A meme is going around by a number of people claiming that the Second Amendment — “the right to bear arms” — was put in the Constitution to protect slavery. The following is from actor Danny Glover who spoke to a group of students at a Texas A&M University:
“‘I don’t know if you know the genesis of the right to bear arms,’ he said. ‘The Second Amendment comes from the right to protect themselves from slave revolts, and from uprisings by Native Americans.
“‘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,’ he continued.
If this is true, then it’s obvious that gun ownership was for protection against what people believed was a threat. If there were fears of Indian uprisings and slave revolts, then you would think that Glover would be lobbying for the right of the people to keep and bear arms rather than for the government to restrict gun ownership. Blacks are as much victims of crimes as are whites. Why should they be left defenseless? It doesn’t matter what the perceived threat is.
That threat today consists of marauding thugs and a potentially power-grabbing and rights-denying federal government that one day might use unrestricted force to impose its agenda on the American people.
Unfortunately for Glover and other mythstorians, the history of the Second Amendment is not rooted in the slave trade. It’s rooted in the threat of political tyranny going back centuries.
“The right to have arms in English history is believed to have been regarded as a long-established natural right in English law, auxiliary to the natural and legally defensible rights to life.”
The 1689 English Bill of Rights included a provision that there would be “no royal interference in the freedom of the people to have arms for their own defence.” Under James II, Protestants were denied the right to bear arms. The 1689 Bill of Rights stated: “Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence.”
Debates and laws over bearing arms have a long history in England for some of the same reasons we are debating the topic today. The great English jurist William Blackstone (1723–1780) wrote:
“In these several articles consist the rights, or, as they are frequently termed, the liberties of Englishmen. . . To preserve these from violation, it is necessary that the constitution of parliaments be supported in it’s full vigor; and limits certainly known, be set to the royal prerogative. And, lastly, to vindicate these rights, when actually violated or attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next to the right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and lastly to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence. And all these rights and liberties it is our birthright to enjoy entire; unless where the laws of our country have laid them under necessary restraints. Restraints in themselves so gentle and moderate, as will appear upon farther enquiry, that no man of sense or probity would wish to see them slackened.”
You can see echoes of our own Constitution in these words. For example, in addition to the right to bear arms, the First Amendment uses the phrase “redress of grievances.” These were viewed as “liberties of Englishmen” that were their “birthright to enjoy.”
Notice that nothing is said about slavery.
Danny Glover and other mythstorians on the Second Amendment should read Stephen P. Halbrook’s That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right:
“Halbrook traces the right to bear arms from ancient Greece and Rome to the English republicans, then to the American Revolution and Constitution, through the Reconstruction period extending the right to African Americans, and onward to today’s controversies.”
Also see Halbrook’s The Founders and the Second Amendment: The Origins of the Right to Bear Arms that’s “the first book-length account of the origins of the Second Amendment, based on the Founders’ own statements as found in newspapers” from 1768 to 1826.
It didn’t take me long to find these facts. They are available to anyone who wants to take the time to do the research. Glover knows that he’s appealing to low-information voters.