CNN is touting the “scholarship” of Carol Anderson, chair of the African American Studies department at Emory University, with a review of her book. The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. The CNN article starts by re-illustrating Charlton Heston’s famous, “From my cold, dead hands” NRA speech, at their May of 2000 conference.
It was a stirring moment because Heston dramatized the belief that an individual’s right to own guns is enshrined in the Second Amendment. The amendment declares that a “well-regulated Militia” is necessary for the security of a free state,” and that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Gun rights supporters say the Founding Fathers created the amendment so that citizens could protect their homes from tyrannical governments abroad and at home.
But while that interpretation may provide great political theater, it’s sloppy history, according to a prominent scholar in a provocative new book. In “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” Carol Anderson argues that the Second Amendment is not about guns — it’s about anti-Blackness. She says it “was designed and has consistently been constructed to keep African-Americans powerless and vulnerable.”
I am always amazed at who legacy media bestows the honorific of scholar, and who they do not. It seems that one-note fixation on beating dead horses is a major qualifier, and if you haven’t guessed it yet, Anderson’s fixation is finding racism under every rock. One of her previous books was titled, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, which was launched from an article Anderson wrote for The Washington Post after the Ferguson, MO riots.
The book is available on Amazon in audio format and Kindle format only. From the “jacket” of the book on Amazon.com:
Carefully linking these and other historical flash points when social progress for African Americans was countered by deliberate and cleverly crafted opposition, Anderson pulls back the veil that has long covered actions made in the name of protecting democracy, fiscal responsibility, or protection against fraud, rendering visible the long lineage of white rage.
Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.
It doesn’t take a genius to know what the focal points and arguments within the book encompass: white supremacy and systemic racism, and why it is the root of every problem facing Blacks in America.
As Solomon so wisely said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Anderson has now decided to take her scholarship axe to the Second Amendment, claiming that it’s racist. Because in Millennial America, everything is.
More from the CNN review:
Anderson cites legislative debates from the Founding Fathers and a range of historical records to make some bold points. She says some early lawmakers who supported the Second Amendment were more worried about armed Blacks than British redcoats. She says that even after the Civil War ended, many Southern states banned Black citizens from owning weapons.
And that famous line about a “well-regulated militia?” Well, that was inserted primarily to deal with potential slave revolts — not to repel a foreign army, she says.
While provocative, some would beg to differ with this assessment. While Black Codes, embodied in Jim Crow laws, have been a strike against Black gun rights since before the founding (around 1751 in Louisiana), this does not mean that all the Founding Fathers championed keeping these codes, or that this line is rooted in systemic racism. The tensions between the North and the South plagued the formation of this nation, and came to an inflection point with the Civil War. There still remains a tension with gun control, which is a clear example of a racist system, and the embrace, application, and maintenance of Black gun ownership. That battle has been moved from the realm of North and South, into the realm of Red States and Blue States.
CNN appears to have only glowing terms for Anderson’s work.
Anderson’s book is a fast-moving narrative with plenty of startling statements. She contends that the Second Amendment has never been applied equally to Black citizens. As evidence she cites the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile, a Black man who was shot to death by a suburban Minneapolis police officer during a traffic stop despite having a license to carry a gun.
Once again, provocative, with a grain of truth thrown in. But using the Philando Castile example as proof that the Second Amendment has never been applied equally to Black citizens builds a fallacious foundation. The actual facts are much more nuanced, and it also belies certain district and federal precedent to the contrary, such as the Black plaintiffs Shelly Parker and Otis McDonald in McDonald v. the City of Chicago.
I believe that Nicholas Johnson, tenured professor at Fordham Law School, and author of the 2014 book, Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms, would most likely agree with some of Anderson’s historical facts, but would perhaps draw some different conclusions. Johnson does incredible research on law and policy concerning the right to bear arms, and has done focused historical research on how the Second Amendment and Black gun ownership have been approached from the founding of our country, up to now.
