of liberty by the colonists, and finally incorporated conspicuously in our own Magna Charta! And Lexington, Concord, Camden, River Raisin, Sandusky, and the laurel-crowned field of New Orleans, plead eloquently for this interpretation! [20]

Finally, after this paean to liberty — in a state where much of the population remained enslaved, forbidden by law to possess arms of any sort — the Court defined the valid limits of laws restricting the bearing of arms:

We are of the opinion, then, that so far as the act of 1837 seeks to suppress the practice of carrying certain weapons secretly, that it is valid, inasmuch as it does not deprive the citizen of his natural right of self- defense, or of his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. But that so much of it, as contains a prohibition against bearing arms openly, is in conflict with the Constitution, and void… [21]

“Citizen”? Within a single page, the Court had gone from “right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys” to the much more narrowly restrictive right of a “citizen.” The motivation for this sudden narrowing of the right appeared two years later.

The decision Cooper and Worsham v. Savannah (1848) was not, principally, a right to keep and bear arms case. In 1839, the city of Savannah, Georgia, in an admitted effort “to prevent the increase of free persons of color in our city,” had established a $100 per year tax on free blacks moving into Savannah from other parts of Georgia. Samuel Cooper and Hamilton Worsham, two “free persons of color,” were convicted of failing to pay the tax, and were jailed. [22] On appeal, counsel for Cooper and Worsham argued that the ordinance establishing the tax was deficient in a number of technical areas; the assertion of most interest to us is, “In Georgia, free persons of color have constitutional rights…” Cooper and Worsham’s counsel argued that these rights included writ of habeas corpus, right to own real estate, to be “subject to taxation,” “[t]hey may sue and be sued,” and cited a number of precedents under Georgia law in defense of their position. [23]

Justice Warner delivered the Court’s opinion, most of which is irrelevant to the right to keep and bear arms, but one portion shows the fundamental relationship between citizenship, arms, and elections, and why gun control laws were an essential part of defining blacks as “non-citizens”: “Free persons of color have never been recognized here as citizens; they are not entitled to bear arms, vote for members of the legislature, or to hold any civil office.” [24] The Georgia Supreme Court did agree that the ordinance jailing Cooper and Worsham for non-payment was illegal, and ordered their release, but the comments of the Court made it clear that their brave words in Nunn v. State (1846) about “the right of the people,” really only meant white people.

While settled parts of the South were in great fear of armed blacks, on the frontier, the concerns about Indian attack often forced relaxation of these rules. The 1798 Kentucky Comprehensive Act allowed slaves and free blacks on frontier plantations “to keep and use guns, powder, shot, and weapons, offensive and defensive.” Unlike whites, however, a license was required for free blacks or slaves to carry weapons. [25]

The need for blacks to carry arms for self-defense included not only the problem of Indian attack, and the normal criminal attacks that anyone might worry about, but he additional hazard that free blacks were in danger of being kidnapped and sold into slavery. [26] A number of states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, passed laws specifically to prohibit kidnapping of free blacks, out of concern that the federal Fugitive Slave Laws would be used as cover for re-enslavement. [27]

The end of slavery in 1865 did not eliminate the problems of racist gun control laws; the various Black Codes adopted after the Civil War required blacks to obtain a license before carrying or possessing firearms or Bowie knives; these are sufficiently well-known that any reasonably complete history of the Reconstruction period mentions them. These restrictive gun laws played a part in the efforts of the Republicans to get the Fourteenth Amendment ratified, because it was difficult for night riders to generate the correct level of terror in a victim who was returning fire. [28] It does appear, however, that the requirement to treat blacks and whites equally before the law led to the adoption of restrictive firearms laws in the South that were equal in the letter of the law, but unequally enforced. It is clear that the vagrancy statutes adopted at roughly the same time, in 1866, were intended to be used against blacks, even though the language was race-neutral. [29]

The former states of the Confederacy, many of which had recognized the right to carry arms openly before the Civil War, developed a very sudden willingness to qualify that right. One especially absurd example, and one that includes strong evidence of the racist intentions behind gun control laws, is Texas.

In Cockrum v. State (1859), the Texas Supreme Court had recognized that there was a right to carry defensive arms, and that this right was protected under both the Second Amendment, and section 13 of the Texas Bill of Rights. The outer limit of the state’s authority (in this case, attempting to discourage the carrying of Bowie knives), was that it could provide an enhanced penalty for manslaughters committed with Bowie knives. [30] Yet, by 1872, the Texas Supreme Court denied that there was any right to carry any weapon for self-defense under either the state or federal constitutions — and made no attempt to explain or justify why the Cockrum decision was no longer valid. [31]

What caused the dramatic change? The following excerpt from that same decision — so offensive that no one would dare make such an argument today — sheds some light on the racism that apparently caused the sudden perspective change:

