Estimated reading time: 8 mins.
*Note: a 1,500-word blog post is certainly not enough time to tackle an issue as complex and layered as guns in America. In this article, I’ll seek to unravel why I felt the way I did about guns as a starting point for discussion.*
Let’s play word association.
When I say the name Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what words come to your mind? Maybe marching? Maybe boycott? Maybe preacher?
These are some words that may pop into your head, but here are some words that are definitely associated with Dr. King: peaceful, pacifist, non-violent (I hyphenated it so it’s still one word). If you’re like me, when you picture MLK, you picture a man calling for non-violent resistance to racial oppressors.
Imagine my surprise when I read the works of William Worthy, a journalist who covered the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who reported that “…once, during a visit to King’s home, he went to sit down on an armchair in the living room and, to his surprise, almost sat on a loaded gun. Glenn Smiley, an adviser to King, described King’s home as “an arsenal.”
Wait…Dr. King had an arsenal? Dr. “I Have a Dream” had loaded guns in his house?
I bring this up, not to argue about whether or not Dr. King should have had guns or to explain why he did. When I read that, I asked myself one simple question: why didn’t I know that? I mean, I was not alive while Dr. King was, so everything I’ve learned of him I learned from someone else. Everyone else is the world ONLY talked to me about Dr. King as an advocate for non-violence. That is the only narrative I’ve ever heard about his life. Why didn’t I know that in 1956, he applied for a concealed carry permit (that was denied because he was black)?
To be sure, Dr. King would later abandon self-defense as a strategy in favor of non-violent resistance. But, I realized that I never read in any school textbook that self-defense was ever a strategy for MLK. Why was a black man’s desire to own a gun buried deep within the annals of history?
I then wrestled with my actual thoughts on gun ownership, and here’s where I landed: I had always felt that gun ownership was distinctly non-Christian. No one ever sat me down and said, “Gun ownership is non-Christian.” But based on what I had been told about Jesus, being a gun owner felt like something that was not for Christians.
So, as I try to do with all of my beliefs, I asked myself why. Why did I believe this? Why did gun ownership seem to be no problem for white Christians, but somehow feel like a problem for me? While the reasons are complex and layered, I’ll give you my position on the three main reasons why.
First – they did to Jesus what they did to Dr. King. They white-washed him and turned him into a peace-loving, non-violent hippie. Imagine my shock when I learned that Jesus called for armed resistance when he said things like:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 10:34 ESV
“He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’”
Luke 22:36 ESV
“I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything right side up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!”
Luke 12:49–51 Message
Now again, I’m not arguing the theological basis of these scriptures. What I’m pointing out is the fact that this Jesus was never presented to me. The Jesus that was presented to me was overwhelmingly a “turn the other cheek” Jesus. Why didn’t I know this “get your swords and let’s ride” Jesus?
This brought me to point number two in my thinking of why I thought that gun ownership was anti-Christian…
Second – there has been a concerted effort in this country, since its inception, to keep guns out of the hands of black people. Gun control policies in America have racist origins and their enforcement seems to follow racial lines even today!
Slave codes and Black Codes explicitly prohibited black people from owning guns. For example, there was a statute on the books in 1680 in Virginia “Prohibiting negroes, slave and free, from carrying weapons including clubs.” Before America was officially established as a country, black people were banned from arming and defending themselves.
In 1791, the second amendment to the Constitution was ratified. In 1792, the militia that was referred to in the second amendment officially excluded black people:
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.”
In 1861, the Civil War began. Later that same year in Florida, the Act of Dec. 17, 1861, ch. 1291, Sec. 11,1861 Fla. Laws 38, 40 was passed that said:
“…white citizen patrols might search the homes of blacks, both free and slave, and confiscate arms held therein.”
In 1968, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was 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.”
In 1994, The Clinton Administration introduced H.R. 3838 in 1994 to ban guns in federal public housing. Although the House Banking Committee rejected it on a national level, similar legislation was filed in 1994 in the Oregon and Washington state legislatures.
Knowing that Black Americans were good, God-fearing, church-going people, I believe that we were given the “white-washed, peace-loving” Jesus as another tactic of psychological gun-control. Black people were offered a Christianity that said: “the meek shall inherit the earth” while white people got to keep the gun-totting Christianity for themselves.
I’m not able to speak on why this approach was taken unless through my own anecdotal thoughts. White people were/are afraid that blacks will do to them what they did to us. Hence, it makes sense to make sure blacks remain unarmed and unable to defend themselves.
Third – black families are disproportionately affected by gun violence. In their article “Gun Violence and the Minority Experience” Yolanda T. Mitchell, Ph.D., and Tiffany L. Bromfield, M.A. state that:
“Twenty percent of all firearm homicides occur in the 25 largest U.S. cities (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 2011). Of the 12,979 firearm homicides in the United States in 2015, 81% occurred in urban areas (CDC, 2017). The disparity is even greater in certain geographies of large cities, specifically those that are more racially and ethnically diverse. For example, in 2014, in Philadelphia’s safest police district, which is approximately 85% White, no one was reported killed by gun violence. In the most violent district, with a roughly 90% Black population, there were 189 shooting victims and 40 deaths (Philadelphia Police Department, 2017). The homicide rate for Black Americans in all 50 states is, on average, eight times higher than that of Whites (CDC, 2017). In general, U.S. residents are 128 times more likely to be killed by everyday gun violence than by international terrorism; Black people specifically are 500 times more likely to die this way (Xu, Murphy, Kochanek, & Bastian, 2016).”