Camden: Co-opting quotes for points

Concealed Carry

When a person wants to score points in a political argument, they often quote someone who commands respect from those on both sides of the debate. Whether that person agrees with their position, took a position on their issue or even said what they claim sometimes doesn’t matter.

That seemed to be the case during a state Senate committee hearing last week on the latest round of gun control bills. Aoibheann Cline, the state director of the National Rifle Association, argued against a proposal to require a 10-day waiting period and mandatory safety training for gun purchases.

One does not need training or waiting periods for other constitutional rights, such as exercising free speech, choosing a church or voting, she said.

“To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘A right delayed is a right denied,’ ” Cline told the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Except Cline probably wasn’t quoting King, on gun rights or any other rights.

The quote is attributed to King on various places on the internet, but as Abraham Lincoln once warned, “You can’t trust everything you read on the internet.” While King often talked about rights and fought against the Jim Crow laws that delayed or barred minorities from having them, none of the mentions of this quote cite a specific speech or writing.


Although he was an advocate of nonviolent resistance, King did have firearms to protect himself and his family after receiving death threats, according to a 2011 article by Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor. He once applied for a concealed carry permit, which was denied by local law enforcement at a time when police used any pretext to deny permits to Black applicants, Winkler wrote.

So to the extent that Jim Crow laws kept Black people from exercising the gun rights that white people had, he was probably opposed.

King did write, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Justice and rights are different, and in making that statement, however, he wasn’t claiming it as his own. He attributed it to “one of our distinguished jurists.”

Being in jail, King likely didn’t have access to a Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, so he can be forgiven for not attributing it directly to former British Prime Minister William Gladstone. It showed up in many American judicial rulings after that.

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