The law under consideration has been attacked upon the ground that it was contrary to public policy, and deprived the people of the necessary means of self- defense; that it was an innovation upon the customs and habits of the people, to which they would not peaceably submit… We will not say to what extent the early customs and habits of the people of this state should be respected and accommodated, where they may come in conflict with the ideas of intelligent and well-meaning legislators. A portion of our system of laws, as well as our public morality, is derived from a people the most peculiar perhaps of any other in the history and derivation of its own system. Spain, at different periods of the world, was dominated over by the Carthagenians, the Romans, the Vandals, the Snovi, the Allani, the Visigoths, and Arabs; and to this day there are found in the Spanish codes traces of the laws and customs of each of these nations blended together in a system by no means to be compared with the sound philosophy and pure morality of the common law. [32] [emphasis added]

This particular decision is more open than most as to its motivations, but throughout the South during this period, the existing precedents that recognized a right to open carry under state constitutional provisions were being narrowed, or simply ignored. Nor was the reasoning that led to these changes lost on judges in the North. In 1920, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a Mexican for concealed carry of a handgun–while asleep in his own bed. Justice Wanamaker’s scathing dissent criticized the precedents cited by the majority in defense of this absurdity:

I desire to give some special attention to some of the authorities cited, supreme court decisions from Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky, and one or two inferior court decisions from New York, which are given in support of the doctrines upheld by this court. The southern states have very largely furnished the precedents. It is only necessary to observe that the race issue there has extremely intensified a decisive purpose to entirely disarm the Negro, and this policy is evident upon reading the opinions. [33]

While not relevant to the issue of racism, Justice Wanamaker’s closing paragraphs capture well the biting wit and intelligence of this jurist, who was unfortunately, outnumbered on the bench:

I hold that the laws of the state of Ohio should be so applied and so interpreted as to favor the law-abiding rather than the law-violating people. If this decision shall stand as the law of Ohio, a very large percentage of the good people of Ohio to-day are criminals, because they are daily committing criminal acts by having these weapons in their own homes for their own defense. The only safe course for them to pursue, instead of having the weapon concealed on or about their person, or under their pillow at night, is to hang the revolver on the wall and put below it a large placard with these words inscribed:

“The Ohio supreme court having decided that it is a crime to carry a concealed weapon on one’s person in one’s home, even in one’s bed or bunk, this weapon is hung upon the wall that you may see it, and before you commit any burglary or assault, please, Mr. Burglar, hand me my gun.” [34]

There are other examples of remarkable honesty from the state supreme courts on this subject, of which the finest is probably Florida Supreme Court Justice Buford’s concurring opinion in Watson v. Stone (1941), in which a conviction for carrying a handgun without a permit was overturned, because the handgun was in the glove compartment of a car:

I know something of the history of this legislation. The original Act of 1893 was passed when there was a great influx of Negro laborers in this State drawn here for the purpose of working in turpentine and lumber camps. The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the Negro laborers and to thereby reduce the unlawful homicides that were prevalent in turpentine and saw-mill camps and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied. [35]

Today is not 1893, and when proponents of restrictive gun control insist that their motivations are color-blind, there is a possibility that they are telling the truth. Nonetheless, there are some rather interesting questions that should be asked today. The most obvious question is, “Why should a police chief or sheriff have any discretion in issuing a concealed handgun permit?” Here in California, even the state legislature’s research arm–hardly a nest of pro-gunners–has admitted that the vast majority of permits to carry concealed handguns in California are issued to white males. [36] Even if overt racism is not an issue, an official may simply have more empathy with an applicant of a similar cultural background, and consequently be more able to relate to the applicant’s concerns. As my wife pointedly reminded a police official when we applied for concealed weapon permits, “If more police chiefs were women, a lot more women would get permits, and be able to defend themselves from rapists.”

Gun control advocates today are not so foolish as to openly promote racist laws, and so the question might be asked what relevance the racist past of gun control laws has. One concern is that the motivations for disarming blacks in the past are really not so different from the motivations for disarming law-abiding citizens today. In the last century, the official rhetoric in support of such laws was that “they” were too violent, too untrustworthy, to be allowed weapons. Today, the same elitist rhetoric regards law-abiding Americans in the same way, as child-like creatures in need of guidance from the government. In the last century, while never openly admitted, one of the goals of disarming blacks was to make them more willing to accept various forms of economic oppression, including the sharecropping system, in which free blacks were reduced to an economic state not dramatically superior to the conditions of slavery.

In the seventeenth century, the aristocratic power structure of colonial Virginia found itself confronting a similar challenge from lower class whites. These poor whites resented how the men who controlled the government used that power to concentrate wealth into a small number of hands. These wealthy feeders at the government trough would have disarmed poor whites if they could, but the threat of both Indian and pirate attack made this impractical; for all white men “were armed and had to be armed…” Instead, blacks, who had occupied a poorly defined status between indentured servant and slave, were reduced to hereditary chattel slavery, so that poor whites could be economically advantaged, without the upper class having to give up its privileges. [37]

Today, the forces that push for gun control seem to be heavily (though not exclusively) allied with political factions that are committed to dramatic increases in taxation on the middle class. While it would be hyperbole to compare higher taxes on the middle class to the suffering and deprivation of sharecropping or slavery, the analogy of disarming those whom you wish to economically disadvantage, has a certain worrisome validity to it.

