'This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed:' Guns and the Civil Rights Movement

Some of the incidents that Cobb describes are pretty funny, at least to those of us who are gun rights activists. Dr. Theodore Howard, a surgeon in Mississippi, was a local civil rights leader. He had no illusions about the effectiveness of non-violence. A reporter from Ebony magazine who came to interview Dr. Howard had trouble opening the front door; “a stack of weapons was blocking the door.” Another visitor reported “a magnum pistol and a .45-caliber pistol at the head of Howard’s bed; a submachine gun rested at its foot. He also saw ‘a long gun, a shotgun or a rifle in every corner of every room’” (p. 132).

Paranoid? Not at all. A friend of mine, Don Kates, one of the senior members of the gun rights legal community, has written that this was an era when Ku Klux Klan dues were collected at the nearest sheriff’s substation. In many parts of the South, the police and the Klan were one and the same. After Rev. George Lee was shot to death driving home from a civil rights meeting, the sheriff insisted that “the lead pellets found in what was left of his jaw might be teeth fillings.” It was, you see, just an odd traffic accident (p. 135).

I am hoping that those curious about the civil rights movement are going to realize the positives of gun ownership from this book. Indeed, Cobb makes the point that without widespread gun ownership, the civil rights movement would not have survived long enough to register voters. The KKK were domestic terrorists, and only force meeting force would restrain them, especially when they were also the local law enforcement agency.

I also hope that those on the right will read this book and perhaps understand why some of the people that participated in the civil rights movement back then seem more than a little crazy about the issue of race. These were terrifying and traumatic times. Many people are frozen by particular events and experiences, and reading a book like this may help better understand why the rapidly aging black leadership of America sees everything in racial terms, even when the circumstances that provoked those concerns are now just pages in a history book. It is very easy to be trapped by the past; it is better to learn from it.