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Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms Paperback – January 14, 2014

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Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms + Negroes with Guns + This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 379 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; 1St Edition edition (January 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161614839X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616148393
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“America’s gun culture is often thought to be lily white. In this groundbreaking book, Nicholas Johnson shows how African Americans, from the abolitionists to the Deacons for Defense and Justice, have taken up arms time and again to fight for their rights and their lives. You’ll never look at guns and the Second Amendment in the same way again.”
—Adam Winkler, professor of law, UCLA School of Law, author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America

“With Negroes and the Gun, Nicholas Johnson has provided a definitive and compelling history of the importance of arms for a people who have not been able to rely on the state for protection. This is must-reading for those who are interested in the history of race in America and in the enduring controversy over the right to bear arms.”

—Robert J. Cottrol, Harold Paul Green Research Professor of Law and professor of history and sociology, the George Washington University, and author of The Long, Lingering Shadow: Slavery, Race, and Law in the American Hemisphere

“Race has always been part of the unspoken motive for gun control in the United States. Johnson provides the best, most thorough history of the topic, telling the story mainly from the perspective and voices of blacks themselves. Shattering the myth of black passivity in the face of violent racism, the book is full of inspiring stories of genuine American heroes—some of them famous and many who were not—who used their Second Amendment rights to defend the civil rights of their people. Never shying away from the hardest questions, Johnson addresses the moral and practical complexities of armed self-defense, past and present. A major contribution to cultural studies and to the history of race in America.”

—David B. Kopel, research director, Independence Institute, Denver, Colorado

“Johnson opens a window on the increasingly airless and ever more heated dispute over the Second Amendment by examining blacks’ ambiguous relationship with guns over the centuries. He demonstrates that the right to armed self-defense was critical to saving black lives and livelihoods when confronted by violent hostility. This remarkable book remembers for us a long-forgotten, or possibly selectively forgotten, black tradition of arms—one too often overlooked in current debates over civil rights and gun legislation.”

—Alexander Rose, author of American Rifle: A Biography

“A fascinating and subtle history of the black tradition of armed self-defense. Carefully weaving social with political history from slave times to the present, Johnson explores the complex relation between this legitimate tradition and the occasional fruitless temptation of armed political resistance to oppression. He concludes with a strong argument for restoring the legitimate tradition even in the face of its rejection by the black political establishment and the inescapable reality that blacks are very disproportionately found among the perpetrators and victims of gun violence today. Provocative and illuminating.” 

—Nelson Lund, University Professor, George Mason University School of Law

About the Author

Nicholas Johnson (New York, NY) is professor of Law at Fordham Law School, where he has taught since 1993. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is the lead author of Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy (Aspen 2012).

More About the Author

Nicholas J. Johnson is Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. He is a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School. He is author of two books, NEGROES AND THE GUN: THE BLACK TRADITION OF ARMS and FIREARMS LAW AND THE SECOND AMENDMENT, Regulation Rights and Policy. His scholarship includes, Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern Orthodoxy, Connecticut Law Review; The Statutory UCC, Catholic Law Review; Rights Versus Duties, History Department Lawyering and the Incoherence of Justice Stevens' Heller Dissent, Fordham ULJ; Supply Restrictions at the Margins of Heller and the Abortion Analogue: Stenberg Principles, Assault Weapons, and the Attitudinalist Critique , Hastings Law Journal; Imagining Gun Control in America: Understanding the Remainder Problem, Wake Forest Law Review; Taking this Right Seriously, National Law Journal; Self- Defense? George Mason Journal of Law Economics and Policy; A Second Amendment Moment: The Constitutional Politics of Gun Rights, Brooklyn Law Review; Showdown Between Federal Environmental Closure of Firing Ranges and Protective State Legislation, Indiana Law Review; The Boundaries of Extra-compensatory Relief for Abusive Breach of Contract, Connecticut Law Review; Principles and Passions: The Intersection of Abortion and Gun Rights, Rutgers Law Review; Plenary Power and Constitutional Outcasts: Federal Power, Critical Race Theory and the Second, Ninth and Tenth Amendments, Ohio State Law Journal; Regulatory Takings and Environmental Regulatory Evolution: Fordham Environmental Law Review; Shots Across No Man's Land: A response to Richard Aborn, Fordham Urban Law Journal; EPCRA'S Collision with Federalism, Indiana Law Review; Beyond the Second Amendment: An Individual Right to Arms Viewed Through the Ninth Amendment. Rutgers Law Journal; Cracks in the Foundation: Legislative Review of Agency Rule-making, Dickinson Law Review.
His papers are available at this link

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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See all 38 customer reviews
This book tells a story that is seldom told.
Since bearing arms has traditionally been equated with freedom, it is only natural that black members of our society should gravitate to them as much as anyone else.
Everyone should read it, and it would make a good high school and college selection for history courses and a good selection for book clubs.
Richard Lohkamp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By ab on February 9, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is headed for college classrooms everywhere. It is a fairly progressive author’s trip down memory lane and how the facts of violent self-defense have been scrubbed from the anti-Slavery and Civil Rights movement. As a lawyer he documents the book exhaustively and as far as I can tell completely. He documents, time after, time how enslaved Africans, how fugitive Africans would fight their way to freedom with guns. How they had an underground market (gun shows) to buy, and or steal these guns. How these guns and their willingness to use them allowed many enslaved Africans to get to Free States. And once there, how many fugitive Africans would arm themselves with guns against those sent to re-captured them.

