The recent McDonald v. Chicago Supreme Court decision prompted my colleague Maureen Martin to write a few words on the late Ralph Conner, whose work on urban policy and gun rights put him at the forefront of the libertarian community. Clarence Thomas’s opinion in the case dealt with this, and is receiving plaudits even from the anti-gun rights left:
Referring to the disarming of blacks during the post-Reconstruction era, Thomas wrote: “It was the ‘duty’ of white citizen ‘patrols to search negro houses and other suspected places for firearms.’ If they found any firearms, the patrols were to take the offending slave or free black ‘to the nearest justice of the peace’ whereupon he would be ‘severely punished.’ ” Never again, Thomas says.
In a scorcher of an opinion that reads like a mix of black history lesson and Black Panther Party manifesto, he goes on to say, “Militias such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, the White Brotherhood, the Pale Faces and the ’76 Association spread terror among blacks. . . . The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence.”
Some years ago we had a program at my law school where ex-Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver (with whom I went to law school) came to speak. It was heavily attended by Knoxville civil-rights veterans, and I think some of my colleagues were surprised when an elderly black preacher launched into a defense of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. I wasn’t.
I think Ralph would be pleased today. RIP.
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