The headline to this post is meant to be provocative. In the last couple of days, I have received numerous emails from gun prohibitionists groups and have seen Everyday Moms for Illegal Mayors launch a media campaign all of which is intended to keep in place North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit system.
§ 14-402 and § 14-403 of the North Carolina General Statutes were originally passed in 1919 and gave the Clerk of the Superior Court (later given to the Sheriff) of each North Carolina county the power to determine just who of their county’s residents would be eligible to purchase a handgun. Note that this preceded the Gun Control Act of 1968 by almost 50 years. Firearms of all sorts could still be purchased over the counter and through the mails. So why would the North Carolina General Assembly give Clerks of the Superior Court such power? Below is a little context.
The end of the Great War in 1918 saw the return of many African-American veterans who had served in segregated military units. They had served their country both home and abroad and were now coming home expecting some recognition of their rights. W.E.B. DuBois had encouraged black veterans to not just return home but to return home fighting against Southern racism.
At an Emancipation Day ceremony in Raleigh in January 1919, a crowd of 3,000 passed resolutions condemning lynching and attacking segregation. Through the 1920s, the annual commemorations of emancipation as well as the Armistice ending World War I remained occasions for rallies. Editorials in the black press in Durham and Raleigh frequently called for improvements in, if not an end to, the Jim Crow system.
White North Carolinians listened with concern to the outbursts of black protests after the War, but they managed to preserve both white supremacy and the myth that black North Carolinians were contented with legal segregation and Jim Crow. North Carolina’s postwar reconsideration of racial relations and racial policy took place in the context of the nationwide “Red Scare” between 1918 and 1921, touched off by fears of communist and foreign subversion.
Adding to this general fear was Winston-Salem’s November 17, 1918 riot over the attempted lynching of a black man who had been erroneously accused of raping a white woman. Most of the rioting was done by whites but it was the black community which had the tanks sitting in their streets.
The General Assembly passed “An Act to Regulate the Sale of Concealed Weapons in North Carolina” on March 10, 1919. It required a permit to purchase “any pistol, so-called pump-gun, bowie knife, dirk, dagger or metallic knucks.” The “so-called pump-gun” is, as best as I can determine, what we would now call a pump shotgun. Section 3 of Chapter 197 reads:
That before the clerk of the Superior Court shall issue
any such license or permit he shall fully satisfy himself by affidavits,
oral evidence, or otherwise, as to the good moral character
of the applicant therefor, and that such person, firm, or corporation
requires the possession of such weapon mentioned in section
one of this act for protection of the home: Provided, that
if said clerk shall not be so fully satisfied, he shall refuse to issue
said license or permit : and Provided further, that nothing in this
act shall apply to officers authorized by law to carry firearms.
The clerk shall charge for his services upon issuing such license
or permit a fee of fifty cents.
The Clerk and the firearms dealer were both required to keep records of the permittees/purchasers including name, age, residence, former residence, “etc.” The owner of the firearm was also required to list it as personal property with the local tax authorities.
Let’s think about this a bit. Who would be considered to be a person of “good moral character” in 1919 to a legislature that was composed primarily of white Democrat segregationists who were sympathetic to the KKK? And what do you think the Clerk of the Superior Court is going to consider by “etc.” which is actually included in the text of the bill? I think any intelligent person could reasonably assume that a person of “good moral character” would tend to be white, probably a Democrat (unless living in the mountains), a segregationist, a church-goer, and someone who owned property. It would not have been an African-American nor would it have been a populist, socialist, or union organizer. I would also assume that the race of the purchaser was intended to be kept as part of the records.
Given the state of race relations in North Carolina in 1919 and the contextual background of this law, I defy anyone to say that there is no racial component to this law. It may not have said de jure that blacks couldn’t possess pistols and other weapons but that was the de facto reality.
So I say to Mike Bloomberg, Gabby Giffords, Dan Gross, Shannon Watts, and all the others of their ilk who have been agitating against HB 562, does not your support for the continuation of a law conceived in racism make you just a wee bit racist yourself?