Gun Appreciation Day and Martin Luther King’s birthday

When an interviewer asked Larry Ward, a conservative media strategist, about the appropriateness of scheduling “Gun Appreciation Day” on January 19th, the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King, Ward was quick on his feet, if not particularly sure-footed.  Martin Luther King would surely appreciate Gun Appreciation Day, Ward responded, because he recognized the importance of democracy and self-defense.  Indeed, had African-Americans enjoyed access to firearms on the eve of the American revolution, perhaps we could have avoided the scourge of slavery.

You can see it below:

This is so obviously stupid on so many levels that it’s tempting to get sucked up into debating the point.  You don’t need to know much about the global slave trade in precolonial America to realize that when everyone has firearms, the just don’t always prevail.  Actual history might complicate the point even further.  And as to Reverend King’s blessing: by the end of his life, King was a committed pacifist (and pacifist doesn’t offer an exemption for deadly weapons for your side).

Adam Winkler reports that King kept a weapon in his home during the early days of his civil rights struggle, and even applied for a concealed carry permit, citing ongoing threats to himself and his family.  As the campaigns went on, however, he came to doubt the viability and morality of armed self-defense.  Like so many civil rights activists, he subjected himself to severe beatings without fighting back, leaning on what he hoped was a universal sense of justice. His experience changed his mind.  Neither Larry Ward nor I know whether the experience of being shot and killed by an escaped convict who bought a rifle in store might have changed his mind as well.  Obviously Ward, a disciple of Dick Morris and master of marketing, is better suited to speculate on such a thing than I am.

Martin Luther King isn’t around to correct him, and it’s doubtful that Larry Ward has felt compelled to sharpen his own thinking by reading anything that King wrote or said.

Meanwhile, in Northern California, Marin County District Attorney Ed Barberian is launching a gun buy-back program to commemorate King and the holiday.

Virtually everyone wants to claim the blessings of iconic heroes, including Martin Luther King, the Founding Fathers, or Jesus Christ.  We should be skeptical.  I always think that knowing more about the icon and his or her times will help us evaluate such claims, but of course, I would say that.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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