Posted on June 7, 2021

The Second Amendment Is Not About Guns — It’s About Anti-Blackness

John Blake, CNN, May 30, 2021

One of Charlton Heston’s greatest performances came not in a Hollywood film but on a convention stage where he electrified a crowd of gun-rights enthusiasts.

Heston was president of the National Rifle Association in May 2000 when he spoke at the group’s national gathering in Charlotte. {snip}

As the crowd cheered, Heston then raised a replica of a Revolutionary War-era flintlock rifle and delivered a warning in his thundering baritone to anyone who would try to take his guns away: “From my cold, dead hands!”

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.”

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.


Anderson spoke recently to CNN. {snip}

I’ve been told that the Second Amendment was about an individual’s right to self-defense and to protect against a tyrannical government. But you say it’s also “a bribe placed on Black bodies.” What does that mean?

The crafting of the Constitution was of primary concern for folks like James Madison because the Articles of Confederation were not working. And when they went to the Constitutional Convention, the Southern delegates made it really clear that they weren’t going to sign off on any kind of Constitution to strengthen the United States of America unless they could get the clear extension on the Atlantic slave trade, the Three-Fifths Clause so they could get more representation than they were due in Congress, and the Fugitive Slave Clause. Those were the bribes. That was the sign-off for the South to sign off on the Constitution.

But then as Virginia is looking at this Constitution and sees the federal control of the militia, this is when Patrick Henry and George Mason really started leading the charge. And that charge was about either scuttling the Constitution or getting a Bill of Rights to curtail the power of the central government and protecting the militia. Protecting the militia means that they are protecting slavery.

One of the things that many previous historians have not linked up was the role of the militia in putting down slave revolts, in buttressing slave patrols and keeping enslaved Black people, and free Blacks, under the boot of White supremacy.


There have been a lot of stories about gun ownership surging among Black people during the pandemic. And maybe you’ve heard about the growth of some Black militia groups, like one named the “Not F**king Around Coalition.” As more Black people embrace the Second Amendment, will they discover that it applies equally to them?


We have a dual system here. And one of the things that courses through our history is anti-Blackness and that fear of Black people. You heard it in the Derek Chauvin trial, where Chauvin was like [she mimics a body camera video of Chauvin justifying his treatment of George Floyd] well, you know, “He was a sizable fellow.” It is the couple out in St. Louis who pulled their guns on Black Lives Matter protesters who were not on their property. It is the way that Dylann Roof was taken alive after killing nine Black people.

What would you say to people who argue the reason the Second Amendment was so important in the 18th and 19th centuries was not so much race but security? If you were a farmer isolated on the frontier, you needed guns to hunt, to protect crops from predators and defend your family.

I would say that access to guns was not blocked for many Whites. One of the first laws passed by Congress, the Uniform Militia Act, required all White men between a certain age range to be part of the militia and own a gun. {snip} But what we see, too, during the same period is that Black people were denied access to weapons because they were Black. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have the fend-off threats.

When you heard the Supreme Court will take up another Second Amendment case, what were your first thoughts?

Is that we’re going to be in the same traditional loop of, is there an individual right to bear arms or is this about a well-regulated militia? Does the state have the right to control access to arms? And we’re not going to deal with the reality that anti-Blackness is really foundational to understanding the Second Amendment. I look at it this way. After Sandy Hook, nothing happened. How could that be? That could be because of this underlying fear that if there are real gun safety laws then Whites will be left defenseless against these Black people.