Martin Luther King Jr.’s Request for a Gun Permit Was Denied?

Claim:

Martin Luther King Jr. was denied a concealed-carry gun permit in 1956.

Rating:

True

Over the years, people have repeatedly shared a claim online that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to get a gun license but was denied — and Snopes’ readers have asked us whether it’s true.

In the r/liberalgunowners subreddit on Reddit, a user posted (archive) in 2018 that “Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a permit to carry a concealed firearm in 1956, after his house was bombed. His application was denied.”

An X user shared (archive) the claim that same year, writing that “the local police had discretion to determine who was a suitable person to carry firearms” but didn’t think the civil rights leader qualified. Even the National Rifle Association has written about King’s denied permit. On Jan. 21, 2019 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the gun advocacy organization posted (archive) the claim: 

In short, the claim is accurate. It seemingly originated from Adam Winkler, an author and law professor at UCLA. In an article (archive) for HuffPost, Winkler wrote about King’s effort to legally carry a firearm: 

As I found researching my new book, Gunfight, in 1956, after King’s house was bombed, King applied for a concealed carry permit in Alabama. The local police had discretion to determine who was a suitable person to carry firearms. King, a clergyman whose life was threatened daily, surely met the requirements of the law, but he was rejected nevertheless. At the time, the police used any wiggle room in the law to discriminate against African Americans.

A Feb. 4, 1956, newspaper article in The Montgomery Advertiser corroborated Winkler’s claim. The article, titled “Negro Leader Fails to Get Pistol Permit,” covered the events following King’s house being firebombed and King subsequently applying for a “pistol permit”:

A Negro boycott leader whose home was bombed earlier this week has been denied a pistol permit, the Sherrif’s department said yesterday.

The Rev. M.L. King and two other clergymen requested the permit Wednesday, Sheriff Mac Sim Butler said.

Sherriff Butler said he declined to issue a pistol permit which King said he wanted for a night watchman at his home.

He said threats against him have been received “continuously” and he felt the need for a watchman.

Because this claim is well-documented, we have rated it “True.”

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