Another point to consider is that in the American legal system, certain classifications of governmental discrimination are considered constitutionally suspect, and these “suspect classifications” (usually considered to be race and religion) come to a court hearing under a strong presumption of invalidity. The reason for these “suspect classifications” is because of the long history of governmental discrimination based on these classifications, and because these classifications often impinge on fundamental rights. [38]

In much the same way, gun control has historically been a tool of racism, and associated with racist attitudes about black violence. Similarly, many gun control laws impinge on that most fundamental of rights: self-defense. Racism is so intimately tied to the history of gun control in America that we should regard gun control aimed at law-abiding people as a “suspect idea,” and require that the courts use the same demanding standards when reviewing the constitutionality of a gun control law, that they would use with respect to a law that discriminated based on race.


        Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer with a telecommunications manufacturer in Northern California. His first book,

By The Dim And Flaring Lamps: The Civil War Diary of Samuel McIlvaine…, was published in 1990. …
For The Defense of Themselves And The State: The Original Intent & Judicial Interpretation of the Right To Keep And Bear Arms… will be published by Greenwood/Praeger Press in 1994.


NOTES

1. Thomas N. Ingersoll, “Free Blacks in a Slave Society: New Orleans, 1718-1812”, _William and Marry Quarterly_, 48:2 [April, 1991], 178-79.

2. Daniel H. Usner, Jr., _Indians, Settlers, & Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783_, (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 139, 165, 187.

3. Michael C. Meyer and William L. Sherman, _The Course of Mexican History_, 4th ed., (New York, Oxford University Press: 1991), 216.

4. Ingersoll, 192-200. Benjamin Quarles, _The Negro in the Making of America_, 3rd ed., (New York, Macmillan Publishing: 1987), 81.

5. Theodore Brantner Wilson, _The Black Codes of the South_ (University of Alabama Press: 1965), 26-30.

6. Stanley Elkins, _Slavery_, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 1968), 220.

7. Eric Foner, ed., _Nat Turner_, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall: 1971), 115.

8. Harriet Jacobs [Linda Brant], _Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl_, (Boston: 1861), in Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., _The Classic Slave Narratives_, (New York, Penguin Books: 1987), 395-396.

9. Francis Newton Thorpe, _The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming The United States of America_, (Washington, Government Printing Office: 1909), reprinted (Grosse Pointe, Mich., Scholarly Press: n.d.), 6:3424.

10. Thorpe, 6:3428.

11. Simpson v. State, 5 Yerg. 356 (Tenn. 1833).

12. State v. Huntly, 3 Iredell 418, 422, 423 (N.C. 1843).

13. State v. Newsom, 5 Iredell 181, 27 N.C. 250 (1844).

14. State v. Newsom, 5 Iredell 181, 27 N.C. 250, 251 (1844).

15. Thorpe, 5:2788.

16. State v. Newsom, 5 Iredell 181, 27 N.C. 250, 254 (1844).

17. State v. Huntly, 3 Iredell 418, 422 (N.C. 1843).

18. State v. Newsom, 5 Iredell 181, 27 N.C. 250, 254 (1844).

19. Early state constitutions limiting the right to bear arms to citizens: Connecticut (1818), Kentucky (1792 & 1799), Maine (1819), Mississippi (1817), Pennsylvania (1790 — but not the 1776 constitution), Republic of Texas (1838), State of Texas (1845).

20. Nunn v. State, 1 Ga. 243, 250, 251 (1846).

21. Nunn v. State, 1 Ga. 243, 250, 251 (1846).

22. Cooper and Worsham v. Savannah, 4 Ga. 68, 69 (1848).

23. Cooper and Worsham v. Savannah, 4 Ga. 68, 70, 71 (1848).

24. Cooper and Worsham v. Savannah, 4 Ga. 68, 72 (1848).

25. Juliet E. K. Walker, _Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier_, (Lexington, KY, University Press of Kentucky: 1983), 21. This is an inspiring biography of a slave who, through hard work moonlighting in the production of saltpeter (a basic ingredient of black powder) and land surveying, saved enough money to buy his wife, himself, and eventually all of his children and grandchildren out of slavery — while fighting against oppressive laws and vigorous racism. Most impressive of all, is that he did it without ever learning to read or write.

26. Walker, 73.

27. Stephen Middleton, _The Black Laws in the Old Northwest: A Documentary History_, (Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press: 1993), 27-32, 227-240, 309-314, 353-357, 403-404.

28. Michael Les Benedict, _The Fruits of Victory: Alternatives to Restoring the Union_, 1865-1877, (New York, J.B. Lippincott Co.: 1975), 87. Francis L. Broderick, _Reconstruction and the American Negro, 1865-1900_, (London, Macmillan Co.: 1969), 21. Dan T. Carter, _When The War Was Over: The Failure of Self-Reconstruction in the South, 1865- 1867_, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press: 1985), 219-221. Eric Foner, _Reconstruction_, (New York, Harper & Row: 1988), 258-259.

29. Foner, _Reconstruction_, 200-201.

30. Cockrum v. State, 24 Tex. 394, 401, 402, 403 (1859).

31. English v. State, 35 Tex. 473, 475 (1872).

32. English v. State, 35 Tex. 473, 479, 480 (1872).

33. State v. Nieto, 101 Ohio St. 409, 430, 130 N.E. 663 (1920).

34. State v. Nieto, 101 Ohio St. 409, 436, 130 N.E. 663 (1920).

35. Watson v. Stone, 4 So.2d 700, 703 (Fla. 1941).

36. Assembly Office of Research, _Smoking Gun: The Case For Concealed Weapon Permit Reform_, (Sacramento, State of California: 1986), 5.

