by Rod D. Martin
July 7, 2015

In response to my piece on why the Founders adopted the Second Amendment, I heard from several people who claim that gun rights in America existed to preserve slavery.

An example:

Gun ownership also played a large role in preserving slavery and slaves…The CSA fought with guns, am I right?  They used their 2d amendment rights to attempt secession… which was to preserve slavery. guns were used to enforce the fugitive slave act. Even when black Americans were theoretically legally permitted to use guns , guns were used by law enforcement and extrajudicial groups to institute racial terror and it wasn’t just the klan.

This is precisely backward. Indeed, it is headache inducing.

It was not the Second Amendment but rather the restriction of gun ownership to whites that maintained slavery. This was not only in the form of gun control laws but also of judicial theory. Perhaps the most significant holding of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case was that blacks could not be citizens, because citizens necessarily have the right to own guns.

“[I]t would give them the full liberty,” Chief Justice Taney wrote, horrified, “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

Shortly after Dred Scott, the Democratic Party in the South seceded from the Union so as to preserve the enslavement of the black race, and the Democratic Party in the North rioted and aided and abetted the enemy and did everything in its power to help its Southern brethren. After losing the Civil War, the first thing Democrats did was enact gun controls against blacks (a key part of the 1866 “Black Codes” which were intended to re-reduce them to semi-slavery). The more things change….

This attempt to erase the preceding five years of struggle resulted in the Republican passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which explicitly guaranteed Second Amendment rights to the freed slaves (oh, and their enactment of the 14th and 15th Amendments as well). But after Reconstruction, the Democrats again enacted gun control against blacks in every state. And make no mistake: it was against blacks. In the words of segregationist Democrat (but they were all Democrats) Florida Supreme Court Justice Rivers Buford in 1941:

I know something of the history of this legislation. The original Act of 1893 was passed when there was a great influx of negro laborers in this State drawn here for the purpose of working in turpentine and lumber camps. The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers and to thereby reduce the unlawful homicides that were prevalent in turpentine and saw-mill camps and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied. [Emphasis added]

Prior to 1968, hardly any gun control law in the United States was ever generalized to the white population, and indeed, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was a response by the Democrats in Congress to the (black) riots that summer.

But did the South use the Second Amendment to start the Civil War, as my above-quoted correspondent suggests? And was it the Second Amendment that enabled the Klan?

Again, this is precisely backward. First, the South did not “use its Second Amendment rights” to secede. By definition, secession meant the South was actively repudiating the entire U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment with it. The forces it employed to wage the war were government forces: the armies raised by the same state governments that had deprived blacks of their Second Amendment rights before the war, and which continued to do so afterward.

The guns used to impose slavery were government guns, enforcing government laws against private gun ownership. Armed black citizens were the greatest fear of those governments, and would have been their undoing. It was the Second Amendment’s abrogation, not its enactment, that made this possible. the Southern states unconstitutionally restricted gun rights so that only government and those in league with it could own firearms.

At the time our Bill of Rights was enacted, every country in Europe had guns, and had laws preventing common people from possessing them. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that America would be different, that power would lie not with oppressive regimes but with the people, in the most tangible, practical possible way. Contrary to the writer’s confused argument, the Second Amendment was not enacted to preserve gun ownership for governments: why would such a thing even be necessary? The Constitution already gave government the power to make war, and every state already had the police power.

And anyway, try to name a government that does not possess guns. And then, name any gun control law that has tried to take guns from the government.

They are all aimed at the people.

Some say there’s no need for regular people to have guns now, that this whole line of thought is obsolete. At the exact same time, they use hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and protest police departments that not long ago were actively cooperating with and frequently staffed by the Ku Klux Klan. In enacting the Second Amendment, the Founders were protecting us from a government monopoly on force, and whenever and wherever that right is surrendered, terrible things tend to follow.

The Second Amendment was not used to enforce oppression in America. Gun control was used to give free reign to slavers and later the Klan, even in our own lifetimes. “It can’t happen here,” the left promises us. But it already has happened here. And it was the Democrat Party that did it.