Speaking at Texas A&M last week, actor Danny Glover weighed in on the current gun control debate.
Glover told a student gathering, "I don't know if you know the genesis of the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment comes from the right to protect themselves from slave revolts, and from uprisings by Native Americans."
To emphasize the point, Glover restated, "A revolt from people who were stolen from their land or revolt from people whose land was stolen from, that's what the genesis of the Second Amendment is."
Talk show host Thom Hartmann picked up the theme in a truth-out.org article titled "The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery."
Trashing the Constitution has become commonplace on campus and in Hollywood, but this theme is false beyond the usual distortions of our founding document.
The Second Amendment (part of the Bill of Rights) reads:
"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 genesis of the Second Amendment had nothing to do with slavery. It was born as a guarantee against tyranny by the central government.
In the 1770s, every Englishman (including colonists) was required to be armed and to be on call whenever the king needed to wage war. The "militia" was every able-bodied adult male. The militia was "regulated" by local elected officers.
Most importantly, the militia was seen as a protection for British citizen rights and against the tyranny of the king. The writers of the 1789 U.S. Constitution had vividly in mind the battles that started the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord.
The British redcoats marched against the farmers of the local militia in those Massachusetts towns to seize their weapons. Paul Revere warned "the redcoats are coming" but the rest of the warning was "to take your guns and powder."
Determined to keep their arms, the farmers fired the "shot heard 'round the world." This is the "genesis" of the Second Amendment.
Noah Webster wrote at the time of the debate over the Constitution: "The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword, because the whole body of the people are armed ... ."
Webster warned against a standing army controlled by the central government: "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe."
George Mason, in the debate over ratifying the Constitution, noted that the British king's objective in the recent Revolutionary War was "to disarm the people. That was the best way to enslave them."
Even before the Constitution was ratified by the states, eight of the 13 new states had incorporated the English militia concept into their state constitutions.
Their concern was to protect liberty. For example, here is the wording of the Pennsylvania Constitution adopted in 1776:
"That the people have the right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state, and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up ... ."
Similar language is found in state constitutions adopted before the U.S. Constitution from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to North Carolina and Virginia. From non-slave-holding states to slaveholding states.
Slavery was not the reason for the Second Amendment. The overriding concern of the Founders was to insure individual liberty and protect that liberty from the federal government.
The liberty of slaves was not protected. In slaveholding states, the militias composed of slave holders no doubt were involved in suppressing slave revolts as far back as 1755.
It is also true that militias (every able-bodied man) were called out to protect settlers during Indian wars.
But these instances were not the cause of the adoption of the Second Amendment. The pervasive experience of the bloody Revolutionary War was the "genesis" of the campaign by anti-Federalists to attach a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, including the right to "bear arms."
After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment imposed the Bill of Rights on the states, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms. This greatly troubled Southern Democrats.
In fact, the concept of "gun control" was first introduced (as a ban on "Saturday-night specials") by segregationist Southern Democrats to keep blacks from being armed.
The first mass confiscation of guns was carried out by the 7th Cavalry against the Sioux after Little Bighorn, which led to the Massacre at Wounded Knee.
Danny Glover and Thom Hartmann ought to get their history straight.
Hedgecock hosts a news talk program on utsandiego.com
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