MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In her new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, author and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz fiercely debunks contemporary memes about the Second Amendment. She ties the clause to the US's militaristic culture, which was born of the war on the Indigenous people of North America and the brutal suppression of chattel slaves. Both of these violent endeavors involved militias, a point that Dunbar-Ortiz contends provided the impetus for putting the phrase "a well-regulated militia" into the Second Amendment.
In October 2017, I wrote a commentary entitled "Gun Violence Created the United States." Dunbar-Ortiz argues that the endlessly debated Second Amendment can only be understood in such a context. The colonies, such as Virginia, who put together the Bill of Rights knew exactly what the Second Amendment meant because militias of individually armed men were an accepted fact in many states. At the time of the founding of the nation, 1776, they were vital to the theft of land from the Indigenous population and the pursuit of escaped chattel slaves. The Second Amendment enshrined that state right.
After all, both endeavors were inextricably tied to the growth of the United States. The stealing of Indigenous land and the brutal pursuit of people who'd escaped from slavery were essential to the early formation of the US. Seizing Indigenous lands fulfilled the so-called "manifest destiny" of the United States, while the chattel slave economy was the primary means by which the agrarian infrastructure of the South operated. Meanwhile, the North benefited from inexpensive cotton for its textile mills and other agricultural products.
In a Truthout interview with Dunbar-Ortiz to be published soon, I asked her, "How does the Second Amendment contribute to the United States' culture of violence?" Dunbar-Ortiz responded:
I would reverse that relationship to how the US culture of violence contributes to the sanctification of the Second Amendment. The culture of violence is inherent to colonialism of any type, and becomes homicidal with settler colonialism and the racial regime of African enslavement. In a way, the Second Amendment turned out to be a time bomb that had little meaning or utility while white supremacy reigned absolute; it was seized upon by white nationalists, including local and state officials, as a legal tool to preserve, or restore, white dominance.
Therefore, as long as there was no threat to white supremacy, the Second Amendment was relatively uncontroversial. As we have seen demographics shift in the last decades toward a minority white population in the not-too-distant future, according to Dunbar-Ortiz, the Second Amendment has taken on a special urgency to assist in the goal "to preserve, or restore, white dominance." This is particularly evident in the alliance of Trump, a president ushered in by white supremacy, with the National Rifle Association.
The Washington Post noted in April of last year that the NRA backed Trump for president "early and often" in 2016:
President Trump’s appearance Friday before a convention of the National Rifle Association in Atlanta underscores the powerful role the gun rights group played in his election, providing critical support in battleground states and helping him score a crucial win in Pennsylvania, a new analysis shows.
The NRA has been a muscular force in American politics for decades. But last year it spent more for Trump than any outside group and began its efforts earlier than in any other presidential cycle.
Meanwhile, the NRA's synergistic relationship with Trump even shows up in the "Russiagate" investigation. A January 18 McClatchy article reveals that "the FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." This is, of course, only a line of inquiry and not a charge at this time, but it is indicative of Trump's closeness to the NRA. The NRA, according to the Guardian, spent more than $30 million on Trump's presidential campaign.
The compatibility of Trump and the NRA makes clear sense through the lens of white nationalism. The NRA, after all, is composed primarily of an older white male membership. In her interview with Truthout, Dunbar-Ortiz provided context to the significance of the supportive relationship between Trump and the gun lobby's biggest powerhouse:
As long as the US was totally a white-ruled republic, the Second Amendment was never at issue, and there were government (local, state, federal) regulations on firearms. However, as I argue in Loaded, with the post-World War II rise of the Black freedom movement, which spawned Native and Mexican civil rights movements, white power had to cede rights that had previously been possessed exclusively by the white majority. This in turn gave rise to white nationalist organizations, such as the John Birch Society and their affiliated armed Minutemen, among others. The NRA, pretty much a benign organization of recreational hunters and gun collectors, albeit predominately white, experienced a coup [in the '70s] by a white nationalist group that seized leadership.
The Second Amendment lives on as an armed guarantor of white supremacy, with the full backing of the president of the United States.