North Carolina Denying the Racist Roots of Its Own Jim Crow Gun Laws
You’re expected to believe in ‘systemic racism’ but not in the racist origins of North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit law.
North Carolina – Riddle: When is a Jim Crow law not a Jim Crow law? Answer: When the left says it isn’t. Ironically, one of the people denying it is an NAACP leader who, by all appearances, doesn’t know what a Jim Crow law is.
In Lefty Land, it’s apparently acceptable only to remove some leftover Jim Crow laws, such as the unconstitutional literacy test in the North Carolina Constitution. Said a piece by ABC-11, “Literacy tests were widely used in the South after the Reconstruction Era. The tests were just one tool white leaders used to keep Black citizens from voting,” all without saying so, of course.
And why couldn’t they openly ban Blacks from voting? To answer that, let’s briefly look at the history of Jim Crow laws and exactly what they are. Then we’ll discuss why leftists consider some Jim Crow laws, to paraphrase George Orwell, “more equal than others.”
A (very) brief history of Reconstruction
Responding to post-war violence against Southern Blacks, in 1866 Congress placed formerly Confederate states under control of the U.S. military, further requiring they guarantee the civil rights of Blacks before re-admittance to the U.S. During the Reconstruction Era, Republicans – including Black Republicans – were often elected to state and local governments in the South.
Between 1866 and 1870, the U.S. also ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments which, respectively, freed the slaves, applied the Bill of Rights to States as well as the federal government, and protected the right of Blacks to vote, effectively ending formal “Black Codes” used in the late 1860’s to suppress freed Blacks.
But Reconstruction effectively ended with the “Compromise of 1877,” when the last troops left formerly Confederate states. Thus began the backlash against Reconstruction known as the “Jim Crow” era (named for a pejorative caricature of Blacks), with attendant gains in power by Democrats and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.
A defining characteristic of Jim Crow laws was that in order to avoid demonstrable violation of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, such laws had to, at least ostensibly, not be about race. Thus, a literacy test to vote was ostensibly not intended to keep Blacks from voting, and North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit law, under which a Clerk of Court could deny handguns to those deemed not of “good moral character,” was ostensibly not intended to keep Blacks from getting guns.
Wait … guns?
Gun control is racist? How awkward…
In the U.S., gun control has a long and racist history. In the Georgetown Law Journal,1 Robert Cottrol and Raymond Diamond wrote, “To forestall the possibility that free blacks would rebel either on their own or with slaves, the southern states limited not only the right of slaves, but also of free blacks to bear arms.” The paper then goes on to describe pre-Civil War restrictions on bearing arms specifically imposed on Blacks in Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida dating back to 1824.
Describing how post-war Black Codes often included firearms licenses, Cottrol and Diamond say:
“…northern Republicans were particularly alarmed at provisions of the black codes that effectively preserved the right to keep and bear arms for former Confederates while disarming blacks…The efforts to disarm the freedmen were in the background when the 39th Congress debated the Fourteenth Amendment, and played an important part in convincing the 39th Congress that traditional notions concerning federalism and individual rights needed to change.”
In The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies? David Kopel describes how gun laws were enforced during Jim Crow:
“Even in states where white supremacy was back in control … laws to disarm [Blacks] had to be cloaked in neutral, non-racial terms. Tennessee took the lead in 1870 with creative draftsmanship. The legislature barred the sale of any handguns except the ‘Army and Navy model.’ The ex-confederate soldiers already had their high-quality ‘Army and Navy’ guns. But cash-poor freedmen could barely afford lower-cost, simpler firearms not of ‘Army and Navy’ quality.”2
North Carolina’s Jim Crow gun law
Following race riots in East St. Louis in 1917, both Missouri and North Carolina quickly passed handgun “permit to purchase” (P2P) laws.3 Although North Carolina’s version has changed since passage in 1919, permits were originally issued by Clerks of Superior Court, who were required to satisfy themselves of the “good moral character” of the applicant – a measure which scholar Clayton Cramer suggests may have been “a euphemism to hide something that even in 1919 would have been an embarrassment…”4
Cramer goes on to say, “…race has often been at the heart of gun control laws, and while there are no ‘smoking gun’ quotes with respect to P2P, there are some pieces of circumstantial evidence that suggest that the law was intended to be enforced in a racially discriminatory manner.”5
Indeed, newspaper clippings from the era suggest how the P2P law was enforced. Said a December 31, 1930 Durham Sun headline: “Pistol Permits Issued to Many: 450 Citizens Received Permission Since 1919; Mostly Whites” [emphasis added]. It goes on to explain, “A total of 450 permits to purchase pistols have been issued to Durham citizens since 1919, according to records kept in the office of clerk of superior court. Few permits were issued to Negroes, the records show, the issuance being restricted almost entirely to white persons [emphasis added].
An April 1, 1920 piece in the Rockingham Post-Dispatch – just months after the P2P law took effect – published the name and race of people who got permits, such as this one: “July 19 – Alex Wall, colored, age 46” [emphasis added]. Cramer found two clippings from Winston-Salem – one in which 14 of 15 defendants charged with carrying concealed weapons were described as “colored” and another in which 19 of 20 defendants are described as “colored.”6
NAACP backs Jim Crow
The debate over repealing North Carolina’s P2P law took a surreal turn a few weeks ago in a press conference held by Becky Ceartas, head of North Carolinians “Against Gun Violence” and Gerald Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP. In opposing repeal, Givens said: “We need to stop this disingenuous argument that somehow it’s a relic of Jim Crow. The U.S. Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution are all relics of Jim Crow, so we need to stop that argument.”
