The U.S. Constitution was intended to recognize the natural rights of citizens. The Second Amendment, like the First Amendment, doesn’t give anyone any rights. Instead, it prohibits the federal government from infringing on rights that are natural and God-given and that preexist government. The Declaration of Independence sets forth the essential principles. Every person (i.e., not just American citizens) is endowed by nature or God with fundamental rights. These include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thus, given that people’s rights are natural and God-given, they preexist government. The rights come first and the government comes second.
The Founding Fathers did not believe that these rights could not be limited, however. Instead, they saw that legislation that restricted one’s natural rights should be handled by governments closer to the people themselves, including states and localities.
This is why the Bill of Rights was not intended to apply to state government.
Though many state constitutions shared similarities with the Bill of Rights, by 1820 only 9 of 22 states had language explicitly protecting the right to bear arms: Massachusetts (1780), Pennsylvania (1790), Kentucky (1792), Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1801), Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Connecticut (1818), Alabama (1819), and Maine (1819). (The number was 18 of 33 by 1886.)
While the right to bear arms applied equally to “whites”, in many cases it banned Native Americans, “Free Negroes”, “Mulattos” and of course slaves.
Prior to the passing of the 14th Amendment, eight states had gun control legislation that criminalized the possession of fire arms by non-white free citizens. Virginia required such individuals to receive government permission. Three additional states had constitutional language that specified that gun rights were reserved exclusively for white men.
While slavery ended as a result of the Civil War, racially motivated gun control laws continued.
While the 14th Amendment prevented states from explicitly mentioning race in legislation, state governments still managed to find ways to disarm black citizens.
As David Kopel and Joseph Greenlee have noted, these included laws that banned pistols that were not used by former Confederate officers, severe racial discrepancies in the penalty for unlawfully concealed carrying, as well as gun licensing requirements that, in the words of a future Florida Supreme Court Justice, were “passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers” and “was never intended to apply to the white population.”
The Black Panthers’ basic ideology was one of armed protection against police oppression.
“The key plank of the Panther platform, the one which would shape its history and predetermine its course, was a non-negotiable demand for the immediate end of police harassment and brutality in the black community…indeed, their very name proclaimed a dedication to the concept of armed self-defense.” — Huey Newton.
For Huey Newton, the black ghetto was merely a colonized nation at war with an oppressive police state. The residents of the black community therefore had a right to defend themselves against acts of aggression, and who better to police the streets of Oakland than the “brothers off the block?—brothers who had been out there robbing banks, brothers who had been pimping, brothers who had been peddling dope, brothers who ain’t gonna take no shit.”
California’s Mulford Act, signed in 1967 by Governor Ronald Reagan was a direct response to the Black Panthers’ open-carry patrols of Oakland neighborhoods, and banned the carrying of loaded weapons.
Gun control policies continue to discriminate against minority communities. Every government hurdle placed on legal gun ownership renders citizens more dependent upon the state for their own protection. The ACLU has found that African American and Latino neighborhoods wait much longer for a police officer to be dispatched after an emergency 911 call, have fewer officers assigned to minority districts for each emergency call than predominantly white neighborhoods and that minority neighborhoods continue to have more violent crimes per officer than white neighborhoods.
Justice Clarence Thomas also noted the unique experience of black Americans in his opinion on McDonald v. Chicago, “the first colonial statute that specifically targeted black people (not just slaves, not Indians, and not white servants) was a Virginia law prohibiting gun ownership for blacks in 1639:
The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence. As Eli Cooper, one target of such violence, is said to have explained, “ ‘[t]he Negro has been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob.’ ”
So while it is easy for well-protected politicians, celebrities, and billionaires to champion the cause of gun control, it’s important to remember that the history of such legislation has come at the expense of those most vulnerable in society.
Paul Plante says
Over the years, I have found that there is history in America, and then, there is “American history,” which is generally taken as that period of time subsequent to the ratification of the United States Constituti0n, which, it must be noted, had no Bill of Rights or 2d Amendment at that time.
That was to come after.
And what is considered “American history,” i.e. all that came after the ratification of the Constitution, is based on what came before, especially in terms of the inter-relationships of the Native Americans who happened to be here before the arrival of the Europeans, predominately the Dutch, English and French who were the colonizers (i.e. “meet the new boss”) of North America.
And here, the history of each state on the Atlantic seaboard is markedly different, so that someone in Virginia speaking of the relationships between the colonists in Virginia and the Native Americans in Virginia would be telling an entirely different version of the history of America than those in New York, or New England, or colonies further south.
As to the arming of the Native American tribes to the north of Virginia, specifically in what later became New York state, the English, French and Dutch were all heavily engaged in arming various Indian tribes that they had affiliated themselves with, this back in the 1600s.
As the American Heritage article “Champlain Among The Mohawk, 1609” by David Hackett Fischer in the Spring 2009 edition informs us:
A few generations ago, American colonial history centered on a single narrative that flowed from Jamestown in 1607 to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Today early American history has blossomed into a braided narrative with many story lines.
A starting point might be four small beginnings, far apart in space but close in time.
On April 26, 1607, Capt. John Smith and his comrades founded Jamestown in Virginia.
Four months later, in mid-August 1607, Capt. George Popham established a New England colony near Pemaquid in Maine.
The following year, during the spring and summer of 1608, Spanish colonists, led by Capt. Martínez de Montoya, built a permanent settlement at Santa Fe in the region they called New Mexico.
And on July 3, 1608, Capt. Samuel de Champlain founded the first permanent colony in New France at Quebec.
The stories that began to unfold at these places shaped much of modern North America.
Thus began the story of the history of America as I learned it, and our emphasis here to the north of you was on Champlain, who has a large lake between New York and Vermont named after him.
Champlain is most famous up this, way fro being the first white man to kill a Native American with a firearm on the shore of Lake Champlain circa July 14, 1609.
That incident served to provoke an interest in firearms among the Native Americans which then led us to this history recounted in “The Hoosic Matters: A Brief History of the Hoosac Valley” by Lauren R. Stevens, as follows:
Efforts by the Dutch West India Company to increase immigration proved unsuccessful so, in 1629, they offered large land grants with feudal authority to wealthy investors (patroons) willing to transport, at their own expense, fifty adult settlers to New Netherlands.
The patroon would own the land on which the settlers were tenants or sharecroppers; as opposed to settlement in New England, where farmers owned their own land.
Five patroonships resulted, but since only the patroon profited, four ended in failure.
The exception was Rensselaerswyck, the Van Rensselaer Manor, in the Mahican homeland that straddled both sides of the Hudson.
Since Dutch law required the purchase of native lands, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer sent Sebastian Jansen Crol to Fort Orange in 1630 to negotiate the sale with the Mahican.
His timing could not have been better.
The Mahican still claimed their old lands west of the Hudson, but after their defeat by the Mohawk, they no longer maintained villages there.
Besides the Mahican probably felt more comfortable about their new Mohawk “allies” with a Dutch settlement near them.
Other purchases from the Mahican were added over the years, Rensselaerswyck eventually growing to nearly a million acres.
When Connecticut Valley English attempted to wean the Mohawks away from the Dutch with offers of firearms in 1640, the Dutch reacted by providing unlimited guns and ammunition to the Iroquois and Mahican.
While a brutal war raged to the north along the St. Lawrence between the Dutch supplied Iroquois League and the French allied Huron and Algonkin, the Mohawk and Mahican along the Hudson were at peace with each other.
Both tribes had become heavily armed, however.
Wow, heavily armed Indian tribes in 1640!
Would that have subsequently influenced how later people in America viewed allowing Native Americans to be armed?
A question for, our times, it seems.