37. Edmund S. Morgan, “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” in Stanley N. Katz, John M. Murrin, and Douglas Greenberg, ed., _Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development_, 4th ed., (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1993), 280.

38. Thomas G. Walker, “Suspect Classifications”, _Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States_, (New York, Oxford University Press: 1992), 848.

Laws Designed to Disarm Slaves, Freedmen, and African-Americans

 


Overview

Before the Civil War ended, State “Slave Codes” prohibited slaves from owning guns. After President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and after the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery was adopted and the Civil War ended in 1865, States persisted in prohibiting blacks, now freemen, from owning guns under laws renamed “Black Codes.” They did so on the basis that blacks were not citizens, and thus did not have the same rights, including the right to keep and bear arms protected in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as whites. This view was specifically articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford to uphold slavery.

The United States Congress overrode most portions of the Black Codes by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The legislative histories of both the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as The Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867, are replete with denunciations of those particular statutes that denied blacks equal access to firearms. [Kates, Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment, 82 Mich. L. Rev. 204, 256 (1983)] However, facially neutral disarming through economic means laws remain in effect.

After the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868, most States turned to “facially neutral” business or transaction taxes on handgun purchases. However, the intention of these laws was not neutral. An article in Virginia’s official university law review called for a “prohibitive tax … on the privilege” of selling handguns as a way of disarming “the son of Ham”, whose “cowardly practice of ‘toting’ guns has been one of the most fruitful sources of crime … .Let a negro board a railroad train with a quart of mean whiskey and a pistol in his grip and the chances are that there will be a murder, or at least a row, before he alights.” [Comment, Carrying Concealed Weapons, 15 Va L. Reg. 391, 391-92 (1909); George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, “Gun Control and Racism,” Stefan Tahmassebi, 1991, p. 75] Thus, many Southern States imposed high taxes or banned inexpensive guns so as to price blacks and poor whites out of the gun market.

In the 1990s, “gun control” laws continue to be enacted so as to have a racist effect if not intent:

  • Police-issued license and permit laws, unless drafted to require issuance to those not prohibited by law from owning guns, are routinely used to prevent lawful gun ownership among “unpopular” populations.
  • Public housing residents, approximately 3 million Americans, are singled out for gun bans.
  • “Gun sweeps” by police in “high crime neighborhoods” whereby vehicles and “pedestrians who meet a specific profile that might indicate they are carrying a weapon” are searched are becoming popular, and are being studied by the U.S. Department of Justice as “Operation Ceasefire.”

Sample Slave Codes, Black Codes, Economic-Based Gun Bans Used To Prevent The Arming Of African Americans, 1640-1995

