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Monday, January 21, 2013

Gun Ownership Is 21st Century America's "Peculiar Institution"

Posted by on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 11:02 AM

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.


Comments (16) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
I was called a traitor, a moron, a first-class idiot, and had wished upon me a violent death with no way to defend myself for saying something less radical (though I do agree with you) on a former friend's' Facebook page by her family.

All I suggested was that Obama was not comin to take anyone's guns, that even if the ban passed In Congress that it would not be a call to turn in currently owned assault weapons.

For this I was personally attacked.

These people are batshit insane. They do not want to talk about this issue, their gunshots will be their retort to reasoned debate. Abrupt, terse, loud, and effective. That is their voice, the voice of their gun. It will say everything for them.

Comparing, in any way, gun-ownership to slavery (even by qualifying it that you mean it only in the sense of HOW it is discussed, and not comparing the morality of the two) will not sway them. It will only further enrage them, because in their eyes, they are the slaves, and their guns are their freedom papers. To them, gun-control is slavery.

No need for critical thinking when you can mow down those who voice disagreement with your opinion.
Posted by Bored@School on January 21, 2013 at 11:21 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 3
Slavery was about money. The British built an entire ship industry for shipping slaves to us. The landowners in the south needed a lot of cheap labor to harvest their product.
And the real issue with guns is the corporate greed and power to influence the public dialogue. The same people who call themselves strict constitutionalists never mention the fact that it was written when people had muskets. A very primitive gun that was difficult to load and aim. Or the fact that it states gun ownership was for a "well regulated militia" .
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 21, 2013 at 11:25 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 4
I dunno. Gun ownership and slavery are two very different issues. The arguments might sound somewhat similar, but they're really not. I mean, you could just as easily say that people who are pro-choice are using the same arguments that pro-slavery used, and that abortion is our generation's "peculiar institution."

These are different issues and different times. Calling the arguments in favor of gun ownership as being essentially the same as the arguments in favor of slavery is simply off target.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on January 21, 2013 at 11:33 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 5
How did I do that? Info to fix please.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 21, 2013 at 11:35 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 6

closing italics
Posted by Urgutha Forka on January 21, 2013 at 11:46 AM · Report this
Original Andrew 7
It's too bad that people don't give a shit about any of the other amendments.
Posted by Original Andrew on January 21, 2013 at 12:02 PM · Report this
One point: slavery was never enshrined as a right in the Constitution. The slave trade was allowed to continue at the states' discretion until 1808, and Article 4, Section II provided for the return of slaves (or others held in service or labor) escaping from one state captured in another.

These were political necessities to ratify the Constitution. But it never defined any right specifically to own slaves. In fact, the first mention of slavery per se was in the amendment which abolished it.
Posted by madcap on January 21, 2013 at 12:15 PM · Report this
Way back when I was at a horrible conservative religious school I remember the discussion of Al Gore as a presidential candidate. One of my classmates said something about how he wanted to make the Constitution a living document. She was one of the smarter and better-informed among them, but she still spoke these words in tones of utter horror. Change the Constitution? But it's meant to stand as a light eternal!

To these people, the Constitution really is a sacred text. If it wasn't divinely inspired it was the next best thing. The pragmatists among them acknowledge that it got slavery wrong, but seem to believe that even at the framing of the Constitution they were already trying to grant rights to slaves--that the whole purpose for allowing amendments was so that eventually the institution of slavery could be overturned. And there is always the traditional apologist's fallback: "You're looking at it with modern eyes, and it wasn't written in modern times. You're ignoring the context." Suddenly in order to suggest that maybe slavery has always been wrong you have to write a dissertation on the entirety of Western culture in the eighteenth century, by which point your original point that maybe the Constitution isn't perfect will be lost in the details.

They will probably point at Prohibition as an example of the dangers of ever changing the Constitution (though they would happily amend it to ban gay marriage), even though it was done by the Constitution's laws. It is a religious document to them--if it's in the Constitution, it is justification enough for anything. And like most religious documents, the bulk of them don't even care what it says, so much as what they think it says (constitutional jurisprudence be damned).
Posted by rcrantz on January 21, 2013 at 12:22 PM · Report this
"The arguments might sound somewhat similar, but they're really not."

They sound superficially similar because they follow the same format.

Person A wants to remove or restrict a right or privilege of Person B.
That right or privilege is based upon prior law or tradition.
So when Person B objects to losing/restricting the right or privilege it will always sound, superficially, the same.

Whether the topic is
gun control
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on January 21, 2013 at 12:29 PM · Report this
trstr 12
You're fine with disarming the police of their "peculiar institution" as well? Or are some people more equal than others?
Posted by trstr on January 21, 2013 at 1:00 PM · Report this
Machiavelli 13

"Slavery was not only an economic and industrial system," one scholar noted, "but more than that, it was a gigantic police system."[123] Over time the South had developed an elaborate system of slave control. The basic instrument of control was the slave patrol, armed groups of white men who made regular rounds.[124] The patrols made sure that blacks were not wandering where they did not belong, gathering in groups, or engaging in other suspicious activity.[125] Equally important, however, was the demonstration of constant vigilance and armed force. The basic strategy was to ensure and impress upon the slaves that whites were armed, watchful, and ready to respond to insurrectionist activity at all times.[126] The state required white men and female plantation owners to participate in the patrols and to provide their own arms and equipment, although the rich were permitted to send white servants in their place.[127]

Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia all had regulated slave patrols.[128] By the mid-eighteenth century, the patrols had become the responsibility of the militia.[129] Georgia statutes [Page 336] enacted in 1755 and 1757, for example, carefully divided militia districts into discrete patrol areas and specified when patrols would muster. The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search "all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition" and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds.[130]
Posted by Machiavelli on January 21, 2013 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Sandiai 14
@5 I use "em" for italics. So, "italics on" is < e m > (no spaces) and "italics, off" < / e m > (no spaces). You're not the first person on SLOG to forget a "/".
Posted by Sandiai on January 21, 2013 at 2:14 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 15
@14 I swear I didn't forget "/". I swear.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 21, 2013 at 3:52 PM · Report this
@12 can we please disarm the cops? I'm sort of tired of them murdering brown people.
Posted by rcrantz on January 21, 2013 at 4:48 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 18
@7 - No kidding. You don't hear about landlords using the 3rd amendment to exclude military personnel as tenants.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
If those who think the 2nd amendment grants them an unqualified right to bear arms can ignore the qualifications before the first comma, why can't a landlord wanting to exclude soldiers ignore everything after that last comma? After all, the first bit is pretty goddamn clear: "no soldier shall."

Maybe it's because that last bit actually qualifies what precedes it, rather than serving as filler to get the amendment to a predetermined word count.
Posted by Free Lunch on January 21, 2013 at 8:32 PM · Report this
Sandiai 19
LOL. I believe you.

Posted by Sandiai on January 21, 2013 at 9:47 PM · Report this

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