Nestled between stories about Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth’s breakup, the need for a more inclusive retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale, and news about the K-pop group BTW taking an “extended break,” Teen Vogue is attempting to make the argument that the Second Amendment is a tool of white supremacy. This isn’t just a hot take, it’s bad history. Even more, in trying to make his argument, author Joshua Manson ends up arguing against himself.
Earlier this year, for the first time in a quarter century, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a major piece of gun control legislation. Its provisions are modest at best — it would expand background checks, mandating them for all person-to-person sales, which would technically close the gun-show loophole — and the bill has stalled in the Senate.But before the legislation was voted on, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia took the opportunity to sneak in an anti-immigrant provision. Capitalizing on the bill’s mandate for widespread background checks, Rep. Collins’a addition requires the background check system to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if an undocumented immigrant tries to purchase a gun.Whether he knew it or not, Rep. Collins was tapping into a long political tradition when he “married” gun control legislation with racism and xenophobia. At several moments in American political history, gun control provisions like the one Rep. Collins added to HR 8 have been used to maintain white supremacy.
Fearing that former slaves would seek revenge on their masters, and knowing that many black Americans now had military experience under their belt from their war service, several Southern states passed explicitly racist gun control measures to disarm black Southerners. Mississippi banned black residents from owning guns or bowie knives. Alabama prohibited black residents from owning or carrying any “deadly weapon.” Florida required black residents to receive judicial authorization before acquiring guns.
Northern politicians took the threat of racialized gun control in the South seriously. When debating what became the Fourteenth Amendment, the purpose of which was to ensure formal racial equality for all Americans, one senator said the core purpose of the bill was to “restrain the power of the states and compel them in all times to respect these great fundamental guarantees…secured by the first eight amendments of the Constitution [including] the right to keep and bear arms.” Later that year, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act, which provided relief to former slaves, protecting certain critical political and legal rights that Southern states were denying them, including their Second Amendment right to bear arms.
So, the Second Amendment protections for newly freed slaves were an explicit part of the debate over the Fourteenth Amendment, yet the Second Amendment is a tool of white supremacy? This is getting really confusing.
Gun control is not inherently racist, nor is advocating for gun rights inherently anti-racist. But the use of gun restrictions as a Trojan horse to insult, harm, and disenfranchise minority Americans is an old, ugly political tradition.
That is how President Trump’s tweet about “marry[ing]” background checks with calls to restrict immigration and Rep. Collins’s insertion of an anti-immigrant provision into a gun control bill must be understood. Rather than just taking a page out the president’s anti-immigrant playbook, Trump and the GOP congressmen were also tapping into a much deeper, sinister strain of American racism — of dressing up racism as sensible policy.
So basically this is just an ORANGE MAN BAD argument dressed up as a really bad history lesson. Manson’s right about gun control being used to harm minority Americans, but again, that’s the exact opposite argument from the headline at Teen Vogue. Even today gun control laws like New York’s handgun licensing laws are disproportionately used against young men of color, and the gun control platforms put out by candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker would only add to the disparity. I think Teen Vogue needs to re-write their story, instead of trying to re-write history.
And if you’d like a much better look at how guns have been used by black Americans to protect themselves and their freedom, check out Charles Cobb’s This Nonviolent Stuff Will Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible as well as Professor Nicholas Johnson’s Negroes And The Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. Both are incredibly well-written books that document how the Second Amendment has been used to defend and advance liberty throughout our nation’s history.