Blacks with Guns
It would be impossible to overstate the significance of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling which effectively struck down gun bans nationwide as unconstitutional. The decision, however, resonates even more in the black community, whose people are more likely than any other group to be murdered by a gun-wielding assailant. That fact made two of the protagonists of McDonald v. City of Chicago particularly compelling.
The lead plaintiff in the suit which challenged the city of Chicago’s handgun ban isn’t a tobacco-chewing redneck with a Confederate flag in his rear truck window, but a 76-year old black grandfather who grew tired of being fearful in his own neighborhood. After multiple break-ins at his home and death threats because he called the police to report gunfire, U.S. Army veteran and retired maintenance worker Otis McDonald wanted a handgun to defend himself, his family and his property:
I just got the feeling that I’m on my own…The fact is that so many people my age have worked hard all their life, getting a nice place for themselves to live in … and having one (handgun) would make us feel a lot more comfortable.
A Democrat and a hunter, Mr. McDonald has two shotguns in his home but says, “I would like to have a handgun so I could keep it right by my bed, just in case somebody might want to come in my house.”
Gun-control advocates often cite the gun violence in urban areas, and the alarming murder rate among black people, especially young black males, as justification for gun bans.
It is harder, however, for them to claim they are helping black people when they continue to die anyway because the criminals obtain guns regardless of the law, and law-abiding citizens are effectively disarmed by the government that is sworn to keep them safe.
Mr. McDonald knows he cannot depend on the police to defend him or his home, so he declares, “That’s all I want, is just a fighting chance. Give me the opportunity to at least make somebody think about something before they come in my house on me.”
The new face of gun rights in America is an elderly black man who wants to protect his family and his private property, earned through decades of hard work and sacrifice. His is a quintessentially American story about the individual defense of liberty and property, the core purpose of the Second Amendment, and his name is now in the history books, forever associated with this major ruling.
Another black man whose name will be etched alongside Mr. McDonald’s is U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. In his statements concurring with the majority ruling, he invoked the history of the Fourteenth Amendment and its original intent.
He was the only justice to concur with the ruling based on the 14th Amendment’s “privileges or immunities” clause, which says that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” He highlighted the historical evidence, which reveals that the authors of this clause designed it to specifically allow freed slaves to have guns so they could defend themselves against white supremacists. Justice
In my view, the record makes plain that the framers of the privileges or immunities clause and the ratifying republic understood — just as the framers of the Second Amendment did — that the right to keep and bear arms was essential to the preservation of liberty. The record makes equally plain that they deemed this right necessary to include in the minimum baseline of federal rights that the privileges or immunities clause established in the wake of the war over slavery.
Many legal scholars praised Justice Thomas for remaining true to the original intent of the drafters of the 14th Amendment. Nelson Lund of George Mason University, said, “His opinion is scholarly and judicious, and it cements his standing as the only Justice who is more than a half-hearted originalist.”
Clark Neilly of the Institute for Justice, declared, “Today’s outcome is a tremendous victory for liberty, and we are pleased that it hinges on Justice Thomas’s compelling account of the history and purpose of the 14th Amendment, including the central role of the Privileges or Immunities Clause.”
While the legal scholars paid their respects to Justice Thomas for his understanding of the original intent of the 14th Amendment and the privileges and immunities clause, I think it’s significant that he understood how gun control was used in the South to deny blacks the right to keep and bear arms.
The “black codes” that existed prior to the 14th Amendment denied blacks gun ownership because, according to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, they were not citizens and, therefore, weren’t entitled to the rights other Americans enjoyed.
After the 14th Amendment, prohibitive taxes were instituted to keep guns from “the son of Ham,” whose “cowardly practice of ‘toting’ guns has been one of the most fruitful sources of crime…. Let a negro board a railroad train with a quart of mean whiskey and a pistol in his grip and the chances are that there will be a murder, or at least a row, before he alights.” These words were published in Virginia ‘s official university law review in 1909.
Despite this history, it takes a lot of courage for black people to stand up and demand gun ownership as a fundamental right of American citizenship. Frankly, white people have been taught through the media and the arts to fear black people with guns, and gun control is most prevalent in urban areas with large black and minority populations.
Meanwhile, black people have been indoctrinated to believe that gun control is for their own good when, in fact, it simply makes them easier targets. Whether it’s the Ku Klux Klan in the 1900s, or the “boyz n the hood” in 2010, the effect of disarming their victims is the same – death, serious injury, or fear and intimidation if you’re allowed to live.
The 2nd Amendment gave individuals the right to gun ownership not so they could hunt, collect or shoot recreationally, although these are all possible under the law. The purpose of the 2nd Amendment is to afford citizens protection from tyranny (government) or anarchy (crime).
To the extent that blacks in this nation have been the predominant victims of domestic terror under government sanction, or senseless criminal activity by young men who share their skin color, yesterday’s ruling was a civil rights victory. It seems appropriate, therefore, that two black men led the way to restoring, rather than constraining, liberty for all people.
Ron Miller is a conservative writer and commentator, author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch, and the president of Regular Folks United, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty, free markets and our nation’s founding principles. The nine-year plus veteran of the U.S. Air Force and married father of three writes columns for several online sites and print publications, and his own website, TeamRonMiller.com. Join him on Facebook and Twitter at @TeamRonMiller.