Vin Suprynowicz

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Masters of the New Plantation

by Vin Suprynowicz

July 16, 2000

Last time we dug into Yale Law professor Akhil Reed Amar's impressive 1998 tome The Bill of Rights (due out in paperback this month), the good professor — neither a gun owner nor in any sense a "right-wing militia nut" — demonstrated through historical research that the gun-grabbers are wrong: The Second Amendment does not merely protect firearms ownership by active duty members of the National Guard. Rather, it conveys the right to own and carry weapons of military usefulness to all Americans.

But now that this undead golem of those who despise our Bill of Rights is down, let's proceed to stake it through the heart.

For you see — while the Second Amendment is sufficient to guarantee the right of citizens to own machine guns (not to mention rifles, pistols, "assault weapons," and shoulder-launched missiles) — it's not even the best guarantee of this right. The whole debate over the Second Amendment, professor Amar points out, has largely distracted us from considering a pair of enactments even more directly on point: the 14th Amendment and the original, 1866, Civil Rights Act.

We rejoin professor Amar at page 258:

"At the Founding, the right of the people to keep and bear arms stood shoulder to shoulder with the right to vote; arms bearing in militias embodied a paradigmatic political right. ... But Reconstruction Republicans recast arms bearing as a core civil right, utterly divorced from the militia and other political rights and responsibilities. Arms were needed not as part of political and politicized militia service but to protect one's individual homestead. Everyone — even nonvoting, nonmilitia-serving women — had a right to a gun for self-protection. ...

"The Creation vision was public, with the militia muster on the town square. The Reconstruction vision was private, with individual freedmen keeping guns at home to ward of Klansmen and other ruffians. ...

"Alongside ...the Civil Rights Act of 1866 ... Congress passed the Freedman's Bureau Act, a sister statute introduced the same day by the same sponsor. ... The Freedman's Bureau Act affirmed that 'laws ... concerning personal liberty, personal property, personal security, and the acquisition, enjoyment and disposition of estate, real and personal, including the constitutional right to bear arms shall be secured to and enjoyed by all citizens. ...' Thus, the Reconstruction Congress expressly repudiated Dred Scott's claim that because free blacks could never be citizens, they lacked many of these basic rights."

Allow me to interrupt the good professor to point out that the opposite also holds true. Though modern-day black Americans tend to despise antebellum Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney for ruling in Dred Scott that black Americans were neither citizens nor men, they might want to go back and re-read his logic. They will find the devil unintentionally gave them their due. Taney said blacks could not be considered men or citizens, because if they were so considered, there would be no option but to allow them to own and carry arms without restriction.

Quick, now: which side won the Civil War? Can a law-abiding black citizen today buy a 30-caliber machine gun and drive it home in the back of his pickup truck without seeking massa's "permission"?

Why was the 14th Amendment — darling of the left when it appears to justify the expansion of federal power — enacted? Professor Amar explains:

"Southern states, ever fearful of slave insurrections, enacted sweeping antebellum laws prohibiting not just slaves but free blacks from owning guns. In response, antislavery theorists emphasized the personal right of all free citizens — white and black, male and female, northern and southern, visitor and resident — to own guns for self-protection."

Really? But what chance does a law-abiding citizen of any color have today, of carrying his self-defense pistol with him if he chooses to visit the collectivist metropolises of Los Angeles, Washington or New York City?

"In the 1846 case Nunn vs. Georgia," professor Amar continues, "the proslavery contrarian Chief Justice Joseph Henry Lumpkin proclaimed not only that the Second Amendment bound the states but also that 'The right [is guaranteed to] the whole people, old and young, men, women, and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, and not merely as are used by the militia.' ...

"Roger Taney and [prominent abolitionist] Joel Tiffany hardly saw eye to eye in the 1850s, but they both agreed on this: if free blacks were citizens, it would necessarily follow that they had a right of private arms bearing. According to Dred Scott, the 'privileges and immunities' of 'citizens' included 'full liberty of speech in public and in private ... and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.' ...

"One of the core purposes of the Civil Right Act of 1866 and of the Fourteenth Amendment was to ... outlaw the infamous Black Codes [by which the southern states sought to ban firearms for freed blacks], and affirm the full and equal right of every citizen to self-defense. ..."

Professor Amar quotes Sen. Samuel Pomeroy, declaring on the floor of the Senate in 1866, "Every man ... should have the right to bear arms for the defense of himself and his family and his homestead. And if the cabin door of the freedman is broken open and the intruder enters for purposes as vile as were known to slavery, then should a well-loaded musket be in the hand of the occupant." Even Rep. Henry Raymond, a founder and editor of the New York Times, declared that the black freedman "has a country and a home; a right to defend himself and his wife and children; a right to bear arms."

"Today's NRA," professor Amar concludes, "pays far too much attention to 1775-91 and far too little to 1830-68."

But is this curious forgetfulness about the original meaning of "Civil Rights" merely an accident? Where do the modern forces of "gun control" — including the nation's largest gun-control organization, the National Rifle Association, which endorsed the federal gun control acts of 1934 and 1968 and the "compromise" Brady Law with its national gun-buyer registry — now focus their energies?

What race predominates among the subsidized housing projects where HUD now claims it needs no search warrants to root out and seize "dangerous firearms" — while the cheerleader NRA urges the government to "rigorously enforce the gun laws already on the books"? Where are most of the "gun buy-back" stunts conducted? Among the racial minorities of the inner cities, of course. What is the derivation of "Saturday Night Special" — describing the inexpensive self-defense handgun which the NRA says it's OK to go ahead and ban as long as we rich white folk are allowed to keep our engraved fowling pieces?

Cover your ears if you like, but the origin of this term for the inexpensive handguns most useful for self-defense to a black or Hispanic resident of the inner city is the old, derogatory police slang "Niggertown Saturday Night," referring to inner city weekend violence not meriting much attention, since it mainly occurred among the black folk.

When handgun "licenses and permits" require expensive safety courses and the OK of the local sheriff, and one-third of our young black men today have experienced some kind of run-in with the legal system and are thus blocked from even applying, what percentage of these "permits" end up issued to black folk?

And when gun-grabbers try to terrify the soccer moms with visions of "inner-city street gangs armed with fully-automatic AK-47s," what color skin do you imagine those soccer moms are picturing on Ernesto, Raoul, Dante and Ahmad?

You see, those who would ban the private ownership of weapons of military usefulness to individual Americans today are not just liars ... they're also racists.


Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
His new book, Send in the Waco Killers is available at $24.95 postpaid from
Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; or by dialing 1-800-244-2224

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19 jul 2000