By Arturo R. García
Seemingly not content to argue against new gun safety standards on their own merits, advocates for the firearms industry have taken to likening their beliefs to both the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King himself.
Those efforts have gone so far as to celebrate “Gun Appreciation Day” this past Saturday, a series of protests that coincided with various regional gun shows. (Ironically enough, five people were injured at some of those shows.) Before the event, the organizer, lobbyist Larry Ward, tried to paint himself as an ally to Dr. King:
The truth is, I think Martin Luther King would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.
Rev. Al Sharpton struck back at Ward on his MSNBC show, PoliticsNation:
You do realize that Martin Luther King was killed by a gun and that he preached all of his life against the use of any weapons? … So you do realize that what you said was the total antithesis to Dr. King? I don’t know how much you know about Martin Luther King.
One thing Ward never mentioned is that the event listed a white nationalist group as a sponsor–before being found out.
Rush Limbaugh also took up Ward’s argument, saying on his radio show:
If a lot of African-Americans back in the ’60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma? I don’t know, I’m just asking. If John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?
Hip Hop Scholars founder and cultural commentator Dr. James Peterson took on Limbaugh’s statement:
To reduce John Lewis’ service to this country and to the civil rights movement and to the black experience and to the overall American experience to him getting beat upside the head is disgusting and offensive, okay? This is a man who served his country through civil rights and through service in the Congress. To reduce his life to that, to me, is unacceptable.
Lewis himself issued a statement explaining how Limbaugh and Ward and their supporters are missing the point, saying in part:
African Americans in the 60’s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to. We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence. Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means. We took a stand against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and the power of compassion as our defense.