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So far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, we’ve had more mass shootings than we’ve had days – on average, more than once a day there’s been a mass shooting in the United States. To make bad matters worse, the Washington Post recently reported that the United States has more guns than people. They report that there are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S., a country with a population of 326 million. When it comes to gun ownership and gun violence, there is no debate—no other similarly situated country comes close, the United States is #1.

Gun Control Past and Present

So why are we so vastly different? The GOP would have you believe that the problem is rooted in video games and mental health disorders. But for that claim to hold water, the U.S. would have to have a much higher proportion of mentally ill people compared to those in other countries. Nothing suggests this is true.

2nd Amendment Past and Present

To begin, it’s useful to know that the United States is one of only three countries in the world that constitutionally protects the right to bear arms. The full text of the 2nd Amendment as it appears in the U.S. Constitution reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Those 26 words have altered the lives of untold thousands.

The other two countries that protect the right to bear arms, Mexico and Guatemala, used the United States Constitution as a model when they wrote and adopted their constitutions but, unlike the U.S., they included explicit restrictive conditions to gun ownership that make it more difficult for their citizens to own and operate firearms, which includes strict rules to firearm safe storage.

Clearly, for some, protecting the 2nd Amendment is more important than protecting the lives of children. But for many, this unyielding devotion to the amendment is hard to understand.

While it is true that the United States isn't the only country to have had mass shootings -- the big difference is that other countries made major policy changes on the heels of their tragedies. For example, after the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand’s government imposed strict new firearms laws. Thousands have voluntarily surrendered their firearms as part of a buyback policy instituted after that massacre. In 1996, a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in Australia killing 35 people and wounding another 28. In response, Australia changed its laws instituting one of the largest mandatory gun buyback programs in recent history. Since then its murder and suicide rates have plummeted—declining by 42 and 57 percent, respectively.

But in the United States, the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is at the heart of the debate. Every time there’s a mass shooting—whether the victims are 5-year olds or 85-year olds the pro-gun lobby, and the weapons manufactures they advocate for, is out in full force drumming up fears on the far right that the 2nd Amendment is in danger and must be protected.

Clearly, for some, protecting the 2nd Amendment is more important than protecting the lives of children. But for many, this unyielding devotion to the amendment is hard to understand. What’s needed is a foray into the history of the 2nd amendment. Knowing who wrote it and why helps to shed light on who and what it is protecting today.

The answer dates to the early days of this nation. Like Australia and New Zealand, the United States has colonial beginnings. All three inherited much of the common law and customs of England whose 1689 Bill of Rights included a provision for Protestant citizens to have arms. But unlike those countries, the U.S. expanded upon that provision and enshrined into its constitution an amendment to provide protection to its most powerful and most wealthy—the slave holding aristocrats.

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Although we may never know the true number of people taken in shackles from Africa and transported across the Atlantic, conservative estimates range from 12—16 million with about 5% of that number ending up in the 13 Colonies and later the United States. So massive was the influx of slaves into the colonies that for decades, most of the population of South Carolina were enslaved people. At one point, approximately 40% of Virginia’s population was enslaved!

Gun Control Past and Present

The only way to control this huge slave population was with brute force often served up by armed militias. Eventually, the colonies mandated that all able-bodied white men belong to the militia.

About 30% of the Southern population owned slaves but the wealthy aristocratic slaveholder, representing only three-quarters of one percent of the white population, held the vast majority of slaves.

It was the 1% and the 1% wannabes of the past that drove the colonies to create laws mandating that all free adult white men own and carry fire arms.

The constant threat of a potential slave revolt fed the fears of most whites, but their fears didn’t outweigh the desires of the wealthy slaveholders to benefit from free labor. The economy, social status, and political power of the wealthiest in the South was intertwined and dependent upon this peculiar institution—slavery. The writer of the 2nd Amendment, James Madison knew this all too well. He was an aristocratic Southern slaveholder and wanted to remain that way.

In a nutshell, in 1791 the 2nd Amendment provided the biggest benefit to aristocratic slaveholders. That is who it was written for -- those who wanted to maintain their state militia slave patrols in order to hold on to and build their wealth and power. The rest of the white population were fed a line of bull about white superiority to keep them chomping at the bit for their turn to achieve 1% status, in the meantime, they worked to support the peculiar institution.

Just as today, the shareholders of corporate gun manufacturers reap the biggest benefit when Fox and the Rush Limbaugh's of hate radio fan the flames of racism and in the same show accuse the left of wanting to take away their guns. Coupling these two issues keep gun sales up - they've sold more guns than there are people. While they steadily amass wealth and power, the rest of us get played—wrapped around the axle over changing demographics, immigration, building a wall, and whatever crisis of the day is thrown at us.

As Thom Hartmann wrote in a piece he calls, “How Fears of Abolition Shaped the Second Amendment”, “Little did Madison, Jefferson, or Henry realize that one day in the future, weapons-manufacturing corporations, newly defined as "persons" by a dysfunctional Supreme Court, would use his slave-patrol militia amendment to protect their “right” to manufacture and sell guns to individuals who would use them to murder schoolchildren.”


Opportunists back then and opportunists now have used white superiority, racial fear and the 2nd amendment to great advantage.

Sharon Kyle
Publisher, LA Progressive