Tuesday, June 8, 2010

McDonald Vs Chicago: None Of Us Are Free Until All Of Us Are Free

As our nation awaits a decision from the Supreme Court sometime this month in the McDonald vs Chicago Case, one can't escape a sense of irony about this moment in time. It appears that the battle for the preservation of gun rights has truly come full circle, as its future hinges upon events exactly where it began - the black community.

It is no coincidence that gun laws are most strict in areas of our country where black people or other minorities are significant. For example, today there are tough - perhaps draconian - gun laws in states of New York, California, and Illinois which effectively restricts access to arms from large communities of black people and other minorities in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Gun control is a tool that was invented by racists to keep minorities unarmed and vulnerable to attack from men who had a penchant for wearing white hoods and riding horses throughout the night to exact what many today would characterize as domestic terrorism upon the black community.

The practice of wholesale disarmament of black people was widely adopted and practiced in earnest after the end of slavery under the guise of preventing former slaves from exacting reprisal attacks against their former masters. No one knows with any certainty if there would have been any revenge attacks if blacks were lawfully armed, however one consequence of these laws was that many black folks were vulnerable and did suffer from attacks by the Klan.

Laws such as the "Black Codes" were enacted that either strictly forbade the ownership of arms to blacks, required a discriminatory or discretionary system of registration or licensing, or made firearms so expensive that they were largely unaffordable to minorities - a de facto gun ban.

The chief problem with discriminatory laws, such as those done in the name of gun control (i.e. race control), is that once the practice is widespread and accepted it is only a matter of time before it goes mainstream and is applied to all citizens - blacks, whites, and others.

Gun control laws, once they had gained a foot-hold on the political landscape, started to proliferate. In 1911 New York City passed the Sullivan Act and in the 1920's and 1930's many states, including Michigan, passed state-wide acts to regulate the sale and possession of handguns as significant numbers of black people relocated from the south during the "Great Migration" to seek a better life in the industrialized northern states.

In 1927, Michigan enacted the Michigan Firearms Act at the behest of the Klan in response to the acquittal of Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black physician, who successfully defended his home against a mob of 500 people belonging to the "Neighborhood Improvement Association."

The Sweet Trial was arguably notable in the annals of Michigan history for a variety of factors including his being found not guilty by an all-white jury for the killing of two white men in self-defense, his defense counsel was famed attorney Clarence Darrow, and the presiding judge was Frank Murphy who later became a US Supreme Court Justice.

The Michigan Firearms Act created, amongst other things, a handgun licensing requirement and County Gun Boards. The predictable and eventual result of this discretionary system was that it effectively denied access to arms to black people. This system of discretionary licensing was in effect until the passage of PA 381 of 2000, amidst the howls of unfounded but predicted cries of "blood will be running in the streets" from local politicians and clergy who were complicit in the wholesale disarmament of black people.

Other gun laws that were enacted during this new-found era of gun control fever were the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, and the Gun Control Act of 1968. Certainly, one would agree that gun control was no longer just about disarming black people but had spread with the intent of disarming Americans in general.

At issue today in the McDonald vs Chicago case is whether the city's current handgun ban is unConstitutional. Make no mistake about it, this case isn't just about Chicago. This case has the potential to redefine the US political landscape with respect to the ownership and possession of arms throughout the entire country.

Regardless of how the Court rules, either broadly or narrowly in the scope of its decision, the battle for gun rights does not end here. In the wake of the Heller Decision, which ruled that the D.C. gun ban was unConstitutional many anticipate a pro-gun ruling. If such a decision will be made there most certainly will be legal skirmishes throughout the country to "flesh out" exactly what the expected decision truly means.

The battle for gun rights got its genesis in the black community, is currently being fought ostensibly on the behalf of the black community, and has the potential to create a lot changes in the future of the black community. However, one thing is abundantly clear - this issue of gun rights is bigger than the black community. It affects us all.

Until all of us are free, none of us are free.

No comments: