I am in the process of rereading that classic of the gun culture, John Ross’ Unintended Consequences. I stumbled across this passage on page 155. It is part of the discussion that Henry Bowman, his father Walter, and the owner of Goodman’s for Guns, Al Goodman, are having concerning the requirement to get a pistol purchase permit in 1963 Missouri.
“What Mr. Goodman was telling us is that before I can buy this revolver for you, I have to go get two business owners to sign letters recommending me. Then I take them down to the sheriff and hope he says okay. Mr. Goodman says there won’t be any problem, and he’s probably right, but the whole point is that the sheriff can do whatever he wants. Just like the story about voting. Henry, we still have laws written so that the police can deny negroes, or anyone else, their ability to protect themselves, and arrest them if they carry personal protection. Or arrest me, for that matter. It depends on if they like you or not.”
After a bit of discussion about the black lady that helps Henry’s mother with housekeeping and about why handguns are good for self-defense, his father continues:
Now Walter broke in. “That’s why bigoted people passed laws about voting and guns, Henry. These bigots don’t want negroes being able to protect themselves. They didn’t want them voting for legislators that had their interests in mind, and they didn’t want them having guns in their pockets when the lynch mob was coming.” He thought a moment. “The law Al just described also gives police an excuse to stop negroes on the street and check them for guns. Actually, it gives them the excuse to do that to anyone, but they don’t do it to white, as a rule.” Yet Walter Bowman added silently to himself.
These passages made me reflect back to the debate on North Carolina’s HB 562, the pistol purchase permit system, and how only a neutered bill made it out of the House. Even though we in North Carolina will not be required to get two character references from upstanding citizens, we still have the pistol purchase permit system which was used exactly as Walter Bowman describes to prevent blacks, union organizers, and others from getting the means to protect themselves.
Today’s North Carolina sheriffs will have a harder time denying purchase permits but they will still be able to do it as the good character requirement remains. That it was the Republicans who kow-towed to the NC Sheriffs’ Association on permit system makes it even worse as the system was set up by white supremacist Democrats. They should have known better but law and order Republicans wilt like a cut flower on a hot day when police or sheriffs say boo.