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Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Armsby Nicholas Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
Chronicling the underappreciated black tradition of bearing arms for self-defense, law professor Nicholas Johnson presents an array of examples reaching back to the pre-Civil War era that demonstrate a willingness of African American men and women to use firearms when necessary to defend their families and communities. From Frederick Douglass's advice to keep "a good revolver" handy as defense against slave catchers to the armed black men who protected Thurgood Marshall, it is clear that owning firearms was commonplace in the black community.
Johnson points out that this story has been submerged because it is hard to reconcile with the dominant narrative of nonviolence during the civil rights era. His book, however, resolves that tension by showing how the black tradition of arms maintained and demanded a critical distinction between private self-defense and political violence.
In the last two chapters, Johnson addresses the unavoidable issue of young black men with guns and the toll that gun violence takes on many in the inner city. He shows how complicated this issue is by highlighting the surprising diversity of views on gun ownership in the black community. In fact, recent Supreme Court affirmations of the right to bear arms resulted from cases led by black plaintiffs.
Surprising and informative, this well-researched book strips away many stock assumptions of conventional wisdom on the issue of guns and the black freedom struggle.
"Expected to be subservient first as slaves and then as second-class freedmen, African-Americans spent generations expecting neither legal justice nor fair treatment from law enforcement. In this provocative book, Johnson (Firearms Law and the Second Amendment), a legal expert on gun issues, agrees with Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass that gun ownership for blacks helped level the disparity between races, allowing both men and women to protect themselves from being returned to slavery or becoming the next lynching victims while also allowing some to work as Buffalo soldiers or as cowboys. Johnson notes that the presence of guns sometimes unwittingly escalated violence, and he devotes a brief chapter to modern black-on-black violence, the result of a strain of historical gun ownership evolving into a 'criminal microculture.' Filled with tightly packed, well-documented anecdotes — with some of the best centering on women such as 'Black Mary' Fields, who worked for nuns and successfully dueled with a white man in front of them — this book redefines the image of black Americans who chose a strong, spirited fight for self-preservation. Photos." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Nicholas Johnson (New York, NY) is professor of Law at Fordham Law School, where he has taught since 1993. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is the lead author of Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy (Aspen 2012).
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