Posted by: morgan1965 | April 3, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gun Safety

It is a harsh reality that in the year 2013 we in America live in a culture of gun violence. All kinds of guns [hand guns, rifles, assault rifles] are used by women and men to kill other human beings. Violence is not a new phenomenon in this nation. The nation in a real sense was conceived in violence in that it was the American Revolution that provided a framework for forming a new nation. When confronted by social, political and economic differences, the nation fought a bloody civil war that pitted brothers against brothers, and state against state, North against South. Violence in general, and gun violence in particular, are a common feature of the contemporary American landscape.

On April 4 of each year, we observe the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This drum major for justice and peace, was himself a victim of gun violence. King was killed by a rifle bullet in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had gone to stand in solidarity with striking sanitation workers in April of 1968.

During the sixties, there were numerous victims of gun violence, including such luminaries as President John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Bobby Kennedy and Malcom X. To be sure, there were cries for legislation to invoke new levels of gun control. Nevertheless, gun violence continues unabated until this day in our history. It seems to grow worse year by year. The massacre of twenty-six children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut triggered a fresh call for legislation to control or at least curtail gun violence in our communities.

What did Martin Luther King think about guns and gun violence? This is an intriguing question to ask about a man who died as a result of gun violence. We gain some insight into King’s feeling about guns when we turn to King’s son Dexter’s book, “Growing Up King.”

Dexter King recalls that his brother, Martin, Isaac and he found some plastic guns. As boys would do, they began to play with the guns in imaginative ways, pretending to be soldiers, gangsters, cops and robbers. They pretended to shoot each other, and they pretended to be dead. Dexter later realized that his father must have been watching them with great interest, because he came outside and gathered the three boys around him. The boys realized that Rev. King was deeply concerned about their antics and their toys.

Dexter admits in this autobiographic piece that he enjoyed playing with toy guns. These toy guns fascinated him. The reality was that he did not often get a chance to play with toy guns because his parents did not give the boys any toy guns to play with. On this occasion King took the guns from the boys. He inquired about their fascination with guns. Then he told them never to use real guns. He even told them not to use toy guns.

Martin King explained to the boys that the handgun has one purpose which is to kill people or maim people. He even told them that they would be sad if they saw what a gun could do to a person. In terms of their conscience, he challenged them that they would not want to deal with causing the death of another person. He would rather see them play sports rather than play with toy guns. In the end, the boys destroyed the toy guns. But, Dexter never forgot this incident and conversation with his father.

It has been noted that in the mid-1950s when things were becoming more volatile in the civil rights movement, Martin King kept firearms for his own self-protection and the safety of his family. During his career, Martin King received numerous death threats. We know that King never resorted to any kind of gun violence. To the contrary, he became an unflinching advocate of nonviolence.

As an advocate of nonviolence, King reveals some poignant and insightful thoughts in the book, “The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” edited by Clayborne Carson. Commenting on the assassination of President Kennedy, King noted that the president was “assassinated by a morally inclement climate.” He pointed out that President Kennedy was killed in a climate where black people were routinely assassinated because of their political involvements. He did not consider the gun shot that killed Kennedy to be an isolated act of a deranged man. King urged the nation to determine what killed Kennedy, rather than to dwell on who killed him. The prevailing climate at that time was characterized by unchecked violence, hatred, and false accusations.

King argued that this climate murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi. Ironically, it was this very same climate that murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968.

King titled his last Sunday morning sermon, preached on Passion Sunday at the National Cathedral (March 31, 1968), “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He indicated that there was no longer a choice. He argued that we cannot choose between violence and nonviolence. Violence leads to nonexistence so we must choose nonviolence. In that sermon, King spoke in terms of disarming the whole world.

Are we sleeping through the revolution like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle? No we must wake up and be drum majors for nonviolence. Gun safety is an important matter today. Prudent gun safety needs reasonable people, and people of faith to be advocates for our children who are dying as a result of gun violence. Adults are dying as a result of gun violence. Americans are dying by the thousands because of gun violence.

King was shot dead only four days after his sermon at the National Cathedral. It was a matter of gun violence.

I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be a strong proponent of gun safety in a nation that seems to have gone mad with an infatuation with guns while tolerating a lack of gun safety.

Think about it.

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