Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms

January 24, 2014

I’m delighted to report that Prof. Nicholas Johnson (Fordham University School of Law) will be guest-blogging next week about his new book, Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. Here’s a summary of the book from the publisher:

Chronicling the underappreciated black tradition of bearing arms for self-defense, law professor Nicholas Johnson presents an array of examples reaching back to the pre-Civil War era that demonstrate a willingness of African American men and women to use firearms when necessary to defend their families and communities. From Frederick Douglass’s advice to keep “a good revolver” handy as defense against slave catchers to the armed black men who protected Thurgood Marshall, it is clear that owning firearms was commonplace in the black community.

Johnson points out that this story has been submerged because it is hard to reconcile with the dominant narrative of nonviolence during the civil rights era. His book, however, resolves that tension by showing how the black tradition of arms maintained and demanded a critical distinction between private self-defense and political violence.

In the last two chapters, Johnson addresses the unavoidable issue of young black men with guns and the toll that gun violence takes on many in the inner city. He shows how complicated this issue is by highlighting the surprising diversity of views on gun ownership in the black community. In fact, recent Supreme Court affirmations of the right to bear arms resulted from cases led by black plaintiffs.

Surprising and informative, this well-researched book strips away many stock assumptions of conventional wisdom on the issue of guns and the black freedom struggle.

And here’s a jacket blurb, from my UCLA Law School colleague Adam Winkler:

America’s gun culture is often thought to be lily white. In this groundbreaking book, Nicholas Johnson shows how African Americans, from the abolitionists to the Deacons for Defense and Justice, have taken up arms time and again to fight for their rights and their lives. You’ll never look at guns and the Second Amendment in the same way again.

I much look forward to Prof. Johnson’s posts.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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