Does slavery have any place in the gun control debate?

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eff Dillard (R), a co-owner of the National Armory gun store, helps Richard Fuller with an AR-15 rifle on January 16, 2013 in Pompano Beach, Florida. President Barack Obama today in Washington, DC announced a broad range of gun initiatives that his administration thinks will help curb gun violence. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

eff Dillard (R), a co-owner of the National Armory gun store, helps Richard Fuller with an AR-15 rifle on January 16, 2013 in Pompano Beach, Florida. President Barack Obama today in Washington, DC announced a broad range of gun initiatives that his administration thinks will help curb gun violence. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rock musician and gun enthusiast Ted Nugent compared gun owners to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955 and became a symbol for the movement to desegregate the South.  “There will come a time when the gun owners of America, the law-abiding gun owners of America, will be the Rosa Parks and we will sit down on the front seat of the bus, case closed,” he said. 

Further, Larry Ward, an organizer of “Gun Appreciation Day” – a nationwide rally organized by conservative groups in opposition to the president’s gun control efforts— argued Dr. King would have approved of their goals. 

I think Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African-Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history,” Ward told CNN. 

Gun Appreciation Day took place on January 19th, coinciding with the presidential inauguration and Martin Luther King’s birthday.  Across America, 79 people were shot that day, 32 of whom died. 

And journalists Bob Schieffer and Tom Brokaw, commenting on President Obama’s executive orders on gun control, invoked the civil rights movement as well.

“Let’s remember: there was considerable opposition when Lyndon Johnson went to the Congress and…presented some of the most comprehensive civil rights legislation in the history of this country,” Schieffer said.  “Most people told him he couldn’t get it done, but he figured out a way to do it. And that’s what Barack Obama is going to have to do.”

The veteran broadcaster added, “Surely, finding Osama bin Laden; surely, passing civil rights legislation, as Lyndon Johnson was able to do; and before that, surely, defeating the Nazis, was a much more formidable task than taking on the gun lobby.

Brokaw echoed Schieffer’s sentiments in an appearance on Morning Joe.  “Now it’s time for the people who do have strong feelings, who are feeling that they can’t do anything about it, to kind of band together and have something to say here,”  Brokaw said, speaking to Rev. Al Sharpton.

“Good people stayed in their houses and didn’t speak up when there was carnage in the streets and the total violation of a fundamental rights of African-Americans as they marched in Selma, and they let Bull Connor and the redneck elements of the South and the Klan take over their culture in effect and become a face of it,” Brokaw continued.  “And now a lot of people who I know who grew up during that time have deep regrets about not speaking out.”

Martin Luther King was known for his philosophy of nonviolence, yet in the 1950s he owned firearms for protection, and applied for a concealed weapon permit.  King adviser Glenn Smiley called the civil rights leader’s home “an arsenal.”  And Dr. King, his home and family were protected by armed followers.

The target of death threats, King and many civil rights activists maintained guns for self-defense.  According to journalist and veteran civil rights activist Charles E. Cobb Jr. in an interview with Richard Prince in The Root, “without the armed protection given to civil rights workers by farmers and others, there would have been a lot more deaths.”

In 1964, a group of black men in Jonesboro, Louisiana—mostly war veterans—formed the Deacons of Defense and Justice to protect the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) against the terrorist violence of the Ku Klux Klan and the police.  The group grew to several hundred members and twenty-one chapters in the South, an often untold story of the civil rights movement that led to the federal government going after the Klan.  The existence of the Deacons dispels the notion of a completely nonviolent civil resistance movement, reflecting a self-defense stance resembling Malcolm X and subsequently the Black Panther Party.

However, Martin Luther King ultimately turned away from self-defense and more fully embraced nonviolence.  And in 1967, in a speech at Riverside Church in New York, Dr. King spoke out against the war in Vietnam.

In his speech, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient decried what he called “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.”  He said, “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.”

“Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government,” he declared.

Speaking of the Vietnamese people, Dr. King asked, “What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe?”

Martin Luther King became a victim of gun violence when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis in 1968.  Six years later, his mother, Alberta, was shot to death at a Sunday service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta as she played “The Lord’s Prayer” on the organ.

Meanwhile, as the gun control debate continues across America, along with comparisons to slavery and civil rights, communities of color are far more likely to express dissatisfaction with the nation’s gun policies and want stricter laws—49 percent versus 34 percent of whites.

Moreover, people of color are the majority of gun violence victims.  In 2010, blacks accounted for 56 percent of all gun homicides, and in 2008 and 2009 gun homicide was the leading cause of death among black teens.  Black teens are 25 times more likely to be injured by a gun than their white counterparts.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove