Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: "Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment" by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

I first heard about Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment on either Black Agenda Radio or On Contact with Christ Hedges.

I've never liked guns. People I know died by suicide with a gun or accident. A stranger pointed a gun at me in a road rage incident when I was a teenager. And, when I fired guns at a shooting range, the extent to which I liked it frightened me. On my social media, I follow and promote @Well_Regulated_, which publicizes tragic incidences of uses of firearms in the United States. I tell people I support "smart" gun control, which in my mind means requiring registration of weapons, restricting sales of weapons & munitions designed to kill masses of people and stripping rights to weapons from particular classes of convicted criminals, such as domestic violence offenders.

Gun-control advocates claim that this amendment prevents the federal government from interfering with state militias, and gun rights advocates claim the Second Amendment was included to make sure citizens would have weapons to resist federal government overreach. Professor Dunbar-Ortiz rejects both of these ideas. Her claim is that the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America enshrines the continuity of settler-colonialist violence the newly-formed polity inherited from its colonial origins.

Regarding the gun-control advocates, Dunbar-Ortiz writes:
[T]he respective state militias were already authorized by the U.S. Constitution when the [Second Amendment] was added. The Constitution recognized the existing colonial, now state, militias that formed before and during the War for Independence, and mandated to them vital roles to play: "to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasion" (Article I, Section 8, Clause 15). The President of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the state militias "when called into the actual Service of the United States" (Article II, Section 2). [p. 23]
One of the grievances the English colonists of North America pointed towards Great Britain which is included in the Declaration of Independence was the latter's attempt to restrain them from attacking indigenous nations with whom Great Britain had entered into peace agreements. "Savage war" or "petite guerre" was Anglo-America's "first way of war." The Anglo-American settlers, during the British colonial period, would organize militias to attack the indigenous peoples, focusing on the killing non-combatants and destroying villages and agricultural resources. From the Atlantic Ocean in the 17th century to Pacific Ocean in the 19th century, this was how European settlers, whether acting on the authority of a European government, a colonial government, the United States government, a state government, a slave-holding elite rebellion (Texas) or no authority whatsoever, operated. The Second Amendment guaranteed that they would always have the weapons to do so. [p. 42]

In addition to wresting the continent from its indigenous peoples, white people needed guns to control the Africans they brought to the Americas as slaves to work, primarily in plantation agriculture for a global commodities market
Because chattel slavery was uncommon in the 1500s in England itself, the existing legal system that colonists brought to the early British colonies in North America did not suffice, so nearly all law related to slavery was forged in the colonies, borrowing from existing practices in Spanish, Portuguese and English Caribbean plantation colonies, and specifically borrowing the use of slave patrols from the Caribbean and adapting them to local conditions on the continent. [pp. 59-60]
Controlling African enslaved people and freedmen and their post-Emancipation descendants was the collective duty, by law, of all European settlers. And, this continued through the revolt against Great Britain, through the United States Civil War and into our own time through the "Neighborhood watch" movement. [pp. 59-72]

Popular culture has hidden the white supremacist purposes of the Second Amendment. All the "outlaw" heroes, either real-life persons or products of fiction writers, (Billy the Kid, Jesse James, The Outlaw Josey Wales) are former fighters for the Confederate States of America. The mythology around hunting allows the European settler to appropriate the indigenous peoples' skills and virtues but never actually includes their dispossession.

"Gun control" also ignores the United States's sale of weapons around the world and use of weapons in military actions.

White supremacists' "words, rhetoric and desired future differ little from those of the free market fundamentalists and constitutional originalists who actually control the federal institutions and many of the state governments. White nationalists are the irregular forces--the volunteer militias--of the actually existing political economic order. They are provided for in the Second Amendment." [p 172]
Any assessment of gun violence and the Second Amendment in the United States is incomplete or skewed without dealing with what the guns were for, and, given what they were for, what that means about their popularity and proliferation today. p. 194
Professor Dunbar-Ortiz's website is http://www.reddirtsite.com/.