The arguments that are often recognized while debating about the utility of the Second Amendment generically take the form of one of the following blanket statements: “We don’t need it in our modern times,” or “our government would never turn tyrannical.” This line of thinking, while noble and very optimistic, forgets a dark path that has led mankind to its current state of being.
Over the course of human history, mankind has seen democracies, empires, monarchies, and tyrannies rise and fall. Many people like to promise, and blissfully speculate, that the turbulence marking these rises and falls (usually in the form of war) will “never happen again.” This type of language has echoed across history, being repeatedly incessantly from the Nazi run Holocaust during the Second World War to the slaughter of innocent Rwandans in 1994 to terrorism in the twenty-first century. Despite the optimism that many adopt and the misguided hypotheses that foolishly predict that tragic events will never reoccur, we still see mass genocide and terrorist activity to this day.
In order to understand why the Second Amendment is so important to the American way of life, we only have to look to our own government which has failed to protect, and later went after, its political adversaries.
As early as the mid-1600’s, colonies were already banning gun ownership from political minorities or perceived enemies of the state. “As early as 1640, the Virginia legislature passed an ordinance stating that African-American slaves — then numbering fewer than 300 in the British colony — would be exempt from mandatory militia service,” according to The New American. Continued, “The Virginia slave code of 1680 made disarmament of all black people mandatory, ruling, ‘It shall not be lawfull for any negroe or other slave to carry or arme himselfe with any club, staffe, gunn, sword or any other weapon of defence or offence,’ a prohibition repeated in the 1705 Virginia slave code, written in more modern language, requiring that ‘no slave go armed with gun, sword, club, staff, or other weapon.'” These oppressive laws continued up until, as well as after, the American Civil War. It actually wasn’t until the formation of the National Rifle Association- who fought for the American minorities to bear arms- that black Americans had their Second Amendment rights recognized and protected by the federal government.
Furthermore, one does not have to look far before realizing that even the Supreme Court played a role in stifling the ability of African Americans, both free and enslaved, to keep and bear arms. This manifests itself in a statement made by Chief Justice Taney in the infamous Dred Scott v. Stanford case. He wrote in his opinion for the case, “For if they were so received, and entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, it would exempt them from the operation of the special laws and from the police regulations which they considered to be necessary for their own safety. It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.”
To further explicate repressive gun control legislation, one can examine the fact that in 1859 the state of Texas passed a law stating that every Texan had the right to carry weapons in public, but in 1872 that law was repealed. What happened between those years? The American Civil War and the emancipation of all slaves in the Union.
The NRA Institute for Legislative Action further expands on the situation presented above: “Interestingly enough, one of those states was Texas, which, in 1871, ceased to be a haven for legal gun owners and began to impose fines upon anyone who carried ‘on or about his person, saddle, or in his saddle-bags, any pistol.’ Originally, the measure was intended to prevent former Confederates from obtaining weapons. But, once the Democratic party took back power, it came to be enforced exclusively against African-Americans. In the same period—and for the same reasons—the Texas Supreme Court reversed itself completely on the matter. In 1859’s Cockrum v. State, the court affirmed that both the Second Amendment and the Texas Constitution protected an almost absolute right to bear arms. But in 1872—just 13 years later—the court flatly denied that any such right existed in either document. In the intervening period, nothing had changed in either text. Driven by panic and animus, legislators simply ignored the rules that bound them.”
It is precisely laws like the one highlighted above that led to an unarmed population, ripe for victimization and anxiety provoking violent attacks. This law, and those that were similar in nature, facilitated decades of Ku Klux Klan lynchings of black Americans and afforded the victims no presentable means by which to defend themselves.
Oppressive gun control acts aren’t unique to the United States: societies that have disarmed particular populations in general have become tyrannical and have systematically victimized said populations. From the Hebrews at the hands of several conquerors in the ancient world, to the Irish and Scots at the hands of medieval England, to Nazi Germany disarming the Jewish people eighty years ago, disarmament has permeated numerous geographic territories and transcended time.
If we disarm any or all Americans, it will inevitably lead to a higher rate of victimization.
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