The tyranny of an unbridled majority, the most odious and least responsible form of despotism, has denied us both the right and the remedy. Therefore we are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our fathers made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty.
— Jefferson Davis, Second Inaugural Address, Feb. 22, 1862
While Eli imagined President Obama might have had Lincoln in mind as he delivered his second inaugural address, I've recently been drawn to the words of Jefferson Davis as he took command of the Confederacy, and how similar the rhetoric in defense of a constitutional right to own slaves was to the modern rhetoric in defense of the constitutional right to own guns.
Davis does not mention slavery by name in either his first inaugural as provisional president in 1861 or his second inaugural a year later as the elected president of the new Confederacy. Instead, as was the style of the time, he refers to "the domestic institutions of the Southern States."
"The people of the States now confederated became convinced that the Government of the United States had fallen into the hands of a sectional majority," Davis explained in defense of secession, a majority "who would pervert that most sacred of all trusts to the destruction of the rights which it was pledged to protect." For all the revisionist bullshit about "states rights," the single issue driving secession was slavery—or rather, "our peculiar institution," as many Southerners euphemistically referred to it. The right to own other people was the right that Davis and his fellow Confederates were defending.
This was the Southern way of life. It was their tradition. It was an integral part of Southern culture. And it was a domestic institution that was built upon a right that was arguably protected by the US Constitution.
I find the arguments put forth by gun rights advocates equally persuasive.
Whatever the true intentions of the framers of the Second Amendment, the current Supreme Court has interpreted it to imply an individual right to bear arms, so for the moment at least, that is what the Constitution says. Likewise I fully acknowledge the depths of America's gun culture. For many of our citizens, the right to bear arms is an integral part of what it means to be an American. Compared to most of the rest of the developed world, unfettered gun ownership is our generation's "peculiar institution."
I don't in any way mean to equate gun ownership with slavery; there's no moral equivalency. But there are similarities between the way defenders of both cite constitutional rights and tradition as justification for these institutions, as if constitutional rights and traditions were justification enough.
That the Constitution enshrined slavery as a right did not make it right, and that it was the Southern states' most defining domestic institution did not make it worth preserving. Likewise, that there is an American gun culture and that there is a constitutional right to bear arms is not a defense of gun ownership in itself.
Cultures evolve. And laws change.