Year Jurisdiction Statute
1640 Virginia Race-based total gun and self-defense ban. “Prohibiting Negroes, slave and free, from carrying weapons including clubs.” (Los Angeles Times, To Fight Crime, Some Blacks Attack Gun Control, January 19, 1992)
1640 Virginia Race-based total gun ban. “That all such free Mulattos, Negroes and Indians … shall appear without arms.” [7 The Statues at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, p. 95 (W. W. Henning ed. 1823).] (GMU CR LJ, p. 67)
1712 Virginia Race-based total gun ban. “An Act for Preventing Negroes Insurrections.” (Henning, p. 481) (GMU CR LJ, p. 70)
1712 South Carolina Race-based total gun ban. “An act for the better ordering and governing of Negroes and slaves.” [7 Statutes at Large of South Carolina, p. 353-54 (D. J. McCord ed. 1836-1873).] (GMU CR LJ, p. 70)
1791 United States 2nd Amendment to the U. S. Constitution ratified. Reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
1792 United States Blacks excluded from the militia, i.e. law-abiding males thus instilled with the right to own guns. Uniform Militia Act of 1792 “called for the enrollment of every free, able-bodied white male citizen between the ages of eighteen and forty-five” to be in the militia, and specified that every militia member was to “provide himself with a musket or firelock, a bayonet, and ammunition.” [1 Stat. 271 (Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 80, No. 2, “The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration,” Robert Cottrol and Raymond Diamond, 1991, p. 331)]
1806 Louisiana Complete gun and self-defense ban for slaves. Black Code, ch. 33, Sec. 19, Laws of La. 150, 160 (1806) provided that a slave was denied the use of firearms and all other offensive weapons. (GLJ, p. 337)
1811 Louisiana Complete gun ban for slaves. Act of Apr. 8, 1811, ch. 14, 1811 Laws of La. 50, 53-54, forbade sale or delivery of firearms to slaves. (Id.)
1819 South Carolina Master’s permission required for gun possession by slave. Act of Dec. 18, 1819, 1819 Acts of S. C. 28, 31 prohibited slaves outside the company of whites or without written permission from their master from using or carrying firearms unless they were hunting or guarding the master’s plantation. (Id.)
1825 Florida Slave and free black homes searched for guns for confiscation. “An Act to Govern Patrols,” 1825 Acts of Fla. 52, 55 – Section 8provided that white citizen patrols “shall enter into all Negro houses and suspected places, and search for arms and other offensive or improper weapons, and may lawfully seize and take away such arms, weapons, and ammunition …” Section 9 provided that a slave might carry a firearm under this statute either by means of the weekly renewable license or if “in the presence of some white person.” (Id.)
1828 Florida Free blacks permitted to carry guns if court approval. Act of Nov. 17, 1828 Sec. 9, 1828 Fla. Laws 174, 177; Act of Jan. 12, 1828, Sec. 9, 1827 Fla. Laws 97, 100 – Florida went back and forth on the question of licenses for free blacks; twice in 1828, Florida enacted provisions providing for free blacks to carry and use firearms upon obtaining a license from a justice of the peace. (Id.)
1831 Florida Race-based total gun ban. Act of Jan. 1831, 1831 Fla. Laws 30 – Florida repealed all provision for firearm licenses for free blacks. (Id. p. 337-38)
1831 Delaware Free blacks permitted to carry guns if court approval. In the December 1831 legislative session, Delaware required free blacks desiring to carry firearms to obtain a license from a justice of the peace. [Herbert Aptheker, Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion, p. 74-75 (1966).](GLJ, p. 338)
1831 Maryland Race-based total gun ban. In the December 1831 legislative session, Maryland entirely prohibited free blacks from carrying arms. (Aptheker, p. 75) (GLJ, p. 338)
1831 Virginia Race-based total gun ban. In the December 1831 legislative session, Virginia entirely prohibited free blacks from carrying arms. (Aptheker, p. 81) (GLJ, p. 338)
1833 Florida Slave and free black homes searched for guns for confiscation. Act of Feb. 17, 1833, ch. 671, Sec. 15, 17, 1833 Fla. Laws 26, 29 authorized white citizen patrols to seize arms found in the homes of slaves and free blacks, and provided that blacks without a proper explanation for the presence of the firearms be summarily punished, without benefit of a judicial tribunal. (Id. p. 338)
1833 Georgia Race-based total gun ban. Act of Dec. 23, 1833, Sec. 7, 1833 Ga. Laws 226, 228 declared that “it shall not be lawful for any free person of colour in this state, to own, use, or carry fire arms of any description whatever.” (Id.)
1840 Florida Complete gun ban for slaves. Act of Feb. 25, 1840, no. 20, Sec. 1, 1840 Acts of Fla. 22-23 made sale or delivery of firearms to slaves forbidden. (Id. p. 337)
1840 Texas Complete gun ban for slaves. “An Act Concerning Slaves,” Sec. 6, 1840 Laws of Tex. 171, 172, ch. 58 of the Texas Acts of 1850 prohibited slaves from using firearms altogether from 1842-1850. (Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Northwestern University, Vol. 85, No. 3, “Gun Control and Economic Discrimination: The Melting-Point Case-In-Point”, T. Markus Funk, 1995, p. 797)
1844 North Carolina Race-based gun ban upheld because free blacks “not citizens.” In State v. Newsom, 27 N. C. 250 (1844), the Supreme Court of North Carolina upheld a Slave Code law prohibiting free blacks from carrying firearms on the grounds that they were not citizens. (GMU CR LJ, p. 70)
1845 North Carolina Complete gun ban for slaves. Act of Jan. 1, 1845, ch. 87, Sec. 1, 2, 1845 Acts of N. C. 124 made sale or delivery of firearms to slaves forbidden. (GLJ, p. 337)
1847 Florida Slave and free black homes searched for guns for confiscation. Act of Jan. 6, 1847, ch. 87 Sec. 11, 1846 Fla. Laws 42, 44 provided that white citizen patrols might search the homes of blacks, both free and slave and confiscate arms held therein. (Id. p. 338)
1848 Georgia Race-based gun ban upheld because free blacks “not citizens.” In Cooper v. Savannah, 4 Ga. 68, 72 (1848), the Georgia Supreme Court ruled “free persons of color have never been recognized here as citizens; they are not entitled to bear arms, vote for members of the legislature, or to hold any civil office.” (GMU CR LJ, p. 70)
1852 Mississippi Race-based complete gun ban. Act of Mar. 15, 1852, ch. 206, 1852 Laws of Miss. 328 forbade ownership of firearms by both free blacks and slaves. (JCLC NWU, p. 797)
