Mark Shea, in his never ending effort to paint everyone who disagrees with him on the Second Amendment as racists and anti-semites, has a long screed on his blog that may be read here. As usual when it comes to history, Mark is bone ignorant and merely parrots what his leftist sources say. In regard to race and the Second Amendment Shea’s leftist sources gives us a reverse image look at the actual history:
Prior to the Civil War there were laws passed in many of the slave holding states attempting to restrict the right to keep and bear arms to whites. Challenges to these laws by free blacks almost always asserted the Second Amendment. A passage in the Dred Scott decision indicates what a preoccupation blacks carrying weapons was to slaveholders:
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, inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.
After the Civil War freed blacks set up Loyal League militias to defend their rights. Eliminating these militias and taking away from blacks their Second Amendment rights was a key goal of the white supremacist “Redeemer” governments that came to power after Reconstruction.
In the case of Florida v. Stone, 4 So.2d 700 (Fla. 1941), the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a white man for violating a gun control statute on the grounds that the law violated the second amendment. In his concurring opinion, Justice Rivers Buford explained that the law was never intended to apply to whites:
I know something of the history of this legislation. The original Act of 1893 was passed when there was a great influx of negro laborers in this State drawn here for the purpose of working in turpentine and lumber camps. The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers and to thereby reduce the unlawful homicides that were prevalent in turpentine and saw-mill camps and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied.
Malcolm X, back in the sixties understood that the Second Amendment provided blacks the right to purchase weapons for self defense:
So Mark is correct that race and the Second Amendment are linked in the history of this amendment. Racists have ever been against blacks enjoying Second Amendment rights. In his tirades against the Second Amendment Mark stands in evil company indeed.
A secondary argument of Mark’s rant, is the contention that the proposition that the Second Amendment is the last bulwark of the American people against tyranny is an illusion, and is a made up pretext by the NRA:
Many in the states were concerned that the proposed new federal government would have too much power, and Federalist 46 was written by James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, to help allay those concerns.
The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition.
Madison realized that this was a sensitive point. The American Revolution had only ended five years before, and the attempt by Great Britain to rule through military force was a raw memory for all of his readers. Madison tackles this fear head on by comparing the military force of a standing federal army to the militias of the states:
Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it.
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.
A British officer lamented at the beginning of the American Revolution that the Americans were “a people numerous and armed”. Madison does not simply seize upon militias as an argument against fears of a tyrannical federal government, but he rather views the right of citizens to be armed as a fundamental protection for liberty.
Madison makes this clear in this passage:
Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it.
Madison’s views were commonplace at the time. Justice Story, appointed by James Madison to the US Supreme Court, wrote in 1833 in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States:
“The next amendment is: ‘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.’ “
“The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.(1) And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burdens, to be rid.”
Mark, like many other leftists with no military experience, pooh-poohs the idea of the American people successfully defending their liberties against the regular forces of the Federal government. The idea that an armed citizenry cannot be a powerful force against a regular Army is belied by the American Revolution where the American militia gave invaluable aid to the comparatively miniscule Continental Army. As for the Civil War, both sides depended upon citizen armies raised from the state militias as volunteer regiments from the states, the miniscule Federal regular army being a non-factor, other than providing a small fraction of the officers in the huge Union army. The aftermath of the Civil War, Reconstruction, demonstrated how effective even low level civilian guerilla operations could be against an occupying regular force.
As Afghanistan and Iraq have amply demonstrated, insurgencies are difficult to combat even for the most advanced military on Earth. A widespread insurgency in this country would pose the same problems for our military on a vastly larger scale. We have a huge country inhabited by some 330,000,000 people. An insurgency supported by 40% of the American people, with ten percent willing to take up arms, would produce a potential guerilla force in the tens of millions. National Guard units and segments of the military would quickly line up with the insurgents in a rebellion supported by 40% of the people they are pledged to defend.
The State in which I live, Illinois, is 26th in size, with 102 counties and hundreds of cities, towns and villages. I can just imagine the military effort necessary to hold down just Illinois in a conflict where 40% of the population supported a war against the government.
Modern militaries have immense logistical tails supporting the fighting units, filled with soft targets, all tempting fruit for guerilla units. The idea that an armed population would not be a check on a tyrannical government in this country badly misunderstands both the nature of modern warfare and the history of this nation. Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote of a right of revolution. The Second Amendment guarantees that if that right ever must be exercised, the people will have the ability to do so.
The Founding Fathers, in all they did, struggled to pass on the blessings of liberty to their posterity. Ensuring that the American people would remain, in the words of the aforementioned British officer during the Revolution, “a people numerous and armed”, was one part of the safeguards that they gave us against tyranny. It is the last protection between the people and tyranny. This safeguard is just as effective today as it was in 1789.
“Let me tell you why I’m a defender of the Second Amendment.”
“I was a little girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the late fifties, early sixties. There was no way that Bull Connor and the Birmingham Police were going to protect you.”
“And so when White Knight Riders would come through our neighborhood, my father and his friends would take their guns and they’d go to the head of the neighborhood, it’s a little cul-de-sac and they would fire in the air, if anybody came through.”
“I don’t think they actually ever hit anybody, but they protected the neighborhood. And I’m sure if Bull Connor had known where those guns were he would have rounded them up.”
Condoleezza Rice, March 1, 2018