Gun Control and the True Historic Purpose of the Second Amendment

Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment

by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz

City Lights (2018)

Book Review

According to Dunbar-Ortiz, the main function of the Second Amendment, is to enshrine the voluntary militias used by white settlers to dispossess Native Americans of their land and compulsory slave patrols to hunt down and capture runaway slaves.

She disagrees with gun control advocates on many fronts:

First she disagrees that the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” relates only to their use in a “well-regulated militia.” She maintains that it clearly refers to an individual right, like the other guarantees in the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment is modeled on various state constitutions (which were already in effect) that guarantee gun possession as an individual right. Moreover the right to form state militias is already covered in Article 1 of the Constitution.

Second citing other countries like Switzerland and Canada (which rarely experience gun violence) with few or no gun control laws, she disagrees that more gun control laws will reduce gun violence in the US.

Third she disputes Democratic Party claims that blames opposition to gun control on NRA lobbying. Noting that American gun culture precedes the NRA by more than a century, she argues the organization spends far less on lobbying than Big Oil or Big Pharma.

Dunbar-Ortiz contends that US gun culture is deeply rooted in the racist, white nationalist, God-ordained nature of the virulent capitalism sanctified by the US Constitution. She reminds us of the real issue that triggered the Revolutionary War: namely the British ban on illegal settlement on unceded Indian land west of the Appalachians. George Washington and our other founding fathers derived most of their wealth from illegal surveying and speculation in Native land.

Thus when the US finally won independence in 1791, a massive escalation of “savage war” was unleashed against the indigenous nations that had civilized North America. “Savage war,” aka “irregular warfare,” refers to deliberate violence directed against women, children and the elderly, along with the infrastructure that supports their survival. Although the US government gives lip service to the Geneva Convention, which prohibits acts of war against civilians, their wars have always mercilessly targeted civilians. Prime examples are the 1846 Mexican-American War, the war against Cuba (1898-1900) and the Philippines (1898-1948) and numerous undeclared wars of the 20th century (the Korean War, Vietnam War, Central American War (1981-89), Afghan War, Iraq War, Libya War, Syria War, etc)

The most surprising part of the book is the introduction, in which Dunbar-Ortiz describes becoming a gun owner and joining the NRA when an activist group she belonged to was spied on and stalked by police and intelligence operatives.

A Voice of Sanity in the Gun Control Debate

In the following film, historian and Native activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz discusses her book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. The major premise of her most recent book is that the Second Amendment relates mainly to the right and obligation of white settlers to keep guns, which they used in voluntary militias to massacre Native Americans and (in many cases) compulsory slave patrols to hunt down runaway slaves.

She begins by reminding us of the real issue (not the one we we’re taught in school) that triggered the Revolutionary War – namely the British ban on white settlement on unceded Indian lands west of the Appalachians. The hated Stamp Act, which triggered the familiar cry of “taxation without representation,” was enacted to finance British troops to roust settlers who were illegally squatting on Native lands.

She also points out that George Washington and most of the other founding fathers acquired their substantial wealth by illegally surveying and speculating in unceded Native land.

She disagrees with gun control advocates that the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” only relates to their use in “well-regulated militias.” She insists that it refers to an individual right, like all the other amendments in the Bill of Rights. She argues the right to participate in voluntary militias is already covered in Article 1 of the Constitution. Moreover the Second Amendment was specially modeled on an individual right to gun ownership in various state constitutions.

I found the Q&A’s at the end the most interesting part of her talk. Dunbar-Ortiz doesn’t believe gun control laws would end mass shootings in the US – mainly because American gun violence is directly rooted in the historically racist and genocidal nature of US gun culture. She contrasts the US with Switzerland and Canada. Despite the absence of any gun control laws (the Swiss are required to keep weapons in their homes), there is no gun violence in Switzerland. Likewise Canada has much less gun violence despite fewer gun control laws.

In both cases, she attributes the absence of gun violence to the historical absence of slavery or rampant militarism.

Dunbar-Ortiz also disputes Democratic claims that opposition to gun control stems from NRA lobbying. Noting that the US gun culture precedes the NRA by more than a century, she adds that the NRA spends far less on lobbying than Big Oil and Big Pharma. The NRA mainly derives its strength by mobilizing thousands of volunteers at the state level, where most gun control laws originate. These volunteers track the voting records of every state and local politician to ensure that anti-gun legislators don’t get re-elected.

Hidden History: The War of 1812

This PBS documentary offers the highly sanitized mainstream version of the War of 1812, a historical event Canadians study in school but not Americans. This was the only war in history in which the US invaded Canada and lost. The main weakness of the documentary is its failure to point out that the US money supply was 80% controlled by London banks – both before and after a pointless war that ended in stalemate (see How the US Uses War to Protect the Dollar).

The “official” justification for the US declaration of war in June 1812 was the British policy of seizing US merchant ships headed for France. Owing to their war against Napoleon (1803-1815), the British seized hundreds of US merchant ships and impressed 6,000 US merchant sailors to serve in the British Navy. The final straw occurred when the British fired on a US naval vessel, the USS Chesapeake, which was harboring four British deserters.

According to the documentary, the true motivation was the desire of President James Madison and young Congressional Republicans to seize Indian and Canadian lands for sentiment and development.

For me the most significant aspect of this war was the strong antiwar movement that arose opposing it. Northern banks refused to finance the war (it was eventually financed by London’s German-owned Baring’s Bank) and New England states, which threatened to secede, refused to volunteer their militias.

For the fist year of the war, the US government relied mainly on state militias, as service in the US army was voluntary and pay and conditions were abysmal. The poorly led US militias made three disastrous attempts to invade Canada at Detroit, across the Niagara River and north through Vermont’s Champlain Valley. The US militias were defeated, despite outnumbering Canadian forces five to one. Most of Britain’s military forces were tied up fighting Napoleon in Europe. The Canadian side relied on a few British regulars, Native American warriors led by Tecumseh and French, Scottish and British farmers defending their land.

In 1814, the British captured Napoleon, releasing 60,000 troops for service elsewhere. In August 1814, they sacked and burned Washington (including the Capitol, the White House, the Library of Congress and the Navy Yard) and the city was only spared by a freak hurricane that forced British troops to retreat.

The Battle of Baltimore and the Battle of New Orleans would spell a reversal of fortune for the US. By this point the US had more professionally trained troops, though they depended heavily on Baltimore residents to build ramparts and state militias to help defend the city. The successful defense of Fort McHenry (Baltimore) in September 1814 would inspire Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Congress would make it the US national anthem in 1931.

My favorite part of the documentary depicts the Battle of New Orleans in which Revolutionary War hero Andrew Jackson successfully led 4,000 irregulars – consisting of poor white farmers, slaves, creoles, and Native Americans – against 10,000 highly trained and experienced British troops.

The battle is celebrated in Johnny Horton’s 1959 ballad The Battle of New Orleans (the second video). The audio is blocked in the documentary for copyright reasons. Too bad Congress didn’t make Battle of New Orleans the national anthem. They should have.