1857 United States High Court upholds slavery since blacks “not citizens.” In Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U. S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), Chief Justice Taney argued if members of the African race were “citizens” they would be exempt from the special “police regulations” applicable to them. “It would give to persons of the Negro race … full liberty of speech … to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” (Id. p. 417) U. S. Supreme Court held that descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, whether emancipated or not, and remained without rights or privileges except such as those which the government might grant them, thereby upholding slavery. Also held that a slave did not become free when taken into a free state; that Congress cannot bar slavery in any territory; and that blacks could not be citizens.
1860 Georgia Complete gun ban for slaves. Act of Dec. 19, 1860, no. 64, Sec. 1, 1860 Acts of Ga. 561 forbade sale or delivery of firearms to slaves. (GLJ, p. 337)
1861 United States Civil War begins.
1861 Florida Slave and free black homes searched for guns for confiscation. Act of Dec. 17, 1861, ch. 1291, Sec. 11, 1861 Fla. Laws 38, 40provided once again that white citizen patrols might search the homes of blacks, both free and slave, and confiscate arms held therein. (Id. p. 338)
1863 United States Emancipation Proclamation President Lincoln issued proclamation “freeing all slaves in areas still in rebellion.”
1865 Mississippi Blacks require police approval to own guns, unless in military. Mississippi Statute of 1865 prohibited blacks, not in the military“ and not licensed so to do by the board of police of his or her county” from keeping or carrying “fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk or bowie knife.” [reprinted in 1Documentary History of Reconstruction: Political, Military, Social, Religious, Educational and Industrial, 1865 to the Present Time, p. 291, Walter L. Fleming, ed., 1960.] (GLJ, p. 344)
1865 Louisiana Blacks require police and employer approval to own guns, unless in military. Louisiana Statute of 1865 prohibited blacks, not in the military service, from “carrying fire-arms, or any kind of weapons … without the special permission of his employers, approved and indorsed by the nearest and most convenient chief of patrol.” (Fleming, p. 280) (GLJ, p. 344)
1865 United States Civil War ends May 26.
1865 United States Slavery abolished as of December 18, 1865. 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified. Reads: “Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or in any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
1866 Alabama Race-based total gun ban. Black Code of Alabama in January 1866 prohibited blacks to own or carry firearms or other deadly weapons and prohibited “any person to sell, give, or lend fire-arms or ammunition of any description whatever” to any black. [The Reconstruction Amendments’ Debates, p. 209, (Alfred Avins ed., 1967)] (GLJ, p. 345)
1866 North Carolina Rights of blacks can be changed by legislature. North Carolina Black Code, ch. 40, 1866 N. C. Sess. Laws 99 stated “All persons of color who are now inhabitants of this state shall be entitled to the same privileges, and are subject to the same burdens and disabilities, as by the laws of the state were conferred on, or were attached to, free persons of color, prior to the ordinance of emancipation, except as the same may be changed by law.” (Avins, p. 291.) (GLJ, p. 344)
1866 United States Civil Rights Act of 1866 enacted. CRA of 1866 did away with badges of slavery embodied in the “Black Codes,” including those provisions which “prohibit any Negro or mulatto from having fire-arms.” [CONG. GLOBE, 39th Congress, 1st Session, pt. 1, 474 (29 Jan. 1866)] Senator William Saulsbury (D-Del) added “In my State for many years … there has existed a law … which declares that free Negroes shall not have the possession of firearms or ammunition. This bill proposes to take away from the States this police power …” and thus voted against the bill. CRA of 1866 was a precursor to today’s 42 USC Sec. 1982, a portion of which still reads: “All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every state and territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property.”
1866 United States Proposed 14th Amendment to U. S. Constitution debated. Opponents of the 14th Amendment objected to its adoption because they opposed federal enforcement of the freedoms in the bill of rights. Senator Thomas A. Hendricks (D-Indiana) said “if this amendment be adopted we will then carry the title [of citizenship] and enjoy its advantages in common with the Negroes, the coolies, and the Indians.” [CONG. GLOBE, 39th Congress, 1st Session, pt. 3, 2939 (4 June 1866)]. Senator Reverdy Johnson, counsel for the slave owner in Dred Scott, opposed the amendment because “it is quite objectionable to provide that ‘no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States’.” Thus, the 14th Amendment was viewed as necessary to buttress the Civil Rights Act of 1866, especially since the act “is pronounced void by the jurists and courts of the South,” e. g. Florida has as “a misdemeanor for colored men … and the punishment … is whipping …” [CONG GLOBE, 39th Con., 1st Session, 504, pt. 4, 3210 (16 June1866)].
1866 United States Klu Klux Klan formed. Purpose was to terrorize blacks who voted; temporarily disbanded in1871; reestablished in 1915. In debating what would become 42 USC Sec. 1983, today’s federal civil rights statute, Representative Butler explained “This provision seemed to your committee to be necessary, because they had observed that, before these midnight marauders [the KKK] made attacks upon peaceful citizens, there were very many instances in the South where the sheriff of the county had preceded them and taken away the arms of their victims. This was especially noticeable in Union County, where all the Negro population were disarmed by the sheriff only a few months ago under the order of the judge … ; and then, the sheriff having disarmed the citizens, the five hundred masked men rode at nights and murdered and otherwise maltreated the ten persons who were in jail in that county.” [1464 H. R. REP. No. 37, 41st Cong., 3rd Sess. p. 7-8 (20 Feb. 1871)]
1867 United States The Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867. Report noted with particular emphasis that under the Black Codes, blacks were “forbidden to own or bear firearms, and thus were rendered defenseless against assaults.” (Reprinted in H. Hyman, The Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, p. 219, 1967.) (GMU CR LJ, p. 71)
