On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a major decision. In a 5-4 ruling, the high court determined that the Second Amendment applies to the ability of state and local authorities to regulate gun laws. Although the decision promises to impact all sectors of the country, it will have its most immediate and direct effect on Black communities, which have the most rigid and repressive gun restrictions in the nation.
As someone deeply concerned with violence prevention, it is tempting to echo the angry sentiments of mainstream American liberals, who regard the latest decision as a major step backward. For them, gun ownership is an expendable rather than inalienable right, one that is worth ceding in exchange for a more peaceful society. While I sympathize with such a desire, I find the cost of the ticket too high.
As citizens of the United States, we live in a nation founded on revolutionary violence and sustained through a range of violent practices. It was this belief in the redemptive possibilities of violence that informed the creation of the Second Amendment, which allows citizens to keep and bear arms to prevent the creation of an unjust, anti-democratic, or outright tyrannical government. In other words, American democracy is underwritten by the possibility that everyday citizens can fight back if the government no longer acts in the interest of freedom and justice. For Blacks, who have never received the full protection of the State, such a right must be viewed as an indispensable nonnegotiable component of complete citizenship.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its romantic cultural obsession with guns, the United States government has gone to great lengths to disarm Black bodies. From the pre-Civil War â€œSlave Codesâ€ that explicitly prohibited Blacks from possessing firearms, to exorbitant post-war gun tariffs that priced Blacks (and poor whites) out of the gun market, the State has always attempted to take guns out of the hands of Black citizens. Such conditions rendered Blacks even more vulnerable to state sponsored forms of terrorism, abuse, and exploitation.
Although todayâ€™s gun control laws are facially neutral, they continue to disempower and literally disarm poor communities of color. Over the past 20 years, many states have imposed gun permit laws that allow police and other state agencies to determine which individuals are â€œworthyâ€ of gun ownership. Gun bans against public housing residents, expressly designed to prevent violent crime, have served to disarm poor Blacks almost exclusively. While rural white communities have done little to encroach upon the gun possession rights of citizens, majority-Black urban centers like Washington, D.C. and Chicago have imposed draconian anti-gun laws on the community. Regardless of intent, these laws have a clear and disproportionate impact on poor people of color.