Martin Luther King and Today's Gun Advocates

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 45 years ago yesterday, and one of the interesting little sidelights to the debate over guns that you might not be aware of is that gun advocates claim King as one of their own. You see, King had armed guards protect his family, and at one point applied for a permit in Alabama to carry a concealed weapon himself. He was turned down, since in the Jim Crow days the state of Alabama wasn't about to let black men carry guns.

You can find references to these facts on all kinds of pro-gun web sites, as nonsensical as it may seem. Gun advocates want to claim King as part of their cause, but also want to completely repudiate everything he believed about the power of nonviolence, which is kind of like Exxon saying John Muir would have favored drilling for oil in Yosemite because he sometimes rode in cars. The reason Martin Luther King sought armed protection was there were significant numbers of people who wanted to kill him, and eventually one of them succeeded. If you're a target for assassination, you should go ahead and buy a gun. But most of us aren't.

This gets back to the threatening world so many gun advocates believe they live in. As they tell it, every one of us needs an arsenal of handguns and shotguns and AR-15s, despite the risk they might pose to ourselves and our families, because the risk from outside is so much greater. The imagine themselves as vulnerable as a civil rights activist in the Deep South in 1968. And they also believe that the authorities that are charged with our protection are indifferent or even hostile to our safety. That was certainly the case with King and other civil rights activists in the South in the 1960s; they knew that the government and the police wouldn't be there to protect them, and some might even participate in trying to harm them.

But guess what: that's not the world we live in today. The idea that the government is going to come knocking down your door, and you need to be ready to engage in a firefight with the police when that happens, is as ludicrous as the idea that MLK would be an advocate for further proliferation of guns if he were alive today.

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