Firearms and Lynching

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We assess firearms as a means of Black residents’ self-defense in the Jim Crow South. We infer access to firearms by race and place by measuring the fraction of suicides committed with a firearm. Corroborating anecdotal accounts and historical claims, state bans on pistols and increases in White law enforcement personnel served as mechanisms to disarm the Black community, while having no comparable effect on White residents’ firearm access. The interaction of these mechanisms with changing national market prices for firearms provides a credible identification strategy for Black residents’ firearm access. Rates of Black residents’ lynching decreased with their greater access to firearms.

I had already determined to sell my life as dearly as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one lyncher with me, this would even up the score a little bit. (Wells 1970, p. 62)

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