Firearms and Violence Under Jim Crow

Patrick Warren (Clemson University)
Michael Makowsky (Clemson University)

Abstract: Historical rates of firearm access in the United States remain uncertain. Using hand-coded vital statistics records, we calculate the fraction of recorded suicides committed with a firearm as a proxy to separately assess state firearm access rates for black and white households in the U.S. South from 1913 until 1999. Our estimates support the historical interpretation of early 20th century state-level gun regulations as efforts to disarm black residents in the Jim Crow South, followed by black residents successfully re-arming themselves during the civil rights movement. We find that firearms offered black residents an effective means of self-defense, while also calling into question the classification of firearm deaths recorded as accidents. Using records of lynchings from 1913 to 1949, we find evidence that the number of black lynchings decreases with greater black firearm access. During the height of the civil rights movement (1954 to 1968), we observe that white homicide deaths increased with black firearms. Black homicide deaths, however, are not sensitive to black firearms. We instead observe that rates of black ``accidental death by firearm'' _decreased_ with black firearms, a result which supports historical anecdotes of frequent misclassification of black homicides, including lynchings, as accidents or of causes unknown.

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