Even the briefest peek into history reveals an overwhelming truth. Since the beginning of civilization, the politically powerful have always sought to control and disarm their opponents, usually because of their race, religion, or social status. America is no different. Today, we just call it gun control.
While there has been a lot of discussion about the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, there is an interesting fact that many don’t know. New York’s discretionary (and unconstitutional) carry law at issue in the case was originally passed in 1911 as the Sullivan Act, or the Sullivan Law. The act was named for New York State Senator Timothy Sullivan, a well-known and deeply corrupt politician and Irish gangster.
Beyond the corrupt intent of making criminals’ work easier by disarming peaceable New Yorkers, the law was specifically used to target Italian immigrants. It was passed during a wave of anti-Italian sentiment from Irish and Jewish populations in the city.
But this is nothing new.
In the Supreme Court’s NYSRPA v. Bruen majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas (the descendant of a freed southern slave) recounts how the antebellum South regularly prevented freed slaves from possessing arms, and how the Supreme Court in 1857 supported that practice:
“Writing for the Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, Chief Justice Taney offered what he thought was a parade of horribles that would result from recognizing that free blacks were citizens of the United States. If blacks were citizens, Taney fretted, they would be entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, including the right “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” Thus, even Chief Justice Taney recognized (albeit unenthusiastically in the case of blacks) that public carry was a component of the right to keep and bear arms—a right free blacks were often denied in antebellum America.”
Not only is Justice Thomas absolutely correct, but this practice predates even the antebellum South. In fact, the entire history of gun control in the United States has been hellbent on depriving various minorities of their rights.
Before our nation’s founding, many colonies prevented freedmen, slaves, and indentured servants from possessing any form of arms. Other colonies, such as Virginia, prevented Catholics from owning guns—a tradition reflected in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Several colonies also prohibited individuals from selling weapons or gun powder to Native Americans or ‘Indians’–including Massachusetts, which specifically prohibited gunsmiths from repairing arms for Indians.
At the time, the English viewed these minority groups as threats to the colonies and thereby threats to the Crown. So their solution to minimize these threats was to disarm them.
This continued into our early history as a nation.
While prohibitions aimed at slaves, freedmen, and Indians hung around during the Founding Era, there was a new government, and thus a new threat– England. Accordingly, disarmament laws around the Revolutionary War began to target supporters of the Crown. Several states sought to disarm individuals that did not support the newly established government, some even going as far as requiring individuals to take an oath of allegiance.
But under our system of government, with our recognition of the equal protection of the law specifically ratified in the Fourteenth Amendment, we’ve done away with such blatantly discriminatory laws. At least we thought.
Now, progressive governments are using these historical and discriminatory laws to justify their modern gun control efforts, instead of decrying them for the racist edicts that they are.
New York State, for example, in defense of its newly enacted concealed carry law (after its last one was struck down in NYSRPA v. Bruen), just argued:
“New York’s good moral character requirement is consistent with the long history in both England and America of disarming those whose associations, reputation, or conduct suggested they posed a danger to others or to the public order.”
And what does the “long history” in New York point to? The exact same laws described above.
New York has come full circle. Its discriminatory Sullivan Act was thrown out by the Supreme Court and the state is seeking to replace it by calling back to even older, more blatantly discriminatory laws.
You don’t have to look to foreign disarmament in Hitler’s Germany, modern Venezuela, or the several other nations that disarmed minorities to expose the discriminatory and dangerous realities of gun control. You can look to our own history. The difference is that our system of government was founded on the recognition of individual, natural rights. Rights that are supposed to be protected by our government equally, because “all men are created equal.”
It is important that we remember our history and the history of gun control in our nation. It wasn’t about prohibiting dangerous people from possessing arms. It was about government disarming minorities and political enemies. And the same is true today.
Cody J. Wisniewski (@TheWizardofLawz) is a Senior Attorney for Constitutional Litigation with Firearms Policy Coalition. His work has appeared in the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, National Review, Daily Wire, and more. He primarily focuses on Second Amendment issues but is happy so long as he is reminding the government of its enumerated powers and constitutional limitations.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.