June 15, 2022

Recently, Joy Behar beclowned herself on The View in typical fashion, this time by suggesting that Americans would begin clamoring for more gun regulations “once Black people get guns in this country.” 

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Black Americans certainly do have guns in this country.  It boggles the mind how someone could be so incredibly ignorant to a fact so simple, but we gun rights advocates are not only aware of it, we are seeking to preserve their right to keep and bear arms.

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All Americans, including those housewives who are looking to Joy Behar for civics lessons, should know that the relationship between government and the right to gun ownership has a unique history for Black Americans, and only a White liberal living in a gated community could be so obtuse as to think that this history suggests that giving the government more power to regulate gun ownership among citizens is a good idea.  This history, in fact, shapes modern jurisprudence regarding not only the Second Amendment, but regarding our entire understanding of the Bill of Rights.

You see, after the Founding, it was widely believed that the Second Amendment’s very clear declaration that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” was primarily a limitation for the federal government, and that states were not bound to uphold this federal protection among the individuals in their respective dominions.  This was understood, in effect, to be a fundamental deterrent against federal tyranny. In Federalist 29, for example, Alexander Hamilton makes crystal clear that an armed “large body of citizens” might be the states’ “best security against” a standing federal army, “should it exist.” 

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The simplest way to describe this interpretation of the Second Amendment is to say that the federal government was prohibited by the Bill of Rights from disarming the states, but the states were free to disarm individuals for any reason.

This was a handy interpretation in the South during Reconstruction, allowing states to exclusively limit gun ownership among the newly freed Black Americans.  This unjust discrimination, along with the newly enshrined Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, eventually helped lead to what we now know as the “doctrine of incorporation,” whereby the rights secured in the Bill of Rights at the federal level have been selectively “made applicable to the states.”  Black Americans, it was appropriately discerned, have a God-given right to the individual defense of their life and liberty just as any other American does, and this is a right so fundamental that not even the states could infringe upon it.

There is a horrifying history of extrajudicial violence against Black Americans in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, and the government was unable to protect them from it.  As law professor Robert J. Cottrol observed of the latter era in 1999, “the government failed and indeed refused to protect blacks from extra-legal violence.  Given our history, it’s stunning we fail to question those who would force upon us a total reliance on the state for defense.”

We will never know how many lives were saved because lynch mobs feared the guns that Black families kept in their homes, as was their God-given and constitutionally-protected right, though we could safely wager that it’s a large number.  

But there are things we do know for certain, such as the fact that the highest rates of violent crime exist in Black communities.  It should be no wonder, then, that 81-percent of Black Americans want police to spend “the same amount of or more time in their area” than they currently do.   

We also know that police presence in these communities has declined since 2014, in what Heather Mac Donald refers to as the “Ferguson Effect,” a phenomenon where police became nationally less proactive in the wake of the sensationalism of Michael Brown’s death.  Violent crime has risen since 2014, as well, reversing the downward trend in that category that Americans had experienced in the years before.  And again, this violent crime has largely been happening in Black communities, where police are retreating and even disappearing at Democrats’ behest.