By: José Niño
Of the tropes used to smear the Second Amendment, the idea that it is a racist concept takes the cake as the most pernicious.
Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have run with this narrative, going so far to feature a podcast titled “Do Black Americans Have the Right to Bear Arms?” in which historian Carol Anderson and Charles Howard Candler, an African American Studies professor at Emory University, argued that the Second Amendment is rooted in racism.
This ACLU’s invective comes in light of a recent development in the Supreme Court, where two amicus curiae briefs were filed in a pending Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc, v. Bruen. This case will determine if New York state’s denial of applications for concealed carry licenses for the purposes of self-defense constitutes a violation of the Second Amendment.
One of the briefs was filed by the National African American Gun Association, an organization that promotes lawful gun ownership among African Americans, and laid out a concise history of how gun control was used to disarm blacks — freemen and slaves alike— during the colonial era and early days of the American Republic:
During the colonial, founding, and early republic periods, slaves and even free blacks, particularly in the southern states, were either barred from carrying a firearm at all or were required to obtain a license to do so, which was subject to the discretion of a government official. African Americans were not considered as among “the people” with the “right” to “bear arms.”
Exclusion of African Americans from the rights of “the people” in the Second Amendment and other Bill of Rights guarantees was in conflict with the explicit text. The argument has been made that the Second Amendment was adopted to protect slavery. But the defect was not in recognizing the rights of white Americans, but was in not recognizing the rights of black Americans. The impetus for recognition of the right to bear arms came from the Northern states, which had abolished or were in the process of abolishing slavery.
There’s a common talking point among the Left that the Second Amendment was designed to suppress slave revolts during the early days of the Republic. Frankly, this form of historical analysis doesn’t hold up. The militia aspect of the Second Amendment that the Left obsesses about is the product of a general distrust of centralized standing armies that goes all the way back to 17th century England. This was a time when Parliament and the English Crown frequently butted heads over the English government’s management of political affairs.
In the middle of this conflict, the “Levellers,” a libertarian-leaning political movement, surfaced in opposition to the British government’s attempts to centralize power. One of the Levellers’ unique selling points was their goal to establish a decentralized militia instead of a traditional standing army.
Although the Levellers never came out victorious against the British crown, they were still able to force it to compromise on the national militia question. From there, the militia would no longer be directly under the Crown’s control. More importantly, the sentiments towards the presence of standing armies were transplanted to the 13 colonies of North America.
The peak of pro-militia attitudes was present in the Declaration of Independence, where the signatories sharply condemned the British monarchy for keeping “Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures” and making the “Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”
The right to bear arms predates the founding of America, and it is certainly not part of some plot by Southern planters to suppress African Americans, as many left-wing “historians” would have you believe.
If anything, gun control is a policy with racial motivations. During the antebellum period, southern states enacted gun control laws that singled out freemen and slaves alike. In the wake of the Nat Turner slave Rebellion of 1831, slave states became increasingly suspicious of armed African American populations. States such as Virginia quickly prohibited freemen from carrying and owning firearms, out of fear of an armed African American populace potentially launching further insurrections.
While the end of the American Civil War saw African Americans finally receive basic civil liberties, Southern states quickly worked to undermine whatever progress was made by enacting the Black Codes — laws aimed at eroding African American freedoms.
The Black Codes and other government-sponsored discriminatory measures deprived blacks of their right to self-defense throughout the Jim Crow era, which left thousands of blacks defenseless against white supremacist groups. From 1882 to 1968, 3,446 blacks were murdered in lynchings, the majority taking place in the Jim Crow South.
The Civil Rights movement’s most prominent leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, was also a victim of gun control. Following the bombing of King’s house in 1956, the civil rights leader applied for a concealed carry permit. In that period, Alabama was a “may issue” state where the police had enormous power in determining who could legally carry a firearm. Even if an individual met all the legal prerequisites to carry a firearm, a sheriff could still arbitrarily deny the person a permit.
Non-African American minorities have been negatively impacted by gun control as well. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II represented one of the most flagrant violations of constitutional freedoms in American history. The U.S. government acknowledged its wrongdoing in 1988, when Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided reparations to Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II.
Historical accounts of Japanese internment overlook one nasty detail: the role that gun confiscation played in the internment process of Japanese Americans. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 to create military zones and later pave the way for incarcerating Japanese Americans and other groups suspected of engaging in subversive activities.
Under 9066, Japanese Americans suffered many transgressions on their civil liberties. For example, they were subject to firearms confiscation to ensure peaceful compliance prior to being sent to internment camps.
Sadly, none of this history is ever considered by court historians and other so-called intellectuals in mainstream institutions. Like most institutions in the US, the ACLU has drifted leftwards over the last few decades and has become a reliable advocate for cultural leftist causes. Whatever positives the ACLU used to have when it came to defending civil liberties have all gone out the window now that it is a mainstay of the cultural Left.
Second Amendment proponents can safely ignore the ACLU. They’re just one of many organizations that oppose American freedoms and should be viewed as an enemy to freedom.
José Niño is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Sign up for his mailing list here. Contact him via Facebook, Twitter, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get his e-book, The 10 Myths of Gun Control, here.