I love the picture of Harriet Tubman one of the "conductors" of the underground railroad which helped enslaved Africans get to Canada (primarily) standing with a rifle. People claim she never used the rifle she was always pictured with, however the woman scouted for the Union army invading the south.

This book appears to mainly for liberals, progressives and those active in, or study about the Civil Rights struggle, thus its language is in their nomenclature. It is a useful book for conservatives to read and understand for discussion with liberals, progressives and people who have a deep respect for the civil rights era. The history of the fight against slavery and the civil rights struggle has been modified and right of self-defense, political violence has been minimized. The truth is (as you would expect) there were people who used violence and there were many more people who used non-violence. Both were useful at times and under difference circumstances.

"The True Remedy for the Fugitive Slave Bill is a good revolver, a steady hand, and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap." - Frederick Douglass, 1854
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By T.DeLeone on February 9, 2014
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An enjoyable and thought provoking romp through the Black Tradition of Arms. Wonderful, with comprehensively researched stories, told in a fluid style. The final final chapter will hopefully provoke meaningful discussions about the right to gun ownership in our inner cities.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By dwood78 on May 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Today when one pictures a Black man with a gun, one often pictures a thug terrorizing an inter city neighborhood. Yet as it turns out historically, people of color used their 2nd Amendment rights to protect them & their loved ones from White mobs during the Jim Crow Era.

This book has historical accounts of Black people using guns to protect themselves from racist mobs & such. Not surprisingly the 1st gun controls (dating back to colonial times) limit the rights people of color to bear arms- after all, it’s easier to control & terrorize a group of people if they can’t protect themselves. Sadly, this is largely forgotten today esp. among Black Americans who often support gun control despite the fact that areas with the strictest gun laws have the highest rates of homicide from them since all the laws is encourage a Black market for them.

Overall, this is a great read. A real page turner. This is great book for either Black History or for a the study on the 2nd Amendment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By AL on March 5, 2014
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How can I begin? This book shows how Black Americans used firearms for personal self defense and to get their freedom. The civil rights movement has been taken over by EXTREMELY left wing social justice people who are more interested in carrying a narrative than giving students a truthful all around honest look at history from the good to the bad.

I doubt this book will be given much attention at most colleges but I hope it will. Everyone might not respect your ethnic heritage but everyone respects a gun.

I would like to thank Professor Johnson for writing this much needed and eye opening book which tells our stories as Americans of African descent.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Purple Dragon on February 15, 2014
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This book really is quite illuminating. Self-Defense is seen to be an innate human characteristic common to all societies. Blacks have always engaged in self-defense. The gun was a means that allowed many blacks either to avoid mobs and extra-judicial lynching as well as personally directed violence. This book highlights the value of this gun possession to support the civil rights movements in the fifties and sixties. The book also highlights the futility of using the gun to elicit social and political change, especially considering the minority status of blacks. "Non-Violence" was a tactical and philosophical choice of the Civil Rights and not incompatible with self-defense. The book shows that our current thinking about the development of the civil rights movement is incomplete and filled with more complexities than was previously appreciated.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Keyes on February 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Throughout much of the nineteenth century and all of the twentieth century, landmark civil rights decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) have mostly involved Black defendants. These decisions established voting rights, equal opportunity, equal access, desegregation of schools and a host of other rights that Blacks had been denied since the beginnings of the republic.

In 2008 and again in 2010 two more Black plaintiffs brought cases involving another enumerated civil right, the right to keep and bear arms, to SCOTUS where these rights were upheld and the Second Amendment clarified to state that self defense with arms was a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

One of the ironic parts of these decisions and subsequent arguments for and against the ownership of guns is that the ends of the political spectrum that oppose and promote civil rights for Black seem to have switched sides - Northern liberals are against while Southern conservatives have clasped it to their bosoms. It wasn't always this way.

Nicholas Johnson is a Harvard educated Professor of Law at Fordham University who has been a primary scholar of the Second Amendment. He has numerous publications on the subject with special emphasis on the Black community and the history of Black gun ownership from the times of slavery, through the terror attacks of the hundred years following the Civil War and up till today's extraordinary high rate of murder and armed mayhem that plagues many inner city communities.

His book, Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms, is a well documented history of the use of arms by Black people throughout US history, especially in the South.
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