NRA Cites MLK’s Failed Concealed Carry Permit Application On Day Honoring His Legacy

Commentators noted that King later denounced gun ownership, a fact they say the NRA glossed over.

An unidentified person wears a vest that displays the National Rifle Association's logo on the back of it.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Commentators noted that King later denounced gun ownership, a fact they say the NRA glossed over.

The National Rifle Association used the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the federal holiday honoring the Civil Rights icon who was assassinated by a man with a sniper rifle in 1968, by pointing out that King had applied for, and was denied, a concealed carry permit in 1956.

“Today, the men and women of the @NRA honor the profound life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” the tweet from the gun organization stated. “Dr. King applied for a concealed carry permit in a ‘may issue’ state and was denied. We will never stop fighting for every law-abiding citizen’s right to self-defense.”

Many commentators responded to the NRA’s tweet by pointing out that a gun couldn’t have saved Dr. King’s life when he was murdered years after he applied for the permit.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated with a firearm legally purchased by an escaped felon with a lengthy criminal record, in an era before background checks, waiting periods, or any of the rational reforms the NRA has fought against throughout its modern history,” CNN opinion writer Jeff Yang wrote in a response tweet.

Media Matters for America’s Timothy Johnson similarly pointed out that King stood for gun control himself in his later years.

“The part the NRA always seems to forget: Dr. King later repudiated gun ownership, saying, ‘How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection?'” Johnson wrote in his tweet.

That quote is from King’s autobiography. Within the pages of that book, King explained his evolution on the issue of gun ownership, describing a conversation he had with his wife in those years.

“Corretta [Scott King] and I talked the matter over for several days and finally agreed that arms were no solution. We decided then to get rid of the one weapon we owned.”

He added that the decision to disarm himself made him feel safer.

“I no longer needed a gun nor have I been afraid,” he wrote. “Had we become distracted by the question of my own safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppressors.”

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He had traveled there to speak with striking sanitation workers in the city, according to History.

While standing on a second-floor balcony of his hotel a day after he gave a speech in support of those workers, James Earl Ray shot a bullet from his sniper-rifle toward King, which hit the civil rights hero in the neck. King was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 39-years-old.