1868 United States 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution adopted, conveying citizenship to blacks. Reads, in part: “Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” “Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
1870 Tennessee First “Saturday Night Special” economic handgun ban passed. In the first legislative session in which they gained control, white supremacists passed “An Act to Preserve the Peace and Prevent Homicide,” which banned the sale of all handguns except the expensive “Army and Navy model handgun” which whites already owned or could afford to buy, and blacks could not. (Gun Control: White Man’s Law, William R. Tonso, Reason, December 1985) Upheld in Andrews v. State, 50 Tenn. (3 Heisk.)165, 172 (1871) (GMU CR LJ, p. 74) “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 suggest, has much in common with the concerns of the gun-law 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 being sold to a particular class of people. The name is sufficient evidence — the reference is to “niggertown Saturday night.” (Gun Control: White Man’s Law,William R. Tonso, Reason, December 1985)
1871 United States Anti-KKK Bill debated in response to race-motivated violence in South. A report on violence in the South resulted in an anti-KKK bill that stated “That whoever shall, without due process of law, by violence, intimidation, or threats, take away or deprive any citizen of the United States of any arms or weapons he may have in his house or possession for the defense of his person, family, or property, shall be deemed guilty of a larceny thereof, and be punished as provided in this act for a felony.” [1464 H. R. REP. No. 37, 41st Cong., 3rd Sess. p. 7-8 (20 Feb. 1871)]. Since Congress doesn’t have jurisdiction over simple larceny, the language was removed from the anti-KKK bill, but this section survives today as 42 USC Sec. 1983: “That any person who, under color of any law, … of any State, shall subject, or cause to be subjected, any person … to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities to which … he is entitled under the Constitution … shall be liable … in any action at law … for redress … .”
1875 United States High Court rules has no power to stop KKK members from disarming blacks. In United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. at 548-59 (1875) A member of the KKK, Cruikshank had been charged with violating the rights of two black men to peaceably assemble and to bear arms. The U. S. Supreme Court held that the federal government had no power to protect citizens against private action (not committed by federal or state government authorities) that deprived them of their constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment. The Court held that for protection against private criminal action, individuals are required to look to state governments. “The doctrine in Cruikshank, that blacks would have to look to state government for protection against criminal conspiracies gave the green light to private forces, often with the assistance of state and local governments, that sought to subjugate the former slaves and … With the protective arm of the federal government withdrawn, protection of black lives and property was left to largely hostile state governments.” (GLJ, p. 348.)
1879 Tennessee Second “Saturday Night Special” economic handgun ban passed. Tennessee revamped its economic handgun ban nine years later, passing “An Act to Prevent the Sale of Pistols,” which was upheld in State v. Burgoyne, 75 Tenn. 173, 174 (1881). (GMU CR LJ, p. 74)
1882 Arkansas Third “Saturday Night Special” economic handgun ban passed. Arkansas followed Tennessee’s lead by enacting a virtually identical “Saturday Night Special” law banning the sale of any pistols other than expensive “army or navy” model revolvers, which most whites had or could afford, thereby disarming blacks. Statute was upheld in Dabbs v. State, 39 Ark. 353 (1882) (GMU CR LJ, p. 74)
1893 Alabama First all-gun economic ban passed. Alabama placed “extremely heavy business and/or transactional taxes“ on the sale of handguns in an attempt ”to put handguns out of the reach of blacks and poor whites.“ (Gun Control: White Man’s Law, William R. Tonso, Reason, December 1985)
1902 South Carolina First total civilian handgun ban. The state banned all pistol sales except to sheriffs and their special deputies, which included the KKK and company strongmen. (Kates, ”Toward a History of Handgun Prohibition in the United States“ in Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out, p. 15, 1979.) (GMU CR LJ, p. 76)
1906 Mississippi Race-based confiscation through record-keeping. Mississippi enacted the first registration law for retailers in1906, requiring them to maintain records of all pistol and pistol ammunition sales, and to make such records available for inspection on demand. (Kates, p. 14) (GMU CR LJ, p. 75)
1907 Texas Fourth ”Saturday Night Special“ economic handgun ban. Placed ”extremely heavy business and/or transactional taxes” on the sale of handguns in an attempt “to put handguns out of the reach of blacks and poor whites.” (Gun Control: White Man’s Law, William R. Tonso, Reason, December 1985)
1911 New York Police choose who can own guns lawfully. “Sullivan Law” enacted, requiring police permission, via a permit issued at their discretion, to own a handgun. Unpopular minorities were and are routinely denied permits. (Gun Control: White Man’s Law, William R. Tonso, Reason, December 1985) “(T)here are only about 3, 000 permits in New York City, and 25, 000carry permits. If you’re a street-corner grocer in Manhattan, good luck getting a gun permit. But among those who have been able to wrangle a precious carry permit out of the city’s bureaucracy are Donald Trump, Arthur Ochs Sulzburger, William Buckley, Jr., and David, John, Lawrence and Winthrop Rockefeller. Surprise.” (Terrance Moran, Racism and the Firearms Firestorm, Legal Times)
1934 United States Gun Control Act of 1934 (National Firearms Act) passed.
1941 Florida Judge admits gun law passed to disarm black laborers. In concurring opinion narrowly construing a Florida gun control law passed in 1893, Justice Buford stated the 1893 law “was passed when there was a great influx of Negro laborers … The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the Negro laborers … The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied … .” Watson v. Stone, 148 Fla. 516, 524, 4 So. 2d 700, 703 (1941) (GMU CR LJ, p. 69)

