Supreme Court decision reaffirms right to own hand gun -lock, stock and barrel
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Supreme Court decision reaffirms right to own hand gun -lock, stock and barrel

July 9, 2010, 8:50 pm
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The right to own hand guns is as old as the nation itself
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Guns win, lock stock and barrel

     by Reynold N.Mason  Esq.

June 28 2010 will go down as a historic day for both supporters and opponents of gun rights. The Supreme Court handed  down its long awaited decision in the McDonald V Chicago case.  Otis McDonald the plaintiff in the case, lives is a bad Chicago neighborhood.  His home and garage have  been burglarized more than six times.  According to Mr. McDonald, the gang bangers have taken over the neighborhood.  But he could not keep a hand gun in his home much less on his person.  He sued the City of Chicago and he finally won.  The Supreme Court finally has said, what for two hundred years it has dodged, ducked and avoided. Yes, the 2nd Amendment means what it says, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged.  So why did all those smart Harvard lawyers in the City of Chicago not know that little tidbit of constructional wisdom?

The fact is that the lawyers and all the politicians knew that we all have a right to own a hand gun. They simply like to take the easy way out.  The City of Chicago and all of its minions should read Justice Thomas’ concurrence.  The Founding Fathers believed in the right to own guns and, to make sure that big brother did not take away our right to own a gun, they enshrined that right in 2nd Amendment to the constitution. That was a few hundred years ago.  Then Blacks were freed and former slave holding states passed laws  aimed at preventing former slaves from owing firearms. The majority in McDonald reached the right conclusion but dared not call a spade a spade. They danced around the issue with convoluted logic only the Chicago boys could understand.  But Justice Thomas told it the way it was. He wrote:

The overarching goal of pro-slavery forces was to repress the spread of abolitionist thought and the concomitant risk of a slave rebellion. Indeed, it is difficult to overstate the extent to which fear of a slave uprising gripped slaveholders and dictated the acts of Southern legislatures. Slaves and free blacks represented a substantial percentage of the population and posed a severe threat to Southern order if they were not kept in their place. According to the 1860 Census, slaves represented one quarter or more of the population in 11 of the 15 slave States, nearly half the population in Alabama. The Southern fear of slave rebellion was not unfounded. Although there were others, two particularly notable slave uprisings heavily influenced slaveholders in the South. In 1822, a group of free blacks and slaves led by Denmark Vesey planned a rebellion in which they would slay their masters and flee to Haiti. The plan was foiled, leading to the swift arrest of 130 blacks, and the execution of 37, including Vesey.

That was back in the days when Nat Turner walked as a freeman. That could not be allowed to happen.  Dred Scott had been overruled and blacks were finally US citizens but they did not enjoy the privileges and immunities of US citizenship.  So the Congress passed the Privileges and Immunities Clause. This meant that blacks could now keep and bear arms, a right every white citizen took for granted. Southern Whites were fearful.  Justice Thomas writes:

The fear generated ....led Southern legislatures to take particularly vicious aim at the rights of free blacks and slaves to speak or to keep and bear arms for their defense. Teaching slaves to read (even the Bible) was a criminal offense punished severely in some States. Virginia made it a crime for a member of an "abolition" society to enter the State and argue "that the owners of slaves have no property in the same, or advocate or advise the abolition of slavery.  Other States prohibited the circulation of literature denying a master's right to property in his slaves and passed laws requiring postmasters to inspect the mails in search of such material.    Many legislatures amended their laws prohibiting slaves from carrying firearms to apply the prohibition to free blacks as well. (declaring that "it shall not be lawful for any free person of colour in this state, to own, use, or carry fire arms of any description whatever");  Florida made it the "duty" of white citizen "patrol[s] to search negro houses or other suspected places, for fire arms.". If they found any firearms, the patrols were to take the offending slave or free black "to the nearest justice of the peace," whereupon he would be "severely punished" by "whipping on the bare back, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes," unless he could give a "plain and satisfactory" explanation of how he came to possess the gun.

This fear, writes Justice Thomas ……led to "systematic efforts in the old Confederacy" to disarm the more than 180,000 freedmen who had served in the Union Army, as well as other free blacks.  Some States formally prohibited blacks from possessing firearms.   Others enacted legislation prohibiting blacks from carrying firearms without a license, a restriction not imposed on whites.  Additionally, "[t]hroughout the South, armed parties, often consisting of ex-Confederate soldiers serving in the state militias, forcibly took firearms from newly freed slaves." ….Take, for example, the Hamburg Massacre of 1876. There, a white citizen militia sought out and murdered a troop of black militiamen for no other reason than that they had dared to conduct a celebratory Fourth of July parade through their mostly black town. The white militia commander, "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, later described this massacre with pride: "[T]he leading white men of Edgefield" had decided "to seize the first opportunity that the negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the negroes a lesson by having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable." None of the perpetrators of the Hamburg murders was ever brought to justice.

Organized terrorism like that perpetuated by Tillman and his cohorts proliferated in the absence of federal enforcement of constitutional rights. Militias such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, the White Brotherhood, the Pale Faces, and the '76 Association spread terror among blacks and white Republicans by breaking up Republican meetings, threatening political leaders, and whipping black militiamen. These groups raped, murdered, lynched, and robbed as a means of intimidating, and instilling pervasive fear in, those whom they despised.  Although Congress enacted legislation to suppress these activities, Klan tactics remained a constant presence in the lives of Southern blacks for decades. Between 1882 and 1968, there were at least 3,446 reported lynchings of blacks in the South. They were tortured and killed for a wide array of alleged crimes, without even the slightest hint of due process. Emmit Till, for example, was killed in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The fates of other targets of mob violence were equally depraved.  The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence. As Eli Cooper, one target of such violence, is said to have explained, " '[t]he Negro has been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob”.  Sometimes, as in Cooper's case, self-defense did not succeed. He was dragged from his home by a mob and killed as his wife looked on.

The type of violence and intimidation endured by Mr. McDonald and countless other victims of Chicago  bandits, is nothing if not terrorism.  It makes its victims feel just as powerless as freed blacks facing southern lynch mobs.  It is a wholesale violation of their constitutional right to deny them the right to own a gun for self defense. The issue in McDonald was whether the court would uphold our right to own a hand gun to defend ourselves and our families against the kind of violence  the 2nd amendment was designed to put a stop to.  Five wise, courageous men answered a  resounding,  yes.   Those who oppose owning handguns do not have to purchase one.  But at last, they can no longer keep the rest of us from doing so. Ali Cooper was right. We  have been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob.




Note: Several of the passages in this article are form Justice Thomas’ opinion in McDonald v Chicago decided June 28, 2010





Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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