What history tells us about solving gun violence
Banned Histories of Race in America
On October 25, my home state of Maine experienced the deadliest US mass shooting of this year so far. Predictably, on one side are thoughts and prayers and on the other are calls to contact our congressional representatives. A history we leave out explains very clearly why these approaches have never worked.
Gun laws debuted on this land in colonial Virginia in 1640. The law stated “That all such free Mulattoes, Negroes and Indians… shall appear without arms.”
The first national gun law is the Second Amendment, which reads in its entirety, “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.”
The gun debate has always danced around that word “militia”. What gets left out is that the following year the Militia Act of 1792 defined that word by outlawing membership of said militia to anyone who wasn’t a “white male citizen”.
In 1876 in US v Cruikshank, the US Supreme Court said that it was perfectly legal for the KKK to steal guns from Black people.
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Poll taxes had been successful in keeping Black people from voting. So throughout the late-nineteenth and early-20th centuries, Southern states attempted similar strategies blocking Black citizens’ right to bear arms. This plan of taxing guns out of Black reach eventually went nation-wide with the National Firearms Act of 1934.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed to keep poor Black people from owning guns and was criticized at the time and since as the “Black Control Act”.
The 1994 Assault Weapon Ban was part of the infamous and racist crime bill of the same year that not only expanded the school-to-prison pipeline and forced mandatory life-sentences for people with three or more felony convictions, but also authorized the death penalty of 60 new federal offenses. And, while it did lower the use of assault weapons in crimes, it did not lower crime as the absence was replaced “by steady or rising use of other semi-automatics equipped with large-capacity magazines,” according to Christopher Koper, author of the definitive study of the Ban.
These are just broad strokes. This country has passed countless laws restricting or banning Black gun ownership (I’ve gone into more detail here). But even this small list shows that for more than a century before it even existed, this country has done everything it can to give white men a legal monopoly on gun violence. Knowing this, it’s blindingly obvious why there is such a wildly disproportionate number of white male mass shooters—not to mention suicides-by-gun.
There is no question as to why this country is plagued by gun violence and gun deaths and any attempt to solve this problem without taking this obvious answer into account will only guarantee more tragedy.