Color Commentary: A Clarification

The Knox Report

From the Firearms Coalition


Color Commentary


By Jeff Knox


(November 13, 2007) Back in July I wrote a piece titled “The Color of Gun Control” in which I described some of the racist motivations which historically underlie gun control laws.  When that article was published in Shotgun News a month later and I re-read it, I was surprised to note a rather glaring error.  While I stand by the core premise of the article, that gun control is intrinsically racist, I think some corrections and clarifications are is in order.

What immediately caught my attention was reading my description of the Illinois Firearm Owner ID system as a local jurisdiction, permit to purchase style program.  The FOID is no such thing.  It is a non-discretionary program operated by the State Police under which any person wishing to own a gun in the state must apply through the State Police and pass a background check.  If their record is clear, they get the FOID with no further say-so from law enforcement.

I have to admit that I am at a loss to explain this mistake since I was quite familiar with the basics of the FOID program long before I wrote the article.  I can only attribute the error to brain-fade as I focused on the destination rather than the route.  My brother and editor Chris also failed to catch my obvious misstatement.  He too knows better.

Something else that some long-time Illinois activists have taken issue with was my statement that; “In response to these racist fears, the Illinois Legislature, with the assistance of frightened gun groups, quickly passed [the FOID bill.]”  I believe that is accurate, but it could be read to imply that those defending gun rights were themselves racist.  I was not intending to make such an implication.  In fact, the core group involved in this fight included African-American gunowners and they recognized that racism and the “Black problem” were being used by proponents of gun control as leverage to push their restrictive agenda.  Robert Kukla, a leader of the gun fight in Illinois at that time and later the Executive Director of NRA-ILA, told me that he and his compatriots felt racial fears were being used as a “bugaboo” to scare people, but that the activists were not taken in by the hype. 

Unfortunately, the full force of the Daly Machine in Chicago was being brought to bear and a tidal wave of support for some form of firearms restrictions was swamping the State Legislature.  Mayor Daley and his allies were pulling out all of the stops raising fears of organized crime, youth violence, drug wars, and racial tensions as excuses for limiting the right to arms.  In fact, gun rights were under attack across the nation with major efforts in several states including Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey as well as at the federal level. 

In Illinois a very ugly local discretion permit system was on a fast track when the powers-that-be in the State Legislature came up with an alternative plan that they felt would placate the “public demand” for a gun control bill without dramatically impacting gunowners.  Illinois activists jumped at this chance to dodge a bullet and worked with legislators to ensure that it was this alternative – the FOID bill – which was adopted.

In hindsight it is easy to point at this “compromise” as a major mistake by gunowners, but it must be understood that this “work for the less onerous alternative” strategy was not unique to Illinois activists.  The mindset of the gun rights movement in 1967 was one of making “minor concessions” as a means of avoiding major losses.  If there was a contingent advocating for “no compromise” at that time, they were a very quiet minority because everyone from the NRA and state associations to the editors of major gun publications like Guns magazine and Guns & Ammo were advocating for passage of the “alternative bills.”  Even the young firebrand editor of Gun Week, none other than Neal Knox, was writing in support of the FOID option in Illinois and the Hruska alternative to the Dodd Bill in Congress. 

After passage of many of these “compromise” deals gun rights advocates began to realize that they were battling on a slippery slope.  The lesson Neal Knox and others took from the experience was that to accept bad for fear that worse will be rammed down our throats is a strategic error.  Yet even today many gunowners and even many gun rights activists haven’t learned the important lessons of the late 1960’s: that it is better to fight and lose than to surrender slowly and betray fundamental principles. 

As to this column and my other writings, it has been three years since I took over my father’s day-to-day responsibilities and it has been quite a learning experience – and that learning is ongoing.  I hope that readers will appreciate the broader philosophical and practical concepts that I try to convey even while they correct my misstatements.  Something that has always distinguished the gun rights movement from advocates of gun control is intellectual honesty.  I am committed to living up to this legacy by keeping my writing as accurate as possible and I appreciate your help in keeping me on target.


Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety is hereby granted provided this credit is included.  To Receive the Firearms Coalition’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Hard Corps Report, send a contribution to The Firearms Coalition, PO Box 3313, Manassas, VA  20108 or visit and  ©Copyright 2007 Neal Knox Associates