The New York gun-carry law facing a Supreme Court challenge has racist roots, a leading black gun-owner group says.
The National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) filed a brief against the law on Monday. The group argued New York’s provision that allows government officials to deny full gun-carry permits based on their subjective judgment of whether the applicant has a “good reason” for one is rooted in past American law. However, it said, those laws were explicitly adopted to deprive black Americans of their gun rights.
“During the colonial, founding, and early republic periods, slaves and even free blacks, particularly in the southern states, were either barred from carrying a firearm at all or were required to obtain a license to do so, which was subject to the discretion of a government official,” the group said in the brief. “African Americans were not considered as among ‘the people’ with the ‘right’ to ‘bear arms.'”
NAAGA has seen incredible growth over the past year and a half as black Americans bought guns at a faster rate than most other groups. A survey from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry’s trade group, found purchases by African Americans increased 56 percent between 2019 and 2020. The Supreme Court brief in favor of striking down New York’s law represents one of the first major forays NAAGA has made into political advocacy. It also showcases the group’s new strategy as it eyes becoming more politically active.
The group said early restrictions on gun carry show that the right to bear arms was guaranteed to individuals, since legal requirements to obtain a special permit were limited to blacks. It was the racist idea that the Constitution did not protect the rights of black Americans that undergirded “good reason” requirements, NAAGA argues.
“In sum, having no arms right was an incident of slavery,” it said. “Even free blacks were required to obtain a license to possess or carry a firearm, and the license could limit possession to one’s premises. Such laws were based on the denial of the rights of citizenship to African Americans.”
Congress attempted to rectify the harm done by early racist gun-control laws through the civil rights acts of 1866 and 1871 as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. But, the group noted, many southern states circumvented those protections with the introduction of segregation laws. It said those laws employed identical “good reason” requirements for the issuance of gun-carry permits.
“New York’s discretionary licensing scheme is within a similar legacy as the Black Codes and Jim Crow regimes that prohibited the carrying of firearms by African Americans without a license subject to the discretion of the licensing authority,” the group said. “The difference is that, instead of discriminating only against black people, it deprives the people at large of the right to bear arms and bestows the privilege on a tiny subset of ‘the people.'”
NAAGA pointed to the most famous instance of an American being denied a gun-carry permit under a law requiring a “good reason” to need one: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
After Racists bombed King’s home in January 1956, he applied for a permit that would allow for him or his guards to carry a gun in their cars. At the time, Alabama’s law required a “good reason” for such a permit and gave local sheriffs discretion in deciding who qualified. Despite the bombing and the overwhelming number of threats received by King at the time, Sheriff Mac Sim Butler denied the application, leaving the civil rights leader and his protectors unarmed.
“I went to the sheriff to get a permit for those people who are guarding me,” King said in a meeting of civil rights leaders. “Couldn’t get one. In substance, he was saying ‘you are at the disposal of the hoodlums.’”
NAAGA said New York’s current law presents the same potential for abuse as Alabama’s Jim Crow-era law.
“Would Rev. King have been able to get a carry license under New York’s discretionary ‘proper cause’ law?” the group said. “Would he have been able to ‘demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession’?”
The group concluded that New York’s “good reason” requirement for obtaining a gun-carry permit is a product of racist gun-control practices from a reviled part of American history and should be struck down by the Supreme Court.
“In historical perspective,” NAAGA said, “New York’s law is heir to the Black Codes and Jim Crow regimes except that, instead of discriminating only against black people, it deprives the people at large of the right to bear arms, which is reserved to members of a privileged class determined by government officials to have ‘good cause.'”