Martin Luther King had complicated legacy on gun violence

Martin Luther King Jr. was surrounded by guns, even though he didn't like them.

At times, armed foot soldiers protected the Baptist preacher and his family.

See Full Article

As he led protests across the rural South, King often stood in proximity of guns -- wielded by local police, state troopers or hostile people in the crowds.

On April 4, 1968, the civil rights leader became one of America's most famous victims of gun violence.

Just as guns were a complicated issue for King in his lifetime, they loom large over the 30th anniversary of the holiday honouring his birthday. Urban violence, mass shootings and killings of unarmed blacks by police have caused alarm, touched off protests and revived the nation's conversation about gun control. President Barack Obama recently took executive action to tighten federal gun restrictions, invoking King as he urged citizens to press for change.

"There is nothing in the history that suggests that Martin Luther King felt that guns weren't useful for self-defence," said Adam Winkler, UCLA law professor and author of the book "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America." "Clearly, guns were used to protect (King) ... (He) could not rely on the government."

Inside the civil rights movement, some activists saw guns as a necessary means of self-defence. As a Southerner, King understood that strong culture of gun possession, even though he came to reject it, said Charles E. Cobb, Jr., a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and author of the book, "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible."

"If you went to King's house in 1955 or 1956, there were guns," Cobb said in an interview. "When they bombed his house in 1956, his first instinct was to apply for a gun permit. He moves toward nonviolence slowly. By the 1960s, he abandoned the idea of weapons for self-defence."

Some blacks, Cobb recalled, jokingly referring to their personal weapons as "nonviolent pistols."

"They would say, even as they were cleaning their rifles, how glad they were to be part of the movement," Cobb said. "They knew King wasn't going to be carrying a weapon, so people's attitude was, 'We're not going to let the white people kill him."'

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a King aide who was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when King was shot and killed, said King was mindful of the role of guns.

"Dr. King's point was that the protection of one's home is self-evident, but he was quick to add that you're more likely to shoot a relative or commit suicide (with a gun)," Jackson said. "He refused to keep a gun in his house for that reason."

After his home was bombed, King got rid of his gun and eschewed weapons, said King lieutenant Andrew Young. Before joining King, Young owned a shotgun and a handgun. The movement did not condemn defensive violence, Young explained; King simply did not engage in it.

"He decided he was not going to have a gun, and he didn't want anybody with guns around him," Young said.

In his book, Winkler writes that after the 1956 bombing, which occurred during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King applied for a concealed carry permit. He was denied by a county sheriff.

That incident has led some to embrace King as a supporter of the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment which guarantees the right to bear arms. In 2014, commentator Colion Noir posted a video on NRANews.com citing King's gun permit application as proof that he was not opposed to guns. The website is run by the National Rifle Association, an influential gun rights lobbying group.

"Dr. King was a nonviolent man, but even he understood the realities of self-defence and protecting his home and his family in the face of life-threatening violence," said Noir.

After President John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963, Young recalled King telling him: "Guns are going to be the death of this country."

"He said, Kennedy had Secret Service around him with guns and they couldn't protect him, which says guns can't protect you," Young said.

According to a compilation of King's writings and speeches by Stanford University historian Clayborne Carson, King said in November 1963 that Kennedy's assassination could be blamed in part on Americans' casual attitudes about gun violence.

King said: "By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes."

King's nonviolent mentality stood in stark contrast to those armed, hate-filled whites who showed up at peaceful protests, and the more radical black groups that emerged later, said King biographer Taylor Branch.

"Even after black power made guns kind of popular in the radical movement, King said he would never carry a gun," Branch said. "He rejected all forms of violence and got stronger on it as he went along."

Cobb, however, said many of King's followers "felt their duty was to protect the movement, grab a rifle" and drive away threats.

"They didn't see any contradiction between saying they were part of the nonviolent movement and keeping their weapons clean and ready," Cobb said.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Man convicted of criminal harassment in Creep Catcher case gets probation, fine

    Canada News CTV News
    RED DEER, Alta. - An Alberta man convicted of criminal harassment for his involvement in a Creep Catchers sting has been fined $1,500 and must spend a year on probation. Carl Young, 38, also known as Karl Murphy, was convicted last month for his involvement in an incident where he lured a man to a meeting on Nov. Source
  • Vancouver police crack down on pop-up pot vendors after weeks-long stalemate

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- Police appear to be cracking down on pop-up stalls selling marijuana while frustrations mount over the open-air market operating in a prominent square in downtown Vancouver. A spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department declined comment on what he called an ongoing investigation, but vendors said Monday that officers raided merchants' tables in Robson Square the night before and arrested several sellers. Source
  • Ontario man races to break 24-hour go-kart Guinness World Record

    Canada News CTV News
    A Brampton, Ont. man is attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a go-kart over 24 hours. The punishing endurance race is Matthew Hayley’s way of putting family tragedy and personal depression in the rearview mirror. Source
  • Innocent teen killed amid 'uptick in gang violence': Vancouver police chief

    Canada News CTV News
    An innocent teen who was killed by gunfire while in a car with his parents was the victim of surging gang violence, Vancouver’s police chief told reporters on Monday. “We haven’t seen gang violence like this in probably the last 10 years,” Chief Constable Adam Palmer said at a press conference. Source
  • TSB investigating after plane's wheel goes off runway at Toronto airport

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- The Transportation Safety Board is investigating after a wheel of a plane went off a runway at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Sunday evening. A spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority says the Air Georgian flight became temporarily disabled on the taxiway after an aborted takeoff. Source
  • Liberal MP says abortion clause in summer jobs program 'not right'

    Canada News CBC News
    Newfoundland MP Scott Simms says he is petitioning his own government to reverse a clause in a student summer jobs program that requires groups applying for grants to attest to abortion rights.Churches upset by new abortion clause in jobs programScheer accuses Trudeau of 'imposing' values on abortion with summer jobs grantsThe Liberal MP said its unfair that churches and Christian groups are being asked to violate their fundamental beliefs in order to receive funding for jobs and programs that…
  • Feds move to replace U.S. border barriers in New Mexico

    World News CTV News
    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Trump administration announced Monday it was preparing to replace existing vehicle barriers along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico that officials call "an area of high illegal entry. Source
  • Woman, called inspiration for Rosie the Riveter, dies at 96

    World News CTV News
    LONGVIEW, Wash. - A woman identified by a scholar as the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter, the iconic female World War II factory worker, has died in Washington state. The New York Times reports that Naomi Parker Fraley died Saturday in Longview. Source
  • Aw shucks!: Silo collapse sends about 9,000 tons of corn onto road

    World News CTV News
    NEW CARLISLE, Ohio -- A silo collapse has sent about 9,070 metric tons of corn onto an Ohio road, shutting it down for days. WHIO-TV reports emergency crews first responded to calls of an explosion at the Miami Valley Feed & Grain Co. Source
  • Alberta Creep Catcher gets fine, probation for 'repugnant and malicious' crime

    Canada News CBC News
    An Alberta man who was convicted of criminal harassment for his participation in the vigilante group Creep Catchers has been fined and sentenced to probation by a judge in Red Deer, Alta. Carl Young, also known as Karl Murphy, impersonated a 15-year-old boy with the intent to confront the victim, a man he ultimately met up with in Lacombe on Nov. Source