Was the pistol permit law of 1919 an important part of “Jim Crow” efforts to deny access to arms for African Americans? That is not the real story. Public weapons possession was generally prohibited in England since the Statute of Northampton (1328) which forbade most people to “go nor ride armed by night nor by day, in fairs, markets, nor in the presence of the justices or other ministers, nor in no part elsewhere, upon pain to forfeit their armor to the king.”

The first laws enacted in North Carolina were in 1669. The colonial government on the Albemarle would have enforced ancient English statutes as part of the common law. As of 1776, North Carolina has recognized the common law misdemeanor of “going about armed to the terror of the people.”

In 1865, Raleigh was occupied by Sherman’s Army when President Lincoln was assassinated. It was only by the grace of God that Raleigh was not looted and burned in reprisal.

In 1868 a new Constitution included this Article in the Declaration of Rights:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State,

the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; and, as

standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be

kept up, and the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

Federal troops stayed in North Carolina until 1877 helping to enforce newly established rights under the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Ratifications of these Amendments were conditions of readmission to the Union for states that had seceded.

The election of 1868 found the first Republican governor, William Holden, and Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. These majorities included many black Republicans, and also white Republicans from the western counties where there was pro-union sentiment before, during, and after the war. The State Supreme Court remained solidly Democratic.

From 1868 through 1870, the Ku Klux Klan was on the rise. Gov. Holden repeatedly clashed with the state Supreme Court. He ignored writs of habeas corpus which protected the Klan. He used pots of state money that he could find (but had not been appropriated) to buy munitions and pay the militia to combat the Klan. The “Kirk-Holden War” of 1870 began when a Republican senator went to the Caswell County courthouse to find out what Democrats were planning. He was assassinated. “War” ensued with skirmishes between the Klan and the state militia. Republicans lost the next legislative election in 1870. Gov. Holden was the first American governor impeached, convicted, and removed from office. In 1871 the Ku Klux Klan Act was passed by the U.S. Congress to combat it.

In 1875, changes to the state Constitution were proposed and adopted in 1876. This change to the Declaration of Rights was offered by a Republican Senator from Mecklenburg who was aligned with African Americans.

“Nothing herein shall justify the practice of carrying concealed weapons, or prevent the General Assembly from enacting penal statutes against that practice.”

As of 1879, statutes provided that it was illegal to carry concealed weapons.

“Sec. 1005. Concealed weapons, the carrying of unlawfully, a misdemeanor. 1879, c. 127. 1883, c. 81.

If any one, except when on his own premises, shall carry concealed about his person any pistol, bowie knife, dirk, dagger, slungshot, loaded cane, brass, iron or metallic knuckles or razor or other deadly weapon of like kind, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and fined or imprisoned at the discretion of the court. And if any one, not being on his own lands, shall have about his person any such deadly weapon, such possession shall be prima facie evidence of the concealment thereof. This section shall not apply to the following persons: officers of the state, or of any county, city or town, charged with the execution of the laws of the state, when acting in the discharge of their official duties.”

North Carolina is not a “constitutional carry” state.

Even though federal troops left in 1877, black Republicans retained some political power culminating in the election of 1896. That year Republicans elected a governor and, in coalition with populists, elected majorities again to the state House and Senate. The largest city at the time was Wilmington. It had a Republican, (both black and white), government.

Josephus Daniels, the editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, along with F.M. Simmons, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, hatched a plot to inflame white citizens, promoting white supremacy and anti-Republican propaganda. One tactic was to spread false tales of prominent black men raping white women.

In 1898 this culminated in a coup d’état against the government of Wilmington. Violence, including use of one of the first “machine guns,” was used. Between 50 and 100 people were murdered. A majority were black Republicans and their families. Josephus Daniels, F.M. Simmons and the “Red Shirts” began a statewide campaign to intimidate black Republican voters, take away their right to vote, and make them second-class citizens, in law as well as in fact. “Jim Crow” lasted in North Carolina from 1900 until well into the 1960s.

In 1911, Julian Carr, for whom the Town of Carrboro is named, made a passionate speech at the dedication of Silent Sam, the memorial to the Confederate dead at Chapel Hill. In the most outrageous terms, he made his case for white supremacy. The Town of Carrboro has never acted to change its name by local referendum which is allowed under state law.

World War I began in 1914. In this war, whole populations were mobilized. The United States entered the war in 1917. We helped bring it to a victorious conclusion in November 1918.

Millions of American troops mustered out in 1919 in the midst of the Spanish flu epidemic (50 to 100 million deaths worldwide). There was turmoil in Europe including the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. President Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton University, was a true white supremacist. There was a resurgence of the Klan.

On April 1, 1919 a pistol permit law went into effect. On February 28, 1919, the Western Sentinel (Winston Salem) reported that Senator James A. Gray had filed a bill to prevent murder and general lawlessness. It followed a 1917 law on concealed weapons. The story made no mention of race. In those days race would have been mentioned if it were material.

“The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:

Section 1. That it shall be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation in this State to sell, give away or dispose of, or to purchase or receive, at any place within the State from any other place within or without the State, without a license or permit therefor shall have first been obtained by such purchaser or receiver from the clerk of the Superior Court of the county in which such purchase, sale, or transfer is intended to be made, any pistol, so-called pump-gun, bowie knife, dagger or metallic knucks.

. . . .”Section 3. That before the clerk of the Superior Court shall issue any such license or permit he shall fully satisfy himself by affidavits, oral evidence, or otherwise, as to the good moral character of the applicant therefor, and that such person, firm, or corporation requires the possession of such weapon mentioned in section one of this act for protection of the home: Provided, that if said clerk shall not be so fully satisfied, he shall refuse to issue said license or permit: and Provided further, that nothing in this act shall apply to officers authorized by law to carry firearms. The clerk shall charge for his services upon issuing such license or permit a fee of fifty cents.”

Some claim that the 1919 adoption of the pistol permit law was designed to keep pistols out of the hands of blacks. Perhaps that was the motivation of someone. More likely is that the sudden influx of millions of guns to the country in a time of great turmoil and gang violence was part of it. It was more likely designed to keep the rejuvenated Ku Klux Klan from carrying weapons under their sheets again.

What is not true is that weapon control on blacks began in 1919 as part of “Jim Crow.” Weapon control began in 1669 (codified as of 1776) and continued in the 1870s as a reaction to KKK violence against blacks.

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