In Brief—The Second Amendment has been warped from its original intent by a partisan and inattentive Supreme Court coupled with pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA) in thrall to the gun manufacturers. A new examination of history reveals that the Second Amendment was created by the founding fathers to win the support of the slave-holding South for nationhood.
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Southern White Militias vs. Slaves
It pays to closely read history, something not many people do, particularly the conservative members of the Supreme Court who in 2008 held in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller that every citizen was entitled to possess and carry arms, i.e., that every qualified citizen was allowed to own a gun. In McDonald v. Chicago (2010), they clarified the Heller case by holding that the states had a limited right to enact reasonable restrictions to the ownership of firearms. Still, gun ownership extremists, in thrall to the firearms manufacturers and National Rifle Association, insist that they have a right to possess even high-powered weapons. And the killing goes on and the firearms manufacturers continue making billions of dollars.
Supreme Court decisions aside for the moment, the purpose of this piece is to point out uncomfortable facts that were ignored or, to be fair, simply unknown by Justice Scalia and the other conservatives when the Heller opinion was written, namely, that the militias referred to in the Second Amendment were designed to keep the slaves from rebelling.
Michael Waldman’s scholarly new book, The Second Amendment: A Biography (2014), points out the obvious reasons that the founding fathers purposely spoke in terms of a “well regulated militia.” They intended to make the keeping and bearing of arms dependent upon the states having a way to maintain their militias for protective purposes.
Mr. Waldman’s analysis is correct as far as it goes, but he neglected to look behind the necessity for the militias and which states were most adamant in demanding the right for arming their militias. Slaves were considered property and they were not just deprived of their freedom but were known to be murdered or mistreated by slave owners. It is natural and eminently understandable that the slaves would occasionally rebel against their oppression. This, like today’s fear of terrorism propagated by the United States government, drove the fearful slave owners in the South to establish white militias to intimidate the slaves and keep them in line.
These militias were comprised of armed white men who believed that a slave, another human being, was to be counted as only three-fifths of a person and that the whites had the right to keep them in their subservient condition by any and all means. That’s right, these are the militias referred to in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
Here’s where a proper reading of history would have been helpful to Justice Scalia and the other conservatives who joined him in the 5 to 4 decision in the Heller case. But it is doubtful that knowledge of this fact would have altered their thinking.
The simple fact is that the Second Amendment was added as a way to get the fearful Southerners to ratify the Constitution. Though largely tiptoed around, the word “slave” was rarely used, but everybody involved in the negotiations knew exactly what was being talked about. Patrick Henry, the famed Southern orator famous for “Give me liberty or give me death,” insisted that Virginia would not ratify the Constitution unless the South could be guaranteed that they would have the right to keep and maintain their militias in order to keep the slaves in line. It’s there in the books and papers of the era for all to see if they wanted to look. It appears the conservatives on the Supreme Court didn’t want to look.
Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, gave the South what they wanted in order to get the Constitution ratified. Thus, the Second Amendment became a part of the Constitution so the South could keep its militias that were charged with the duty of keeping restive slaves from rebelling.
It pays to read history, not just the history in the books you read as a high school student, but the history of how the constitution and Bill of Rights came into being. While Michael Waldman has shed important light on the intentions of the founding fathers, he needed to look beyond the surface at the negotiations underlying the creation of the United States. What is revealed are the racist roots of the Second Amendment.
Stated more plainly, the Second Amendment would not even be there in the Bill of Rights were it not necessary to win the South’s support for the creation of the United States of America. To get that support, the South wanted assurance that they could keep their white militias to prevent the slaves from casting off their chains. Oh, the shame!