From a chapter two in Dave Kopel’s book Aiming for Liberty: The Past, Present, And Future of Freedom and Self-Defense, called the same as my title:
Michigan’s law requiring a government permit in order to buy a handgun was enacted after Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black man, shot and killed a person in a mob that was attacking his house because he had just moved into an all-white neighborhood. The Detroit Police stood nearby, refusing to restrain the angry crowd.
Indicted for first degree murder, Sweet was acquitted after a lengthy trial at which Clarence Darrow served as his attorney. Black newspapers such as the Amsterdam News and the Baltimore Herald vigorously defended blacks’ right to use deadly force in self-defense against a mob.
Darrow summed up for the jury: “eleven of them go into a house, gentlemen, with no police protection, in the face of a mob, and the hatred of a community, and take guns and ammunition and fight for their rights, and for your rights and for mine, and for the rights of every being that lives. They went in and faced a mob seeking to tear them to bits. Call them something besides cowards.”
The name Clarence Darrow should ring a bell. Even progressives have historically supported the right to bear arms and the right to self-defense. The opposition it received from the modern left for the latter part of the 20th century is largely an anomaly, quite possibly a result of history largely ignoring the role the right to keep and bear arms had in the Civil Rights movement. Kopel’s chapter continues:
Black and civil rights workers armed for self-defense. Daisy Bates, the leader of the Arkansas NAACP and publisher of the Arkansas State Press during the Little Rock High School desegregation case, recalls that three crosses were burned on her lawn and gunshots fired into her home. Her husband, L.C. Bates, stayed up to guard their house with a .45 semi-automatic pistol. Some of their friends organized a volunteer patrol.
After the Bates’s front lawn was bombed, Mrs. Bates telegrammed Attorney General Herbert Brownell in Washington. He replied there was no federal jurisdiction, and told them to go to the local police. “Of course that wasn’t going to protect us,” Mrs. Bates remembered.
State or federal assistance sometimes did come — not when disorder began, but when blacks reacted by arming themselves. In North Carolina, Governor Terry Sanford (who later served as an anti-gun US Senator) refused to command state police to protect a civil rights march from Klan attacks — until he was warned that if there were no police, the marchers would be armed for self-defense.
There was a time when even the NAACP recognized the importance of the right to bear arms in protecting other civil rights. I will continue to bring other choice quotes from Dave Kopel’s book as I make my way through it.