Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 09:01
Martin Luther King, Jr. has been in the public consciousness lately, and this is entirely appropriate as Monday, Jan. 21 is the day we celebrate his birthday.
This year, his opinion on guns and gun control are of particular interest.
Partisans on both sides invoke his name and legacy in an often vain attempt to add a measure of credibility to their argument.
While the notion of whose “side” King would take is certainly interesting to think about, maybe it's more effective if we let King's writings speak for themselves.
Here's what King had to say about the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963:
“Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred and raging storms of violence.
“It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.
“So in a sense we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”
And biographer Taylor Branch, in his book “Parting the Waters,” writes that after his house in Montgomery, Ala. was bombed in 1956, King used his power of persuasion to still an armed and angry crowd bent on retaliation:
‘Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said.
We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’
Yes, King owned guns in the 1950s, and after the above incident applied (and was rejected) for a concealed carry permit. However, according to the 1998 “Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” edited by Clayborn Carlson, King decided against carrying firearms:
“How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection? ... We decided then to get rid of the one weapon we owned ... I was much more afraid in Montgomery when I had a gun in my house ... Had we become distracted by the question of my safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppressors.”
And finally, there is this from King's essay “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom” from 1966:
“...it is extremely dangerous to organize a movement around self-defense. The line between defensive violence and aggressive or retaliatory violence is a fine line indeed. When violence is tolerated even as a means of self-defense there is grave danger that in the fervor of emotion the main fight will be lost over the question of self-defense.”
My intent in laying out King's words for you is not to lay some political or moral claim to them, but to inspire and educate.
His philosophy is much more than a dream. It's a way to live, a moral guide that can inform our politics even today.