On Guns, Err on the Side of Liberty

Note: The Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE) hosted a group of prominent figures from the black community on Friday, February 22, 2013 at the National Press Club to speak out against gun control legislation currently being considered on Capitol Hill. The following is a statement I contributed to CURE in support of this event and in lieu of my attendance.

In 1640, Virginia's first recorded legislation barred black people from owning guns. From that point forward, history is replete with examples of gun control laws aimed exclusively at disarming blacks, which made it easier to enslave them and, in the years following slavery, to terrorize them and lynch them without meaningful resistance. The law-abiding black citizen has been and continues to be a victim of those who would deny them the right to keep and bear arms.

One of former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's most searing childhood memories was of her father and his friends, sitting at the head of the cul-de-sac leading into their neighborhood, armed and ready to defend their families against Knight Riders of the Ku Klux Klan. She said if their guns had been registered with the local authorities, they would have been confiscated, and their neighborhood would have been an easy target for these domestic terrorists. Because of her experience, she declared, "I am a Second Amendment absolutist."

Given the racism inherent in America's gun control history, it was appropriate that the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case which determined the Second Amendment to be fully applicable to state and local jurisdictions was filed under the name of Otis McDonald, a retired maintenance engineer and a black man whose home in Chicago had been broken into five times, and whose neighborhood had become a haven for gangs and drug dealers. When the city of Chicago denied him a handgun to defend himself and his home, he and three other Chicago residents filed a lawsuit which led to the Supreme Court ruling in their favor, and in support of the Second Amendment.

The city of Chicago, to its discredit, continues to look for ways to violate the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, while criminals with illegally obtained firearms are killing people, many of them innocent bystanders, in record numbers. As of the end of January 2013, 40 people had been gunned down in Chicago, a grim start after a year which saw 500 homicides. All the gun-control measures in effect in Chicago are, frankly, ineffective, and the people who are suffering the most, whatever their intent, are black people who are being denied, once again, the right to protect themselves, this time from predators and criminals.

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey says, "Listen to me, the people dying in Chicago, the people dying in Newark are not being done with law-abiding gun owners. We do not need to go after the guns. A law-abiding mentally stable American, that's not America's problem."

It is indeed tragic that incidents like Columbine, Aurora and Newtown take place, and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill is a worthwhile objective, if it is possible to enforce such a provision without violating yet another set of rights. I would remind people that, here in Virginia, the state government used mental health information to forcibly sterilize 7,325 people under the Eugenical Sterilization Act between 1924 and 1979. Government is an agent of force, and we should always proceed with caution when surrendering our rights for safety and security.

The mass shootings that make the news and stir calls to action, however, pale before the carnage taking place in the black community, with more than 7,000 blacks murdered each year, usually by other blacks. Blacks account for more than 50 percent of the homicide victims, and they represent most of the victims of violent personal crimes. Yet absolutely none of the weapons bans being called for by legislators in Washington would budge the needle on these statistics.

Once again, Washington is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” There are harder questions about the breakdown of the family, the devaluaton of life, and the diminution of virtue that, if answered, would do more to curb the violence in our communities than any gun ban. But these are difficult and long-term issues, and they don't appeal to the soundbite culture or the need for politicians to gain immediate gratification so they can move on to the next issue.

If the politicians won't address the hard questions, and the police cannot protect us, the least we can do is demand that the government not take away our ability to protect ourselves. Benjamin Franklin said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." We know that gun control will not guarantee our safety, but preserving our liberties under the Second Amendment gives us a fighting chance, and we should err on the side of liberty.