As we watched the news coverage this week of the elimination of the state's county gun boards, it rang a distant bell: We had heard from somebody who opposed the county boards quite recently.
A bit of thinking and we recalled our meeting with Rick Ector
, an activist defending the right of people, especially African-Americans, to legally own firearms. When we spoke with him last year, he had pointed out a little-discussed aspect of these boards and their history. He noted that they were created not long after the case of Ossian Sweet. Sweet was a black Detroit homeowner defending himself and his family against a white mob. He walked free after being acquitted by an all-white jury, thanks to defense attorney Clarence Darrow. Ector pointed out:
So as a result of that case, in 1927, two years later, the state of Michigan legislature created the most draconian set of gun laws they could come up with. They came up with handgun registration, as well as the creation of 83 county gun boards. And these 83 county gun boards would have the sole discretion to determine who could get concealed pistol licenses. … So all of these laws were rooted in racism, because the idea that a black man could be acquitted of defending his home against a white racist mob of hundreds while the police were standing by down the street was unconscionable. This event could never happen again, so the state of Michigan legislature created these laws, and they were designed solely to take away access of handguns and firearms to black men.
Ector described the county-by-county boards as a "discretionary process where each county gets to come up with its own particular criteria as to who can have a concealed pistol license. Under that discretionary system, we had a predictable result: People who lived in the suburbs could get guns and carry them, but people who lived in urban areas like Wayne County and specifically in the city of Detroit, we could not.… Gun control really is about race control and disarming black people."