4 Kan. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 17 (1994-1995)
The Racist Roots of Gun Control

handle is hein.journals/kjpp4 and id is 169 raw text is: The Racist Roots
Gun Control
Clayton E. Cramer

The apparent goal of the
gun control and vagrancy
laws was to intimidate
the freedmen into
an economically
subservient position.

The historical record provides compelling evidence that
racism underlies gun control laws - and not in any subtle way.
Throughout much of American history, governments openly stated
that gun control laws were useful for keeping blacks and Hispanics
in their place and for quieting the racial fears of whites.
Racist arms laws predate the establishment of the United
States. This is not surprising. Blacks in the New World were often
slaves, and 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 blacks could actually handle freedom
often led New World governments to disarm all blacks, both slave
and free.
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.2 In Louisiana, the fear of Indian attack
and the importance of hunting to the colonial economy necessi-
tated that slaves sometimes possess firearms. The colonists had to
balance their fear of the Indians against their fear of their slaves.
As a result, French Louisiana passed laws that allowed slaves and
free blacks to possess firearms only under very controlled condi-
tions.3 Similarly, in the sixteenth century the colony of New Spain,
terrified of black slave revolts, prohibited all blacks, free and
slave, from carrying arms.4
Often the relationship between racism and gun control was
direct and obvious. On other occasions the connection was more
complex. One example of a complex relationship between eco-
nomic struggle, slavery, and possession of arms can be found in
seventeenth-century Virginia. The aristocratic power structure of
colonial Virginia confronted a political 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, but the threat of both Indian and
pirate attack made this impractical; all white men were armed and
had to be armed.5 Instead of empowering poor whites, blacks,
who had occupied a poorly defined status between indentured
servant and slave, were reduced to hereditary chattel slavery. In
this way, poor whites could be economically advantaged without
the upper class having to give up its privileges.6
In the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s, the slave population
successfully threw off their French masters. As the Revolution
degenerated into a race war, existing fears increased in the French
Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer with a telecommunications
manufacturer in Northern California and author of For the Defense of
Themselves and the State: The Original Intent & Judicial Interpretation
of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Winter 1995

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