In a 2014 interview with our sister site Bearing Arms, Johnson had these insights:
Historically blacks were targeted for gun control, he said. “It is explicit as early as 1680 in Colonial America.”
Similar targeted gun control was implemented in post-Civil War Black Codes, which contributed to the passage of the 14th Amendment, he said.
“Much of the conversation surrounding the passage of the 14th Amendment went to the problem of southern state governments who, in an essential act of war, were explicitly attempting to disarm freedmen.” A freedman was a former slave who was legally released by emancipation or by owner.
Southern states enacted gun control statutes in the post-Civil War period that were de-facto racially motivated, said Johnson. “In the beginning of the 20th century discriminatory provisions were in effect in a variety of places.”
Johnson most recently penned an article for the NRA, “Gun Rights Are Equal Rights,” and he had this to say about whether the Second Amendment was meant for Blacks:
When looking at the struggle of Black people in the United States for their natural rights—those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—the right to bear arms, and particularly those arms employing multi-shot technology, has been vital.
While the recent article focuses primarily on defense using the AR-15 and multi-shot technology firearms, Johnson always couches his scholarship in beautifully detailed, and vivid accounts of just how Blacks have utilized firearms as a tool of self-defense, and notable Black historical figures who spoke vehemently, and advocated for Blacks’ right to bear arms not just in the abstract, but in everyday reality.
“A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”
The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass was also vocal about his Second Amendment right, and how it applied to the Black person. Douglass stated,
“A man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.”
One of the hallmarks of Johnson’s 2014 book is that it simply laid out a case of Blacks and their relationship to guns and gun rights. From the facts Johnson lays out, there was no ambivalence about my ancestors, forefathers, and foremothers’ view of gun rights and whether it applied to them. They embraced this right for themselves, took it seriously, and practiced it earnestly; because for them, it wasn’t esoteric: it was a matter of life and death.
While I have yet to read Anderson’s book, the fact that it appears to approach the subject from the premise of racism and fearmongering, rather than from the premise of investigation and discovery, says volumes about what steps Anderson might have taken to reach her scholarly conclusions.
The CNN review concludes:
Anderson’s book will add to that discussion, and it arrives at a time when the gun debate is as heated as ever. Mass shootings are now commonplace, and the Supreme Court has announced it will reexamine the scope of the Second Amendment in a new case that some say “could lay waste to many of the nation’s laws.”
Mass shootings are by no means “commonplace,” and it is disingenuous of CNN to frame it with that lens. The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Corlett will allow for the examination of concealed carry laws, and how the Second Amendment applies. In terms of laying “waste to many of the nation’s laws,” many states have already instituted Constitutional Carry, so I see it more as a domino that will topple arbitrary gun restrictions, and help to weaken the remaining opposition to our Constitutional right to bear arms.
I would welcome discussion and debate between Johnson and Anderson, as most debates about Blacks when it comes to gun rights and ownership are done by white law enforcement, policy wonks, activists, or so-called “scholars.” It would be enlightening to hear the perspective from people who literally have skin the game, and see how each of their treatises align — or diverge.
I would add Maj Toure to that debate as well. The founder of Black Guns Matter, who has done more to activate and implement Nicholas Johnson’s viewpoint and scholarship in real-time, has much to say on the matter of why the Second Amendment is for Blacks and not against us.
A relatively new organization, the National African-American Gun Association (NAAGA), has recently made inroads in responding to this question of the Second Amendment and the Black person’s right to bear arms, with unvarnished truth that does not look to divide or marginalize Black firearms owners, but to empower and equip them.
Here is a great interview with Phillip Smith, NAAGA’s founder and president.
From the proliferation of Black gun ownership and Black gun clubs over the last few years, I think Anderson’s scholarship may well be simply preaching to the choir of those who view gun rights and gun ownership of any race as an evil that must be stamped out. I plan to purchase and read Anderson’s book to see if that is indeed the case, and measure it against Nicholas Johnson’s seminal work.
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