Gun control isn’t really about guns. It is about control. It allows control of individuals by their governments. Today, more and more people feel comfortable that their governments will take care of us, not only to ensure our safety but to protect our freedom as individuals. At the same time, however, many are saying nowadays that they would rather willingly give up their rights in the belief that a benevolent government will step in and defend them against evil.
Even if we were to accept the false premise that our government can step in and shield us from all threats of harm (and clearly this is untrue), the dangers of ceding individual rights, including the right to bear arms, to government control are immense. What if, for example, a government, and its members, represent a threat to our rights, or to our safety? While today in America we live a relatively coddled and protected life, and many feel distanced from the realities of the past, it has not always been so.
History shows us, on countless occasions, that people, perhaps trusting initially in the beneficence of government, or having their rights forcibly stripped away, are at the mercy of those who threaten them, including unjust leaders and regimes. We need only to look to the appalling human rights violations of the former Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Cuba, Chile, Nazi Germany, Syria, and yes, at times in our history, the United States of America, to understand that individuals must guard their right to self-protection and individual freedom at the risk of becoming victims of violent oppression.
Today, complacency resulting from the relative comfort, security, and freedom that we enjoy in our county leads us to ignore the real and actual dangers that loss of our fundamental rights represents. Anti-Second Amendment advocates and the media often belittle the importance of the people’s right to bear arms. “Who needs a rifle with a magazine with more than 10, or 7 rounds?” “Why do you need a firearm? That is what the police are for.” These mantras have become so commonplace and increasingly absurd to point of suggesting that those who carry for self-defense or home protection are paranoid, irresponsible, and perhaps cowardly.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We must, as a country, continually remind ourselves why the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are so important. Today, as in the past, the right to self-defense, the right to bear arms against the abuse of power, is crucial. The lessons that have repeatedly demonstrated this to us are not too far remote.
One need only look to the history of the African American experience in our country to see how vitally important the right to self-defense and the right to bear arms truly is. Our great nation, founded on the principles of freedom and liberty for all, is not without grave flaws. The institution of slavery, and its legacy of discrimination and hate, is undoubtedly our greatest sin.
Even from our earliest days as a nation, our Founders struggled with reconciling the need to unite the original 13 colonies into a viable nation-state by agreeing to distasteful compromises. While many find the fact that they were willing to compromise on such crucial matters in order to win the support of Southern states whose economy was propped up by the use of slave labor unforgivable, it remains a fact that they did. As abhorrent and disgusting as we find the practice of slavery today, so too did most of our Founders. Still, the political realities of the time led to a nation that was based on ideals, yet in reality, in many ways fell short.
Since the very creation of our new nation, good men and women have worked feverishly to right the wrongs that slavery represented. Abolitionists in the North and South fought to extend the rights and liberties guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights to all men and women throughout the country. Brave people of color, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, William Still, and Parker Redmond, among many others, stood up to demand freedom and liberty for all, and equal treatment under the law.
Refusing to relinquish the institution of slavery, and determined to prevent its removal, slave states passed laws that prohibited every fundamental freedom to those held under that truly evil practice. Fearful of armed uprisings, severe measures were taken to prevent any African American, slave or free, from possessing arms. Armed people, they knew, had a much better chance of rising up to overthrow an unjust system. Thus, even though armed uprisings like the one led by Nat Turner were ultimately unsuccessful, they demonstrated that an armed populace had the ability to fight back and represented a real threat.
Finally, in what was a watershed event of momentous proportions, the Civil War brought an end to slavery. During the bloodiest conflict ever fought in United States history, brave African American soldiers took up arms along with their countrymen and served with honor, many sacrificing their lives to correct this evil. Subsequently, the ratification of the 13th and 15th Amendments paved the way for a ground shift towards what should always have been true: that all men and women are created equal, and deserve the same rights and liberties.
What should have ended then, the enslavement, discrimination, and oppression of African Americans, did not in fact end with the close of the war. Maltreatment of African Americans continued. In the years following the Civil War, in a period called The Reconstruction, the Federal government and individual civil rights advocates and groups on a state and local level worked not only to rebuild the economy and infrastructure of the South but also to push through a positive change to ensure fair and equal treatment for all. Despite these efforts, the legacy of slavery, with its ingrained hatred, fear, and mistrust of newly freed African Americans, then known as “Freedmen” continued. In the antebellum South hatred, discrimination, and violence were all too common.
During this time, organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan among others murdered innocent citizens almost without restraint and used countless methods to oppress and control free African Americans. In many cases, the local town, county, and state governments would either turn a blind eye to the violence and discrimination, or actively encourage it through the imposition of what was then known as “Black Codes” which were a series of laws and regulations preventing free blacks from having basic rights such as owning property, voting, employment, being engaged in business, and to possess firearms, among others. These blatantly discriminatory and abhorrent regulations would continue for years throughout much of the country, especially in the Southern states, a clear example of unconstitutional laws and unjust and oppressive treatment by a government towards its citizens.
Though in many cases prohibited from possessing firearms by unconstitutional local laws and ordinances, increasing numbers of brave African American’s met the threats of racist attacks by the Ku Klux Klan and others by arming themselves for protection of themselves, their families, and their property. Stories abound about attempted lynchings and violence that were averted when armed blacks resisted such attacks. In the face of systemic racism in many cases sanctioned by local government, individual attacks, threats, and widespread violent mob activity, these brave individuals stood up and protected their loved ones and their community.
Later, during the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s, African American activists armed themselves to protect themselves from attacks on themselves and their leadership. At one point, in response to threats to his and his family’s life, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. kept a handgun at his home. Later, when he made the choice to personally stop carrying a firearm, his associates and supporters continued to carry firearms to protect both Dr. King and other prominent civil rights leaders in the face of bombings, shootings, lynchings, and mob violence. Thus, they refused to be bullied into relinquishing their fight for justice, and by arming themselves they were able to protect themselves and expand their movement towards justice and equality.
While all Americans today look back at those times with shame and regret, we can learn valuable lessons about the importance of protecting individual rights by becoming more familiar with that part of our history. Here we find a clear example of individuals standing up to unjust laws and government who tried to suppress people’s fundamental freedoms and liberties and perpetuate oppression and terror. We owe the brave men and women who fought this oppression a debt of everlasting gratitude. Because of their bravery and sacrifice, the cause of universal freedom and liberty was furthered immensely.
Our nation formed based on ideals of liberty, freedom, and individual rights, including the right to bear arms for self-protection and to resist oppression, had fallen far short in its implementation of these ideas in a disastrous and tragic way. By standing up against unconstitutional laws these brave men and women, in exercising their First Amendment freedom of speech and assembly, and their Second Amendment right to bear arms, were able to facilitate real change and correct injustice, and in the end, be examples to us all.
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