The Race Relations Problem With The Book 'The Second'

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Race relations in the United States are worse now than at any point I can remember in my entire life, and I’ve got a fair bit of time on this planet. For many, this is a problem to be addressed, something we need to work on to make our nation better. Stronger.

For others, it’s something to cash in on. Some people desperately want to make a few bucks by exploiting a trend.

I’m not saying that author Carol Anderson’s book “The Second” is that precisely. I don’t know her, so I can’t speculate on her motivations. What I do know, though, is that her book is, at best, flawed scholarship masquerading as cutting-edge historical research.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what her motivations are. What matters is that people believe it.

Have we been having the wrong conversation about the Second Amendment?

We’ve talked a lot about story, revision and mythology in recent weeks, and few topics in American culture are as built on mythology as our gun culture.

We’ve been having the same mind-numbing arguments about who should have access to guns and what types of guns should be allowed for most of my life.

But Carol Anderson’s new book, “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” changed everything for me. This week on the podcast, Anderson and I talked about the real history of the Second Amendment and I realized we’ve been having the wrong debate.

The question isn’t what the Second Amendment protects, it’s who. From the very beginning, the Second Amendment was about protecting white Americans from Black people. The formation of local militias was to prevent slave uprisings, not government tyranny.

This is the preface to an interview with Anderson, but it also illustrates the real problem with her book. People are accepting it at face value, mostly because of the current state of race relations. They want to believe the worst.

We’ve debunked the claims of the book quite well. However, people only see those if they actively look to see if there are criticisms of the book’s claims. Most folks will simply read it and accept the claims as they’re presented, assuming that Anderson’s academic credentials are all the supporting arguments they need as to the validity of the book.

Now, I’m not in favor of banning books ever. That includes such horrible examples as Anderson’s. That’s not going to change.

However, it’s important we make it quite clear that books like this aren’t just dangerous; they’re wrong. It’s not Anderson presenting an unheard truth to the world. It’s her manufacturing a racist origin for a basic civil right, a civil right that gun control tried to deny to Black men and women for decades following the end of slavery.

Even today, gun control laws disproportionately impact young Black men more than any other demographic, helping to send thousands to prison every year. It also makes it more difficult for Black families to arm themselves to fight against the violence that may plague their neighborhoods.

But Anderson is telling people that gun rights are all about fighting against slave uprisings. Now, it may be true that some slave owners were worried about not being able to use guns to capture escaped slaves or to defend against slave revolts, but they weren’t the only voices supporting the Second Amendment.

I’d argue that they also weren’t fighting for the right of the people to keep and bear arms. They were fighting for their own rights while also denying virtually every single right under the Constitution to those people they considered property. We saw a similar attitude at work 100 years ago with laws like New York’s Sullivan Act that made it incredibly easy to discriminate against immigrants who wanted to own guns.

Even today, we have gun owners who are happy with restrictive laws that prevent the average citizen from keeping and bearing arms, but no one (except perhaps Anderson and gun control activists) would describe their position as pro-Second Amendment.

Anderson insists on ignoring the racist roots of gun control and instead supports the very same anti-gun ideology that made Black men and women easier pickings for groups like the Klan.

Yes, it’s shocking that anyone would believe this, but they do, and that’s why books like hers are so problematic. They must be debunked loudly and publicly because people do believe this nonsense.

Anderson is cashing in. I don’t know whether she believes her own crap or not, nor do I care. I just can see the damage being done to race relations by her outright fabrications and distortions of history.