Washington Law Review

Article

How the Gun Control Act Disarms Black Firearm Owners

October 01, 2021 | 96 Wash. L. Rev. 1191

Abstract: Through 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), the Gun Control Act (GCA) outlaws the possession of a firearm “in furtherance of” a drug trafficking crime. The statute’s language is broad, and federal courts have interpreted it expansively. By giving prosecutors wide discretion in charging individuals with § 924(c) violations, the language enables the disproportionate incarceration of Black firearm owners.

This Comment addresses this issue in three parts. Part I discusses the ways early gun control laws overtly disarmed Black firearm owners. Additionally, Part I provides context for the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which coincided with the backlash to the Civil Rights Movement. Next, Part II outlines the ways different circuits have interpreted § 924(c), demonstrating how those interpretations disadvantage Black defendants. Finally, Part III puts forth two proposals for reform: interpreting § 924(c) more narrowly, or simply removing the language at issue from the GCA. These reforms would reduce racial disparities in the enforcement of § 924(c). They would also reaffirm the right of Black Americans to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

Download Full Article