The Real And Racist Origins of the Second Amendment

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

The “well-regulated militia” that the US Constitution's second amendment refers to were slave patrols, land stealers and Indian killers, all quite necessary as the amendment's language states “to the security of a free state” built with stolen labor upon stolen land. Unless and until we acknowledge that history, we cannot have an honest discussion about gun control.

The Real and Racist Origins of the Second Amendment

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

This commentary was originally published in Black Agenda Report April 19, 2008.

Why does the US Constitution guarantee a right “to keep and bear arms”? Why not the right to vote, the right to a quality education, health care, a clean environment or a job? What was so important in early America about the right of citizens to have guns? And is it even possible to have an honest discussion about gun control without acknowledging the racist origins of the Second Amendment?

The dominant trend among legal scholars, and on the current Supreme Court is that we are bound by the original intent of the Constitution's authors. Here's what the second amendment to the Constitution says:

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.”

Clearly its authors aimed to guarantee the right to a gun for every free white man in their new country. What's no longer evident 230 years later, is why. The answer, advanced by historian Edmund Morgan in his classic work, American Slavery, American Freedom, the Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, sheds useful light on the historic and current politics and self-image of our nation.

Colonial America and the early US was a very unequal place. All the good, cleared, level agricultural land with easy access to transport was owned by a very few, very wealthy white men. Many poor whites were brought over as indentured servants, but having completed their periods of forced labor, allowing them to hang around the towns and cities landless and unemployed was dangerous to the social order. So they were given guns and credit, and sent inland to make their own fortunes, encroaching upon the orchards, farms and hunting grounds of Native Americans, who had little or no access to firearms. The law, of course did not penalize white men who robbed, raped or killed Indians. At regular intervals, colonial governors and local US officials would muster the free armed white men as militia, and dispatch them in murderous punitive raids to make the frontier safer for settlers and land speculators.

Slavery remained legal in New England, New York and the mid-Atlantic region till well into the 1800s, and the movements of free blacks and Indians were severely restricted for decades afterward. So colonial and early American militia also prowled the roads and highways demanding the passes of all non-whites, to ensure the enslaved were not escaping or aiding those who were, and that free blacks were not plotting rebellion or traveling for unapproved reasons.

Historically then, the principal activities of the Founding Fathers' “well regulated militia” were Indian killing, land stealing, slave patrolling and the enforcement of domestic apartheid, all of these, as the Constitutional language declares “being necessary to the security of a free state.” A free state whose fundamental building blocks were the genocide of Native Americans, and the enslavement of Africans.

The Constitutional sanction of universally armed white men against blacks and Indians is at the origin of what has come to be known as America's “gun culture,” and it neatly explains why that culture remains most deeply rooted in white, rural and small-town America long after the end of slavery and the close of the frontier. With the genocide of Native Americans accomplished and slavery gone, America's gun culture wrapped itself in new clothing, in self-justifying mythology that construes the Second Amendment as arming the citizenry as final bulwark of freedom against tyranny, invasion or crime. Embracing this fake history of the Second Amendments warps legal scholarship and public debate in clouds of willful ignorance, encouraging us to believe this is a nation founded on just and egalitarian principles rather than one built with stolen labor on stolen land.

Maybe this is how we can tell that we are finally so over all that nasty genocide and racism stuff. We've chosen to simply write it out of our history.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be reached via this site's contact page or at [email protected].



Not "Our History" (Their History)

Excellent analysis of the often polarizing issue of gun ownership rights. This is a truly sick society, created by some sick people in a sick fashion. Is it any wonder that it continues to be operated in the same sick way by the founder's sick descendants?


Theft and subjugation are what the United States has always and seemingly will always be about. It's a nation built on war and terror and sustained through war and terror.

In the United States one is either exploited (Africans, others) or murdered (Indigenous) if deemed un-exploitable. Humans are seen as nothing more than a resource by the elite. The elite organizes humans so as to perpetuate their exploitation by pitting them against each other in racial, social, anatomical, and economic groups.

And yet, so many on the left fail to attack capitalism, fail to attack hierarchy except for specific elements of it (sexism, racism), fail to critique the system in it's entirety. Hence the system can merely adjust a bit, murder different people (Iraqis this time), expand different forms of hierarchy (hello, corporations), and the monstrosity grows.

When are we going to realize that causing the system to adjust a bit is no solution at all? 1.3 Million Iraqi corpses are a whole lot wiser than the American left.

Want gun control?

...just let a well-known Black person very publicly tell Black people to begin legally purchasing & registering guns of every kind since it is our RIGHT to do so under the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution!


Gun control was started as and is still a fundamentally racist project. Your sit ins and fancy commie-speak did not stop Klan riders. Armed Southern Blacks did, some times with the help of the NRA!

Great article Mr. Dixon. I was actually really ignorant on this topic and have learned a great deal from it. Fact Fred an instructive lesson on how the goverment acts when Black organizations speak of the second ammendments or any constitutional rights are the black panthers.

Herbert Apthekers works

Historian Herbert Aptheker discusses the early history of the United States and its early leaders and puts in such books as The Early Years of the Republic and them both in a marxist contest.

Aptheker is the man!

He does really great stuff History and Reality is probably my favorite. Everyone interested in the revolutionary struggle of blacks who were not waiting around for some pie in the sky or that one day Jefferson spoke about of "the will of the master waning" should check out Aptheker's classic American Negro Slave Revolts.


As a former Tutsi fighter blacks don't need guns we need to go back to our roots, spears and machete's are sufficient. guns can be difficult to own and steal better we stay with something we know


The first paragraph is written as though the government should GIVE (guarantee) all those things to people. That is entirely wrong. The right to the PURSUIT of all those things are discussed in the orginal intent of the founders as stated in the Declaration of Independence, "...Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." If you want an education and health care and a clean environment. Go EARN it.

The 2nd Amendment did't cause the government to give people guns. If they wanted one, they had the right to it and could go out and EARN one.

Gun control is people control and racist and elitist at its very heart. Gun control is about making sure that only the powerful and the wealthy have the wherewithall to control the masses. Whether that means armed KKK members threatening unarmed Blacks or the racist Washington DC government telling public housing residents that they cannot protect themselves from thugs, gun control further subjugates and victimizes those without power. Gun control -- keeping the people down for two hundred years.