By now it’s no secret that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s appeal is to White voters who heed his racist dog-whistle. Only this week did Trump make any gesture toward Black voters, and that was in room that was 99% White and just 40 miles north of Milwaukee, where rioting recently took place over continuing police abuse of power.
Trump continues to voice support for a police state over the real grievances of impoverished communities of color that daily face racial profiling and violence, as consistently documented repeatedly by the United Nations. Never mind that researchers have documented that historically urban riots in Black neighborhoods were in a direct reaction to police use of excessive force with impunity.
Trump’s nasty appeal to the NRA and so-called “Second Amendment People” for extralegal actions is based in a history of fear of the Other, especially those of African descent. This is a distorted history worthy of untangling for our current moment.
The contemporary interpretation of the Second Amendment is inseparable from the history of policing in the U.S. As noted by social scientists Hahn & Jefferies,
During the latter quarter of the 19th century the “white ruling class sought to avoid reliance on military, to avert the hostility of the masses, and to legitimize oppression by creating a public police force.”
This all fits neatly with the creation of the Second Amendment, which 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."
The reference to a “militia” was for collective action, predates the existence of public police forces, and was directed toward enemies of the new nation. But why did the slave-holding Founders refer to “a free State” rather than the federal government? And who were these enemies that required a state militia rather than a national military response?
With slave rebellions, White owners of this human “property” sought to protect themselves and secure their investments without federal interference – and constantly saw people of African descent as the enemy within, but never as part of the new nation. It was the local White night watch guards and patrols or militias that “became the foundation of American policing.”
Compounding the intersection of the Second Amendment with the rise of police forces as we know them today is that the Second Amendment was historically interpreted a “collective right.” In 1939 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against an individual invoking a states-rights argument under the Second Amendment for a purchasing and transporting a weapon that was federally-banned at that time. The Court in United States v. Miller provided a short colonial and founding history of the possession of individual weapons by emphasizing that the Second Amendment was only intended for collective military action.
Additionally, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall have the power…
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections repel invasions...
Nothing at the time of the Founding suggests that someday an individual should have the right to bring an assault weapon into restaurants and other stores as gun-toting bullies wish to do today. The "Insurrections" the slave-owning Founders worried about were those coming from their human "property."
Yet, through lobbying of the National Rifle Association – originally an organization for hunters – and an odd law journal article here and there in the 1960s, the Second Amendment was given an individual rights spin that we live under today. Using twisted logic, the conservative majority in 2008 under racial segregationist Chief Justice Roberts narrowly ruled 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment was somehow originally intended for individual rights.
Back to Trump and his “Second Amendment People.” Their march for fascism is for making and keeping America as White privileged as possible by any means necessary – because Black lives to Trump and his White followers simple do not matter, especially when people of color are perceived as the enemy within the nation to be controlled.