There you have it, folks: An NAACP leader opposing the repeal of Jim Crow laws under the logic that everything is a Jim Crow law. I’ll give him the NC Constitution (and particularly its literacy test requirement), but the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, roughly 89 years before the Jim Crow era. If he doesn’t know what a Jim Crow law is, perhaps Mr. Givens should read this article.
Have you been “Kaned?”
With a certain amount of dread, I recently did an interview with Dan Kane of the Raleigh News & Observer, who professed to be investigating allegations of the Jim Crow origins of the P2P law. I say “dread” because Kane has a habit of asking for and receiving detailed explanations, which he then ignores to write a piece slamming gun ownership. This time was no exception. (In fairness, Kane listed at least some of my points before dismissing them.)
When given four scholarly articles on the racist origins of gun control as well as, by circumstantial evidence from newspaper clippings, our own P2P law, Kane’s response was effectively, “But the statute doesn’t say anything about race.”
Yet again, I explained that Jim Crow laws preventing Blacks from voting, owning land or buying guns, by definition, could not mention race lest they run afoul of the 14th Amendment. Hence, the vague and subjective “good moral character” requirement. I cited the literacy test for voting enshrined in the NC Constitution as an example.
Alas, it was to no avail. Predictably, Kane focused on a disingenuous piece from the agenda-driven Duke Center for Firearms Law – a group that would undoubtedly still be pushing the nonsensical “collective right” interpretation of the Second Amendment were it not for three SCOTUS decisions otherwise. The result was Kane’s hit piece, “With little proof, NC lawmakers say gun permit law is racist.”
In response to evidence from a UNC Law Review7 article that even today, Wake County Blacks are being denied purchase permits three times more often than Whites, Kane said: “One problem with drawing that conclusion is Black people have a much higher percentage of criminal convictions than white [sic] people.”
Hey, conservatives: Why don’t you try saying that and see what happens?
To give you a feel for the disingenuity of the Duke article, consider this one: “Legislative history, such as records of debates in the state house and senate, would normally be a primary source of such information—but detailed legislative history for the 1919 permit law does not appear to exist.”
Gee, ya’ think? I’m sure a bunch of Jim Crow-era lawmakers, some with white hoods in their closets, faced with the prospect of armed Blacks rioting against racism, are going to go on the legislative record as saying, “Let’s violate the 2nd and 14th Amendments by keeping Blacks from getting guns.”
Let’s put it all together, shall we?
In sum, slaveholding states are well documented in restricting the right to bear arms for both slaves and freedmen long before the American Civil War – in fact, at least as early as 1824.8 After defeat in 1865, those same states enacted Black Codes, which codified, among other infringements, “…legislation prohibiting blacks from carrying firearms without licenses, a requirement to which whites were not subjected.”9
When three constitutional amendments effectively shut down the Black Codes and then Reconstruction ended circa the late 1870s, Democrats regained power and began reinstituting all of the old evils, but now disguised: voting restrictions were disguised as literacy tests; segregated schools, restaurants, and even nursing homes were depicted as “separate but equal”; and restrictions on the right to bear arms were disguised as “Army-Navy” laws.
Yet despite a long Southern history of denying guns to Blacks; despite the resurgence of camouflaged Black Codes during Jim Crow; despite race riots immediately preceding passage of the P2P law in 1919; despite newspaper admissions that permits were rarely issued to Blacks; despite evidence that even today Blacks are being disproportionately denied purchase permits, you are being told that North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit law does not have racist origins.
And what is the logic behind that conclusion? That Jim Crow lawmakers didn’t take the self-defeating course of putting themselves on record as violating the 14th Amendment.
This from the left that demands you accept – at face value and without statistical proof – that our law enforcement system, indeed our entire society is “systemically racist;” this from the left which, if we were talking about prison incarceration rates, would be demanding “equity;” and this from the left which decries “racism” in voter ID laws, Republican-drawn political districts, and more.
All of these things, you are told, are “racist.” But not the Jim Crow-era pistol purchase permit law. Nope. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
What you are witnessing is the leftist version of a line attributed to Groucho Marx: “Who are you gonna’ believe, me or your lying eyes?”
- Robert J Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond, “The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration” (1991). The Georgetown Law Journal, 283, p. 36, https://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/faculty_scholarship/283.
- David B. Kopel, The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies? Prometheus Books, 1992, p. 336.
- Ibid. p. 337.
- Clayton E. Cramer, “North Carolina’s Permit to Purchase Law: The Rumble Seat of Gun Laws?” Cramer, April 4, 2016, p. 7, https://ssrn.com/abstract=2759091 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2759091.
- Ibid. p. 5.
- Ibid. p. 5.
- Nicholas Gallo, “Misfire: How the North Carolina Pistol Purchase Permit System Misses the Mark of Constitutional Muster and Effectiveness,” 99 N.C. L. Rev. 529 (2021). Available at: https://scholarship.law.unc.edu/nclr/vol99/iss2/7
- Op cit. note 1, page 336.
- Op cit. note 1, page 344.
Although in theory, the “equal” segregation doctrine was extended to public facilities and transportation too, facilities for African Americans were consistently inferior and underfunded compared to facilities for white Americans; sometimes, there were no facilities for the black community at all. Far from equality, as a body of law, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, political and social disadvantages and second class citizenship for most African Americans living in the United States. After the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909, it became involved in a sustained public protest and campaigns against the Jim Crow laws, and the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine.
MO purchase permit law passed 1917:
Gerald Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, explain their opposition to Senate Bill 40, which would repeal the state’s pistol permit requirement, after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure, on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.
“We need to stop this disingenuous argument that somehow it’s a relic of Jim Crow. The U.S. Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution are all relics of Jim Crow, so we need to stop that argument.”
About Grass Roots North Carolina
Founded in 1994, Grass Roots North Carolina is an all-volunteer 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving individual liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with emphasis on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.