In an August 24 press release, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) compared the decision by the University of Colorado to house students who wish to carry guns on campus in separate dormitories than non-gun-carrying students to the infamous 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which announced the racist “separate but equal” doctrine.
The University of Colorado may want to check with its law professors on this one. The university system is releasing new Plessy v. Ferguson-like rules that would segregate its gun-owning students from the rest of their peers.
In doing so, the NRA-ILA drew a false equivalence between one of the most widely panned Supreme Court decisions and a school policy designed to prohibit access to firearms for students under the age of 21. While carrying a gun is a decision made by an individual, the law at issue in Plessy discriminated on the basis of the immutable characteristic of race.
Such a comparison by the gun organization minimizes the horror of segregation in America.
In Plessy, the Supreme Court voted 7 to 1 to uphold a Louisiana state law that required African Americans and Caucasians to sit in separate railroad cars while traveling by train. “Separate but equal” would stand for more than fifty years until it was struck down in Brown v. Board of Education.
The rationale behind the decision in Plessy was unabashedly racist; writing for the majority Justice Henry Brown stated that an African American person “is not lawfully entitled to the reputation of being a white man.” The court concluded:
We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.
The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition.
The comparison made by the NRA-ILA recalls a tactic by far-right figures to compare Roe v. Wade to the Dred Scott decision that held African Americans were not citizens of the United States and were thus unprotected by the U.S. Constitution.