The Following Historical Events Are Included as Context for Passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968:

Year Jurisdiction Statute
1954 United States Supreme Court held racial segregation of schools violates 14th Amendment.
1955 United States Alabama bus segregation ordinance held unconstitutional after boycott and NAACP protest.
1956 United States Massive resistance to Supreme Court desegregation ruling called for by 101 Southern congressmen.
1957 United States Congress approved first civil rights law for blacks. Governor ordered National Guard troops to prevent nine blacks from entering all-white high school in Little Rock; President Eisenhower had to send federal military troops to enforce court order that Guardsman be removed.
1960 United States Sit-ins began February 1 when four black college students in Greensboro, NC, refused to move from a lunch counter after being denied service; by 1961, more than 700, 000 students, black and white, had participated in sit-ins.
1962 United States 3,000 troops were required to quell riots after University of Mississippi accepted first black student.
1963 United States 200, 000 people participated in March on Washington, at which Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. President John F. Kennedy assassinated in November.
1964 United States Omnibus civil rights bill barring discrimination in voting, jobs, discrimination, etc.; three civil rights workers reported missing in Mississippi, found buried two months later, 21 white men arrested, seven of whom an all-white federal court jury convicted of conspiracy only.
1965 California 34 dead in race riot in Watts area of Los Angeles, CA.
1966 United States First black U. S. senator in 85 years elected (Edward Brook, R-MA)
1967 United States Race riots in Newark, NJ, kill 26, injure 1, 500, with over 1, 000 arrested. Race riots in Detroit, MI, killed at least 40, injured 2, 000 and left 5, 000 homeless; was quelled by 4, 700 federal paratroopers and 8, 000 National Guardsmen. Thurgood Marshall sworn in Oct. 2 as first black justice of the U. S. Supreme Court.
1968 United States Martin Luther King assassinated in April. Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in June.
1968 United States Gun Control Act of 1968 passed. Avowed anti-gun journalist Robert Sherrill frankly admitted that the Gun Control Act of 1968 was “passed not to control guns but to control Blacks.” [R. Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special, p. 280 (1972).] (GMU CRLJ, p. 80) “The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed not to control guns but to control blacks, and inasmuch as a majority of Congress did not want to do the former but were ashamed to show that their goal was the latter, the result was they did neither. Indeed, this law, the first gun-control law passed by Congress in thirty years, was one of the grand jokes of our time. First of all, bear in mind that it was not passed in one piece but was a combination of two laws. The original 1968 Act was passed to control handguns after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated with a rifle. Then it was repealed and repassed to include the control of rifles and shotgunsafter the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy with a handgun … The moralists of our federal legislature as well as sentimental editorial writers insist that the Act of 1968 was a kind of memorial to King and Robert Kennedy. If so, it was certainly a weird memorial, as can be seen not merely by the handgun/long-gun shell game, but from the inapplicability of the law to their deaths.” (The Saturday Night Special and Other Guns, Robert Sherrill, p. 280, 1972)
1988 Maryland Fifth “Saturday Night Special” economic handgun ban passes. Ban on “Saturday Night Specials,” i.e. inexpensive handguns, passes.
1988 Illinois Poor citizens singled out for gun ban in Illinois. Starting in late 1988, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and the Chicago Police Dept. (CPD) enacted and enforced an official policy, Operation Clean Sweep, which applied to all housing units owned and operated by the CHA. The purpose was the confiscation of firearms and illegal narcotics and consisted of warrantless searches and of a visitor exclusion policy severely limiting the right of CHA tenants to associate in their residences with family members and other guests, tenants had to sign in and out of the building, producing to the police or CHA officials photo Id. Relatives, including children and grandchildren, were not allowed to stay over, even on holidays. CHA tenants who objected or attempted to interfere with these warrantless searches were arrested. The ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of the CHA tenants against the enforcement of Operation Clean Sweep. The complaint was filed in the United Sates District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on December 16, 1988, as Case No. 88C10566 and is styled as Rose Summeries, et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority, et al. A consent decree was entered on November 30, 1989 in which the CHA and CPD agreed to abide by certain standards and in which the scope and purposes of such “emergency housing inspections” were limited. (GMU, p. 98)
1990 Virginia Poor citizens singled out for gun ban in Virginia. U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia upheld a ban imposed by the Richmond Housing Authority on the possession of all firearms, whether operable or not, in public housing projects. The Richmond Tenants Organization had challenged the ban, arguing that such requirement had made the city’s 14, 000 public housing residents second-class citizens. [Richmond Tenants Org. v. Richmond Dev. & House. Auth., No. C. A. 3:90CV00576 (E. D. Va. Dec. 3, 1990).] (GMU, p. 97)
1994 United States President seeks to single out all poor citizens residing in federal housing for gun ban. The Clinton Administration introduced H. R. 3838 in 1994 to ban guns in federal public housing, but the House Banking Committee reject edit. Similar legislation was filed in 1994 in the Oregon and Washington state legislatures.
1995 Maine Poor citizens singled out for gun ban in Maine. Portland, Maine, gun ban in public housing struck down on April 5, 1995.

This information comes from the NRA/ILA.

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