Professor Nicholas Johnson reviews Policing the Second Amendment: Guns, Law Enforcement and the Politics of Race, a new book by Jennifer Carlson, and rethinks race and gun control in an article in Law & Liberty.
Jennifer Carlson’s Policing the Second Amendment: Guns, Law Enforcement and the Politics of Race is a sweeping and provocative recasting of the gun debate. Carlson takes on the Herculean task of providing a framework for thinking about how the right to arms plays out for people of color.
Her inputs are police chief interviews and observations of a carry license review board. “Gun militarism” and “gun populism” replace the traditional pro-gun/anti-gun dichotomy. Policing the right to arms proceeds simultaneously along these two tracks, with gun militarism explaining the tough application of gun laws to criminal “bad guys” (gangbangers, thugs) and gun populism explaining police embrace of armed “good guys” (citizens, ranchers), including those licensed to carry concealed. Both depictions Carlson argues are often “racialized.”
Recent history makes the gun control subtext of the police eliminating the need for self-defense an increasingly hard sell. Police are more or less effective depending on who and where you are. The turmoil of 2020 shows that the security bureaucracy is truly a bureaucracy, with multiple variables impacting decisions about how or whether state resources will be deployed to protect innocents. It is no surprise that more and more innocents are unwilling to rely on their safety on such fickle and contingent decisions. For millions of Americans, this includes lawfully carrying firearms in public.
Carlson’s interviews with chiefs dismantle one of the tired old shibboleths about the public carry of firearms. Even before the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller and McDonald, the majority of states adopted “shall issue” concealed carry policies. But there are still a handful of jurisdictions where carrying firearms outside the home is a restricted privilege of the well-connected few.