The Second Amendment enshrines anti-darkness, says writer and legal scholar Carol Anderson

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It reads like a list of results. Highland Park. Uvalde. Buffalo. El Paso. Tree of Life Synagogue. Sand hook. Park. Pulse Nightclub. Virginia Tech. Charleston. Two hundred and four people killed. They were just celebrating the 4th of July, going to school, shopping, dancing, praying.

But despite this senseless carnage, we have created the fiction that our safety and security require widespread access to firearms. The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down New York’s gun registry law amplifies this quixotic quest for armed individual “self-defense” while disparaging the state’s efforts to ensuring peace of mind in a city with a population of nearly 8.5 million. Similarly, in 2022, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill allowing unlicensed carry, that is, the ability to have a firearm without a license. He said the new law “ensures that law-abiding Georgians, including our daughters and your family, can also protect themselves without having to seek permission from your state government.” Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, following the Las Vegas massacre, where 59 people were shot, wrote: “The Second Amendment makes it clear that Americans have the right to arm themselves for self-protection. It is, he added, “the price of freedom”. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, after signing a bill in 2021 that allows the possession of firearms without any training or licensing, said, “Texas must become a ‘Second Amendment sanctuary state.’ on gun rights in Texas.

The burgeoning language of “freedom,” “second amendment rights,” “defense,” and “protection” hides a wicked, brutal, and dark history. It’s the kind of story that infects our present and helps explain why we didn’t act after Columbine. After Sandy Hook. After El Paso. And why we failed, even with the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (2022), to address the deadly problem of access to military-grade weapons after Uvalde and Buffalo.

To understand this nation’s obsession with guns and the so-called safety they represent, despite numerous mass shootings and more than 45,000 killed each year by gun violence, is to understand the obsession of the nation for anti-darkness and how it’s preventing gun safety laws from gaining real traction.

Unsurprisingly, the problem is rooted in slavery. White settler fear of slaves, the need to portray people of African descent as inherently brutal, violent and criminal, and therefore a threat to the white community, led to legal and societal norms steeped in anti-darkness. During the colonial era, an increasingly restrictive legal realm prohibited slaves from owning firearms or ammunition and included free blacks in this prohibition while requiring white men to be armed at all times. Even in church. In other words, black people were an endless threat that could only be contained by violence, guns, and armed white men in the militia. This twisted wording became entrenched in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

After the Revolutionary War and the need to eliminate unenforceable Articles of Confederation and draft the Constitution, the question of the role of the militia came to prominence, especially during ratification conventions in the states. James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, had placed control of the militia under the control of Congress due to the unreliability of these forces during the war against the British and the need to organize them under federal supervision. Virginia’s anti-Federalist slaveholders Patrick Henry and George Mason balked; while the militia may have been unreliable during the war, these troops had a strong centuries-old reputation for suppressing slave revolts.

During the debates in Virginia over the ratification of the Constitution, Henry and Mason made it clear that the federal government, with states like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania abolishing slavery within their borders, could not do trust to send militia to protect Virginia plantation owners during a slave uprising. These founding fathers feared they would find themselves “helpless” in the face of black anger, violence and reprisals. Mason and Henry therefore threatened to frustrate the ratification of the Constitution and, when that did not quite work, vowed to call a new constitutional convention if they failed to obtain the protection demanded by the white community. .

Madison understood his mission and, during the first congress, drafted a bill of rights, as if “constantly haunted by the ghost of Patrick Henry”, which recognized, among a multitude of individual rights, the needs of slaveholders : “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. As historian Heather Cox Richardson has made clear, the Second Amendment was about the militia, not a phantom individual right to bear arms.

The US Congress followed with the Naturalization Act of 1790, which defined whites as the only immigrants worthy of US citizenship. The next major law was the Uniform Militia Act of 1792, which required every white male between the ages of 18 and 45 to own a gun and join the militia.

The gun-toting white militia was the weapon to deal with the continued black “threat”. The African descendants were, as one Virginian noted, a “fierce monster” that must be kept “in chains”. In Louisiana, the state legislature considered black people “the enemy.” This conception of African Americans as dangerous, criminal, violent, as a threat to white people would transcend slavery, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement and the elections of Barack Obama and Kamala Harris.

This sense of danger not only killed Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Amir Locke and Jayland Walker, but it also led, for example, to the glorification of Mark and Patricia McCloskey in St. Louis, who came out on their lawn to fire guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. This construction of blacks as the The danger in American society was evident when officers in Washington, D.C., “fired stun grenades, set off smoke bombs, shoved protesters with batons and shields,” and plotted to use a heat ray to give marchers of the BLM the impression that “their skin is lit”. Fire.”

Note, however, that the sense of danger and escalating violence did not accompany the arrest of Dylan Roof, who murdered nine people during a Bible study. Similarly, police took Payton Gendron alive after his racist screed led Gendron to kill 10 black people at a Buffalo grocery store. There’s also James Holmes, who was arrested in the Aurora, Colorado, parking lot after shooting dead 12 people and injuring 70 others in a movie theater. Officers were able to track down and arrest Robert Crimo III, who had leaned on a rooftop and used bystanders in Highland Park as human targets, killing six people and injuring at least two dozen others. And, despite all the warnings circulating through various law enforcement agencies, the virtually all-white mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6e did not raise enough alarms to justify the deployment of force that was applied against the BLM a few months earlier.

No, in America, black people are the most dangerous. Research by Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt shows how the biological mechanism of fear goes on high alert even when an image of an African American with a probable weapon is presented. Reinforcing this definition of black danger is a study by Vanderbilt psychiatrist and sociologist Jonathan Metzl in which white people in rural Missouri who had experienced gun violence in the family were adamantly opposed to gun safety regulations, believing that guns were all that protected them from St. Louis — local blacks descending into rural Missouri and taking anything of value.

When white life is seen as so precariously perched, paranoia reigns. If danger is believed to lurk everywhere in a rapidly diversifying America, even the horrors of Uvalde, Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine don’t seem as scary as the enactment of gun control legislation at fire. Indeed, after Uvalde, when criticism rained down on Texas for how easily the killer had obtained two AR-15s, Governor Abbott countered by raising the specter of Chicago as a place apparently so violent that strict laws on gun control was absolutely useless. The implication is clear.

So we are faced with the horrific consequences and costs of integrating anti-darkness into the Second Amendment of the Constitution. No one is safe. Not in our schools. Not in our neighborhood grocery stores. Not in our churches or synagogues or mosques. Not where we work. Not where we go to relax – in a nightclub, a concert or a cinema. Not even where we celebrate the founding of this nation.

With 400 million guns in circulation and no safeties to be found, it’s time to shed the untouchable aura of the Second Amendment and recognize just how filthy and dangerous it is. America needs to give the Second Amendment a hard second look.

Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America (Bloomsbury, 2021).

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