Under the guidance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the practice of nonviolence was an historic cornerstone of the American civil rights movement. Writing in 1966, Dr. King affirmed, "I am convinced that for practical as well as moral reasons, nonviolence offers the only road to freedom for my people."
But last week, spinning on behalf of gun advocates and continuing the far-right's convoluted attempt to equate Second Amendment supporters to modern-day civil rights protesters, Rush Limbaugh suggested that if civil rights activists had brandished guns maybe the movement could have better protected itself from segregationist foes [emphasis added]:
LIMBAUGH: If a lot of African-Americans back in the '60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma? I don't know. I'm just asking. If (Rep) John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?
Basically Limbaugh, stretching to make an absurd point about guns in America, suggested it would have been better if Dr. King's non-violent crusade had embraced firearms as a way to advance its cause.
Specifically, the right-wing talker wondered if civil rights icon John Lewis had been carrying a gun on March 7, 1965, would Lewis still have been beaten when he led 600 unarmed activists across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. (aka "Bloody Sunday.")
Not only is the gun suggestion an insult to the non-violent philosophy that Dr. King preached in the name of social justice, but it also highlights Limbaugh's complete ignorance about the civil rights movement and who was handing out the beatings at the time. As Lewis noted while responding to Limbaugh's comments last week, "Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means."
Fact: The people attacking black activists that day in Selma were Alabama state troopers. If, as Limbaugh suggested, Lewis had a gun and was willing to use it against his aggressors, if he had fired in "self-defense" after troopers charged into the crowd of peaceful protesters, that would have meant Lewis spraying bullets into a crowd of white policemen.
One can only imagine what the repercussions would have been in segregated Alabama, in 1965, and what that would have done to the cause of civil rights in the South.
Limbaugh and others are going so far around the bend trying to argue the benefits of guns and how virtually all Americans should be armed, that they're producing historic scenarios that most people (and especially Limbaugh) would have treated as radical and revolutionary. Like civil rights marchers opening fire on policemen in 1965. (Or the idea that gun-toting African-Americans could have eradicated slavery centuries ago.)
Also, note that by telling listeners Lewis "says he was beat upside the head" during the Selma protest (emphasis on his use of "says"), Limbaugh seemed to indicate the point was open to debate or interpretation. However, this famous news photograph showing Lewis knocked to the ground in Selma and being beaten by an Alabama state trooper leaves no doubt as to what happened that day.
Crossposted on County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.