The twisted history of guns and race

Hat tip to Chas Clifton for pointing out that in the last post I was remarkably unclear about the historical issues around guns and race. I neither summarized the linked pieces adequately nor presented my own thoughts with sufficient clarity. This is an attempt to rectify that.

Let me add a further caveat that I am acutely aware of my own ignorance surrounding this issue’s historical roots. I am only beginning to educate myself about it and apologize in advance for errors that I make. I invite further responses and constructive criticism.

As far as my limited understanding goes, in the Reconstruction period, free African-Americans armed themselves, particularly to defend themselves from whites who wanted to kill, terrorize, and control them. Thus ex-Confederates and parts of society that sympathized with them were interested in limiting access to guns as part of keeping African-Americans disempowered. At the time, the Democratic party was generally the party of southern whites and was more against African-American rights, while the Republicans were the party of the north and were more pro African-American rights.

Today, the typical political alignments are different. The parts of the country that see themselves as the inheritors of the Confederacy are the most vocally pro-gun-rights. The Republicans have southern whites as their core constituency, and are the party that opposes social programs to benefit minorities and hosts those who use racist dog-whistles. The Democrats are the party of urbanites, women, minorities, and socially progressive programs.

I linked to three separate things in the previous post and didn’t clarify which part of this each thing related to.

Most importantly, Winkler’s piece in the Atlantic begins to address some of this complicated history of guns, legislation, and attitudes.

Horowitz’s piece compares the ideologies of pro-slavery politicians before the Civil War and pro-gun politicians today, arguing that there are similarities in the uncompromising expansionism of their positions. He was not arguing that the Confederates were all about gun rights.

Today’s conservatives who see themselves as the inheritors of the Confederacy do tend to be the loudest proponents of gun rights. I get very, very sick of these and similar arguments that people are amassing guns in order to defend themselves against “tyranny” from the federal government. I linked to Goblinbooks’ sarcasm in order to reinforce the point that since the South couldn’t defeat the North way back in the 1800s, it is extremely unlikely that anybody today (black or white) could “defend themselves” against the federal government.

Then I tried to make a separate point in entirely too little space, and I think that’s where things got tangled up.

Given that in the Reconstruction period it was the ex-Confederate Democrats who were pro gun control, while today it is the Republicans (possibly neo-Confederates, or at least seeing themselves as the inheritors of that worldview) who are anti gun control, I wondered whether the transformation from Democratic allegiance to Republican allegiance and the transformation from anti-guns to pro-guns were at all related.

I am not saying there is something inherently linked about “Republicans love guns!”

I’m saying that as far as I understand it in relatively recent times the Republican party decided to transform itself by positioning itself as staunchly defending “tradition” – notably white hegemony. This is also known as the Southern strategy. The party of Lincoln became the home of Strom Thurmond.

I think it’s pretty clear that the way white hegemony has been questioned and challenged contributes to a segment of society feeling insecure and becoming afraid of persecution, especially by the federal government, which was part of what the Southern strategy capitalized on and encouraged. I’m wondering whether that same feeling has played a role in an increasing desire by these folks to arm themselves while support for gun control is fairly high among minorities and urban liberals. I have no idea if these things were causally connected. I’m still trying to figure out if they’re temporally connected.

Have I made things more clear, or hopelessly muddled?

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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