The ACLU Promotes an Absurd Conspiracy Theory about the Second Amendment

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A man inspects a Browning shotgun during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 28, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The ACLU has bought into the preposterous lie that the Second Amendment is intrinsically racist:

This, of course, is surreal nonsense from start to finish — so surreal, in fact, that I have to wonder whether Carol Anderson truly believes a word of what she’s arguing. As even a cursory glance at the record shows, it is not gun rights that have been historically associated with racism, but gun control — and to the extent that, up until about 1970, the two ideas were utterly inextricable in American life. To look back through this country’s history and conclude that it was the advocates of the right to bear arms who were the problem is . . . well, it’s chutzpah on a level I didn’t know possible. Somehow, the people advancing this case have managed to take a position that was advanced by figures such as Justice Roger Taney and outfits such as the Ku Klux Klan, and to pin it onto their opponents — many of whom, like the men who drafted the 14th Amendment, were explicitly fighting against the widespread attempts to disarm free blacks. This is intellectual vandalism, and the ACLU should have no part of it.

That instead it has embraced the claim makes me wonder once again what exactly the ACLU is for. Last week, two amicus curiae briefs were filed in a pending Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the material question in which is “Whether the State’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.” The first brief was filed by the National African American Gun Association, and it’s an absolute tour de force. It starts with this accurate description of the relevant history . . .

During the colonial, founding, and early republic periods, slaves and even free blacks, particularly in the southern states, were either barred from carrying a firearm at all or were required to obtain a license to do so, which was subject to the discretion of a government official. African Americans were not considered as among “the people” with the “right” to “bear arms.”

Exclusion of African Americans from the rights of “the people” in the Second Amendment and other Bill of Rights guarantees was in conflict with the explicit text. The argument has been made that the Second Amendment was adopted to protect slavery. But the defect was not in recognizing the rights of white Americans, but was in not recognizing the rights of black Americans. The impetus for recognition of the right to bear arms came from the Northern states, which had abolished or were in the process of abolishing slavery.

. . . and it proceeds to run through pretty much every way in which the right has been denied to black Americans since the Founding. I have spent a good deal of time studying the history of the Second Amendment, and parts of it still shocked me.

The second brief was filed by a group of progressive public defenders who, while presumably not personally thrilled by the scope of the Second Amendment, are nevertheless alarmed by what they describe as “the real-life consequences of New York’s firearm licensing requirements on ordinary people.” “Our clients’ conduct,” the group writes, “would not be a crime in states that already properly recognize the Second Amendment.” As it is, New York’s regime has led to “devastation”:

The consequences for our clients are brutal. New York police have stopped, questioned, and frisked our clients on the streets. They have invaded our clients’ homes with guns drawn, terrifying them, their families, and their children. They have forcibly removed our clients from their homes and communities and abandoned them in dirty and violent jails and prisons for days, weeks, months, and years. They have deprived our clients of their jobs, children, livelihoods, and ability to live in this country. And they have branded our clients as “criminals” and “violent felons” for life. They have done all of this only because our clients exercised a constitutional right.

It speaks volumes that, at the same time as these two groups were working on these briefs, the American Civil Liberties Union was busy lending its brand to what is little more than a cynical propaganda exercise. The ultimate aim of frauds such as Carol Anderson is to discredit and weaken a key part of the Bill of Rights. Once upon a time, the ACLU stood against that sort of thing. Today, that role falls to other people. Americans who hope to preserve their civil liberties should take that into account.