Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mutual appreciation

Larry Ward on Friday told CNN that he created the first annual Gun Appreciation Day just days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to “honor the legacy of Dr. King”.... 
He added: “The truth is, I think Martin Luther King would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history. And I believe wholeheartedly that’s essential to liberty.”
Raw Story (
You know, I'll bet that's true. All those African Americans were practically begging to be enslaved there, sitting around unarmed. Oh, wait, they were actually slaves already. Even before day one.

So if they had been given the right to keep and bear arms on day one, there, slavery still would have been a chapter, wouldn't it? First they'd have had to get hold of the guns, after whoever was in charge gave them the Second Amendment. And what with being enslaved, they were often a little short of cash. Being enslaved, you know, kind of means you never get a payday—or a welfare check either, smartass—and it's hard saving up for the big expenses. Or impossible. There'd have to be some means of getting them the guns. Your liberty-loving white folks and free people of color would have to be carting those guns down to the plantation and passing them out, and explaining to the plantation owners that African Americans have a right to keep and bear arms just like anybody else, and your plantation owners would have to say, "Oh, I see what you mean, carry on." Which takes the story at least a few weeks beyond day one, even in the best of circumstances, so there's your chapter after all.
The capture of Nat Turner. Engraving by William Henry Shelton (1840-1932), color added. From Kasama Project.
And then what if the plantation owners objected? You can easily imagine how they might feel put upon. "Hey," they'd say, "that's my property you're arming there! Next time I need to beat him up, or sell his kids down the river, or what have you, he might pull that firearm on me!" That would be a bit of a quandary, you see. If you wanted to avoid just endless arguments, the liberty-loving white folks and free people of color would have to be sneaking the guns in, which might be pretty dangerous. I need not mention that your plantation owners already had as many guns as they liked, and didn't mind using them. Also it was more or less legal to shoot slaves. Whereas shooting plantation owners could get a person into real trouble.

In this way your African American would be at a serious disadvantage from the get-go. He could go up to the big house, gun in hand, and tell the master, "Excuse me, but I've decided I love liberty and prefer not to be enslaved," but the master could just laugh at him. Or kill him, although that would of course represent a financial loss, and I'll remind you here that they couldn't take deductions for equipment replacement in those days. Then again, if the African American ceased to be a slave, the master would be in the same fix, so it didn't much matter.

Not only that, but if this was done in, say, 1790 (pretty close to day one), it would have to be done 654,121 times. That's a long chapter indeed.

Gabriel (sometimes called Gabriel Prosser after his owner), a trained blacksmith, and literate, in Henrico County, Virginia, got hold of some guns in 1800 or so. He was a slave himself, but Mr. Prosser didn't have enough work for all his slaves on the tobacco plantation, so he sent Gabriel to Richmond to work in an iron foundry, and pocketed his wages.
Drawing by Cardow.
In Richmond, Gabriel came to know some of those liberty-loving white folks and free people of color and even, perhaps, some Frenchmen, and learned about the French Revolution, and how there were no longer slaves in France or the French West Indies. It may have seemed particularly odd to him that slavery should exist in Virginia, the home of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison and Governor Monroe, whose love for liberty and the French Revolution was so very deep. He came up with a plan for capturing the governor and holding him hostage until such time as the end of slavery in the state should have been negotiated.

Before the weather was right for the job, however, two of his comrades warned their owner and Governor Monroe called out the state's well-regulated militia, which was necessary to the security of a free state, and Gabriel escaped downriver but was fingered by another slave, for a $300 reward, and caught, and hanged by the neck until dead with his two brothers and 23 others. The traitor only got $50.

Gabriel's liberty-loving white confederates were never charged—perhaps, it's thought, because they were Republicans and Mr. Jefferson, then running for President, didn't want publicity for the notion that Republicans loved liberty all that much, since it might disincline many of the state's most distinguished Republicans to vote for him. He felt that the tree didn't need watering just at the moment; or the kind of rebellion he had in mind when he made his famous statement was to be led by somebody more like Mr. Shays, veteran, farmer, and all-round white guy.

Would it have made a difference if Gabriel's country had recognized his constitutional right to keep and bear arms? Would it have brought him closer to his goal? Sitting with him in the darkened room as the militia prowled outside, would Governor Monroe have come to appreciate Gabriel's intelligence and fervor, the nobility of his character, and said, "Well, since you've got the one right already, might as well have the rest," and signed an emancipation proclamation? Uh, no.

And Dr. King? His right to keep and bear arms was not recognized by the Alabama police when they turned down his application for a concealed carry permit in 1956, after his house had been bombed; so we know it was one of the rights of which he had been partially deprived.  But then again the next year was when he wrote his essay on "The Power of Nonviolence". Something tells me he would not be celebrating Gun Appreciation Day by Mr. Ward's side this January if he were alive. As far as that goes, something tells me Mr. Ward wouldn't be inviting him to, either, but it's just one of those inexplicable little intuitions.
Larry Ward addresses the demonstrators outside his Washington office.  The sign in the window says "Repeal it now org". (Yes, he works on health care too.) Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount for The Washington Post.

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