INDIANAPOLIS—Sometimes history tries to teach us a lesson.
The Indiana House of Representatives just voted to allow Hoosiers to carry firearms without securing permits. If the measure becomes law—it must pass the Indiana Senate and be signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb before it does—it will mean, for all practical purposes, that this state no longer has gun laws.
The House voted for this bill just a couple of days after conservative lawmakers in the chamber booed Black legislators for speaking out against a bill the Black members considered discriminatory. The incident escalated to the point that at least one Black lawmaker said he feared for his safety.
Several of the legislators doing the booing were among those pushing for the firearm bill.
One of them—Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour—is the National Rifle Association’s chief errand boy in Indiana. He also has been in trouble for posting racist memes on his Facebook page—so much trouble that House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, stripped him of one committee leadership position and removed him from two other committees.
Lucas once told me he’s a self-proclaimed absolutist when it comes to what he calls “gun rights” because privately owned firearms are a bulwark against tyranny. Guns allow powerless people to resist unjust authority, he argued. And he cited the colonial militias in the Revolutionary War as an example.
That is one of the NRA’s prime talking points. The gun lobby and its mouthpieces like to point to the militias as proof an armed citizenry is a defense for both liberty and justice.
It’s an attractive myth.
The problem is that it’s wrong—complete fiction.
In fact, the colonial militias in the Revolutionary War were ineffective as fighting forces. George Washington and his fellow officers in the American army despaired of using the militias. Washington and his generals found the militia members were no match for the trained professional soldiers in the British army. The militia members often fled from conflict and frequently fired indiscriminately at whatever caught their eyes, sometimes wounding their own troops or civilians.
Washington and his council of war concluded the militias did more harm than good on the field.
That is not to say, though, that the militias didn’t play an important role in winning the war.
In fact, the militias did help.
Just not in a way that we like to talk about today.
The militias served as a kind of internal police force. One of their chief duties was to keep arsenals and other stockpiles of weapons away from people the Continental Congress and Continental Army did not want having firearms.
That’s right. The militias the gun lobby touts as examples of the power and wisdom of unfettered access to guns were in fact agents of gun control.
Who were the people the militias were supposed to keep from getting guns?
Well, some were loyalists to the crown and the British government. The Congress and the army understandably didn’t want residents of the colony helping the redcoats.
But that wasn’t the colonists’ real fear—the big reason the Continental Congress and army wanted the militias to keep things under control.
No, the Americans fighting in the Revolutionary War worried slaves would create what amounted to a second front in an already desperate struggle.
The thought that Black people might rise and demand the same things—freedom, self-determination, human dignity—terrified America’s leaders.
Apparently, it still does.
After the episode in which the Indiana House conservatives tried to shout down members of the Black caucus, it seems there was a near-altercation between Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, and Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary.
Morrison is white. Smith is Black.
Smith said Morrison began berating him in a restroom—almost, Smith continued, as if Morrison wanted the conflict to escalate to a physical one. Smith said he left the restroom to avoid that possibility, but that Morrison followed him and continued berating him until another colleague pulled the Republican away.
“I just don’t feel that I should be in a situation where I’ve got to fear physically for my safety,” Smith said.
He added that not knowing which lawmakers might be carrying guns didn’t ease his fears or those of his colleagues in the Black caucus.
Yes, history is talking to us.
Is anyone listening?
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism student