A barrage of criticism is raining down on Larry Ward, chairman of Gun Appreciation Day, for his shockingly misinformed statement that American slavery might not have happened if slaves had been allowed to own guns.
Ward’s comments came as he defended his decision to hold a day in support of gun ownership, on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Jan. 21. Ward chose that date because it is the day of President Obama’s inauguration, giving him a chance to make a statement about guns at the start of the second term of a president who is making a stand against guns.
In an appearance on CNN Friday, Ward defended a nationwide gun rally, saying it actually “honors the legacy of Dr. King.”
“We are looking for a peaceful protest,” Ward said. “I think Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African-Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from Day 1 of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.”
Criticism of Ward’s confounding comments went in a number of different directions, from pointing out King’s commitment to nonviolence and the fact that he was killed by an act of gun violence, to others recalling the many armed rebellions by slaves, such as Nat Turner’s, and the brutal mass murders that whites committed in the wake of the rebellions. After Turner’s rampage resulted in up to 65 white deaths, Virginia executed 56 blacks accused of being involved in the insurrection, and white mobs beat and killed at least 200 others in revenge.
“It’s always a tip-off when they say, ‘King would have agreed with me,’ ” writes columnist Michael Tomasky on The Daily Beast. “We’re about to endure another round of this again, when King Day comes and conservatives dish out the obligatory ‘King would be a conservative today’ columns. It’s completely ridiculous, as is the idea that armed slaves would have managed anything more than the wholesale slaughter by their far-better-armed masters of many of their number. But Ward, it turns out, walks a well-worn path of gun advocates trying to pretend that they pursue the policies they pursue for the sake of the powerless.”