The Complexion Of The Gun Rights Movement


Over the weekend, Charles C.W. Cooke urged Second Amendment activists to “consider talking a little less about Valley Forge and a little more about Jim Crow”:

Malcolm X may have a deservedly mixed reputation, but the famous photograph of him standing at the window, rifle in hand, insisting on black liberation “by any means necessary,” is about as American as it gets. It should be celebrated just like the “Don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag. By not making that connection, the movement is losing touch with one of its greatest triumphs and forsaking a prime illustration of why its cause is so just and so crucial.

Francis Wilkinson finds Cooke’s argument wanting:

If you’re looking for a model of public engagement, it’s hard to do worse than “by any means necessary.” The slogan obliterates compromise — it doesn’t repel violence so much as demand it. And in the late 1960s era of romantic leftist rebellion, Weatherman and others delivered memorably, irrevocably, bloodily, on the promise. …

Ultimately, Cooke’s vision of welcoming blacks into the gun movement ends right where other visions of maximum gun rights end: before the trouble begins. The chief problem with the gun-rights movement is not that it makes distinctions based on race — although it does. The biggest problem is that it doesn’t make distinctions based on more meaningful criteria: mental soundness, personal responsibility, adequate training.

Update from a reader:

I wish that Francis Wilkinson explained further how Malcolm X and his defiance to white supremacy are so negative when it comes to gun rights.  The way Wilkinson writes about Malcolm X makes it sound as if it was within Malcolm’s control not to be oppressed by white America.  The slogan “by any means necessary” didn’t obliterate compromise; white Americans lynching African Americans did that.  White Americans beating, shooting, and drowning a child did that.  A racist judicial system did that.  White America obliterated compromise over and over and over again for generations, yet today it’s unquestioned when people describe Malcolm X as “a man with a deservedly mixed reputation.”

Malcolm X spoke the phrase “by any means necessary” in a speech announcing the creation of a new organization after he left the Nation of Islam.  A larger quote helps fill in the context:

That’s our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary. We don’t feel that in 1964, living in a country that is supposedly based upon freedom, and supposedly the leader of the free world, we don’t think that we should have to sit around and wait for some segregationist congressmen and senators and a President from Texas in Washington, D. C., to make up their minds that our people are due now some degree of civil rights. No, we want it now or we don’t think anybody should have it.

Note that he was not holding a rifle while giving this speech.  The image and speech are combined by many, including both Cooke and Wilkinson to paint a picture of Malcolm X as irrationally violent rather than someone focused on personal and community self preservation.

I agree with Wilkinson’s overall point about distinctions over meaningful criteria for gun rights, but I wish he would keep in mind why there ever was a radical black nationalist movement.

Previous Dish on gun rights in black America here.