Source: Tony L. Vets II
Much has been said about racism and the Second Amendment since Carol Anderson published her new book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Unfortunately, much of what has been said is false. Commentators including CNN, NPR, Democracy Now!, and the ACLU, just to name a few, have all interviewed Ms. Anderson and hyped her theory that the Second Amendment has its roots in racism, “anti-Blackness”, and oppression. Few journalists seem to be approaching the “racist Second Amendment” narrative with a healthy dose of philosophic doubt, nor do they seem interested in questioning the accuracy and validity of Ms. Anderson’s assertion, with the result being that the truth is being suppressed in favor of the narrative du jour.
Fortunately, it does not take much research to arrive at the truth behind the roots of the Second Amendment: that the Founding Fathers distrusted large standing armies and therefore proposed the Second Amendment to provide for a militia capable of fending off invasions while the federal government mustered an army capable of dealing with the threat.
Much has already been said about the Second Amendment’s roots being found in the English Bill of Rights of 1688, and so it is not necessary to recap that fact now. Instead, I refer the reader to Andrea Widburg’s post, “The Second Amendment Isn’t Racist,” in American Thinker (June 4, 2021) and William E. Devlin’s article “The Second Amendment’s Irish Link” in The Irish Story (September 29, 2018). With an established legal tradition protecting the right of the people to keep and bear arms coming from England in 1688, it is difficult to argue that the roots of the Second Amendment are racist or meant to deal with potential slave revolts. The English simply were not in the least bit concerned about the potential for slave revolts and “anti-Blackness” in America when they drafted their Bill of Rights in 1688.
There is more to the story of the roots of the Second Amendment. It can be found in the Articles of Confederation. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 40, “[t]he truth is, that the great principles of the Constitution proposed by the convention may be considered less as absolutely new, than as the expansion of principles which are found in the articles of Confederation.” In other words, to understand the Constitution, and by extension the Bill of Rights, it helps to understand the Articles of Confederation. Fortunately, a lot of insight on the views and purpose of the militia in colonial and revolutionary America can be gained by reading Article VI, which states:
[B]ut every State shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage. No State shall engage in any war without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, unless such State be actually invaded by enemies, or shall have received certain advice of a resolution being formed by some nation of Indians to invade such State, and the danger is so imminent as not to admit of a delay, till the United States in Congress assembled can be consulted: nor shall any State grant commissions to any ships or vessels of war, nor letters of marque or reprisal, except it be after a declaration of war by the United States in Congress assembled, and then only against the kingdom or state and the subjects thereof, against which war has been so declared, and under such regulations as shall be established by the United States in Congress assembled, unless such State be infested by pirates[.]
Invasions from foreign enemies, American Indians, and pirates, but no mention of “anti-Blackness” or the need to prevent or deal with slave revolts. Why did the writers of the Articles of Confederation go through the trouble of listing out the various threats that necessitated a militia but leave out “anti-Blackness” and slave revolts? There can be only one parsimonious explanation: the framers of the Articles of Confederation saw invasions from enemies, attacks from American Indians, and piracy as real threats to the fledgling states and felt it necessary to specifically mention these potential threats and lay the groundwork for how the individual states and the confederacy as a whole would respond.
If one really wants to understand the roots of the Second Amendment, he has recourse to the well documented debates surrounding ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is here that we find such Founding Fathers as James Madison stating during the Constitutional Convention, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty” (hat tip to The Avalon Project at Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library). In the Annals of Congress, we find Elbridge Gerry asserting without challenge that the purpose of the declaration of rights (Bill of Rights) is “to secure the people against the mal-administration of Government” and that the purpose and use of the militia “is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty.” These concerns about the threats posed by a large standing army (not by potential slave revolts) were echoed by other Federalists and Anti-Federalists throughout the ratification process and throughout the debates in Congress, when the first ten amendments were proposed. Indeed, in his first annual message as president in 1801, Thomas Jefferson summed up the prevailing view of the role of the militia best when he said (again, hat tip to The Avalon Project at Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library):
Uncertain as we must ever be of the particular point in our circumference where an enemy may choose to invade us, the only force which can be ready at every point and competent to oppose them, is the body of neighboring citizens as formed into a militia. On these, collected from the parts most convenient, in numbers proportioned to the invading foe, it is best to rely, not only to meet the first attack, but if it threatens to be permanent, to maintain a defence until regulars may be engaged to relieve them.
It is not necessary to rely solely on history to disprove the “racist Second Amendment” argument. A rational look at the Second Amendment and subsequent actions taken by Congress proves that the Second Amendment had nothing to do with race. For instance, if it were true that the Second Amendment was meant to be a tool to deal with potential slave revolts, then the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, would have made the Second Amendment moot. That Congress did not repeal the Second Amendment when the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, nor has repealed it since that time, only strengthens the argument that the Second Amendment was not and is not intended to deal with potential slave revolts. Furthermore, that slavery was not just limited to black people of African descent, but extended to American Indians and even black people enslaving people of their own race, proves that even if was a tool to deal with potential slave revolts, it was far from being “anti-Black” or even racist. These inconvenient truths do not fit the narrative.
When one looks at history parsimoniously and pragmatically and shaves away all the pop-culture narrative and progressive political propaganda, it is easy to see the truth. As far as the Second Amendment is concerned, the truth is quite discernible: far from being a tool to disenfranchise or oppress, the Second Amendment is and always has been a mechanism for safeguarding, securing, and protecting the people from foreign threats and an overreaching government. Indeed, the Second Amendment is all about preventing the shackles of slavery from ever being applied to the people, and should that unlucky day come, it is all about shattering those shackles. If it was ever about restraining someone or something, it can only truthfully be asserted that it was about restraining the potential tyrant: the king who would subject the people to onerous taxation without representation, or the president who would rather be king than be the executive of a republic of the people, by the people, and for the people, to quote Abraham Lincoln. The Second Amendment was never about race. The Second Amendment is and always has been all about freedom.