The long tension between the Second Amendment and Black gun ownership

In the opening pages of her compelling social history, “ The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America ,” Carol Anderson writes that her book is neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. “Guns are not the key variable here,” she explains. “It’s Black people. Their legal status — enslaved, Free Black, denizen, Jim Crowed citizen, or citizen of ‘post-racial America’ — did not change the way the Second Amendment worked against their rights.” Backed by rigorous research, Anderson lays out the case that throughout history, Black Americans have largely been restricted from the right to bear arms. Black Americans’ fraught relationship with the Second Amendment is as old as the nation itself. In the colonial period, slave patrols — set up to surveil and police Black people and preserve the institution of slavery — raided enslaved people’s dwellings for weapons and contraband. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Black Codes, enacted after the Civil War to restrict Black Americans’ freedom, and Jim Crow laws barred Black people in many parts of the United States from possessing weapons. Throughout the history of Black freedom movements, Black gun possession and self-defense were stringently repressed. In 1892, journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, writing on the horrors of lynchings, observed, “The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.” She argued further that “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should […]

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