Similar work in Bogalusa, Louisiana drove the KKK out of that town as well, and led to a turning point in the civil rights movement. Acting as private citizens in lawful employment of their constitutional rights, the Deacons demonstrated the real social impact of the freedoms our nation’s founders held dear.
As legendary civil rights leader Roy Innis recently said to me, the Deacons forced the Klan to re-evaluate their actions and often change their undergarments.
Their actions in the mid 1960s had perhaps more impact on the progress of civil rights than did President Eisenhower’s 1957 dispatching of troops to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
That gun rights have played such a pivotal role in racial equality makes the historical correlation between gun control and discriminatory policies unsurprising. From their beginnings, gun control measures have worked to create legal disparities, granting unequal rights to members of various socioeconomic groups.
In fact, restrictive gun laws have long been employed to the benefit of a select elite while circumscribing the liberty of populations less popular or less powerful.
Gun control measures, from the slave gun bans of the 1700s South to the Brady Bill regulations of the 1990s have unfairly targeted black Americans and have worked to curtail a disproportionate number of their constitutional rights. Access to firearms was understood by our founders and many early American jurists as an essential aspect of full US citizenship, and it was for this reason that the Black Codes established after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment -- which constitutionally abolished slavery -- prevented black freemen from owning guns.
In prohibiting blacks from exercising the freedoms granted other Americans in the Second Amendment, the Black Codes emphasized the notion that African-Americans were not true citizens with full human rights. This point was raised by the Majority in Dred Scott v. Sanford in defense of the institution of slavery. By the 1870’s, preventing Blacks from having access to guns had become one of the primary goals of the Ku Klux Klan.
As Gun Owners of America President Larry Platt shared with me this summer and wrote in 2004 regarding the Deacons, the history of gun control appears to have been one of controlling people rather than reducing violence.
Examining both our nation’s constitution and the history of gun rights in America, the right to keep and bear arms has been at the forefront of our nation’s march to liberty and equality. The Second Amendment, which empowers Americans to embrace all of the freedoms and responsibilities their citizenship entails, has been the catalyst of tremendous social progress. While some may dismiss the centrality of gun ownership to “progressive” ideals, groups such as the Deacons for Defense have shown us that a citizenry understanding of their rights to bear arms is one likely to understand and defend our basic civil rights and the principles of equality and freedom.