Why Martin Luther King Couldn’t Get a Carry Permit

Why Martin Luther King Couldn't Get a Carry Permit

After his home was bombed in 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a permit to carry a gun. Despite the potentially deadly threats that King faced as a leader of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, the county sheriff, Mac Sim Butler, said no. Next week the Supreme Court will consider a challenge to a New York law similar to the Alabama statute that empowered local officials like Butler to decide who could exercise the constitutional right to bear arms. The briefs urging the Court to overturn New York’s statute include several from African-American organizations that emphasize the long black tradition of armed self-defense, the racist roots of gun control laws, and their disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities. “I went to the sheriff to get a permit for those people who are guarding me,” King told fellow protest organizers at a February 1956 meeting. “In substance, he was saying, ‘You are at the disposal of the hoodlums.'” At the time, it was illegal in Alabama to carry a pistol “in any vehicle” or concealed on one’s person without a license. The law said a probate judge, police chief, or sheriff “may” issue a license “if it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear injury to his person or property, or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol.” Nowadays, Alabama, like most states, requires law enforcement officials to issue a carry permit unless the applicant is legally disqualified. New York, by contrast, demands that […]

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