Column: The Race Wars

The second amendment to the Constitution was intended to protect us, not to kill us.  What most Americans do not remember or do not know is that this amendment was a response to conditions prevailing in America at the end of the Eighteenth Century.  It states, “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.” Advocates of unrestricted firearm access simply ignore the opening phrase referencing “a well-regulated Militia.”  In 1789 when the U.S. Constitution was adopted by the requisite nine of the “united” states, there was no standing army. States needed armed citizens, organized and regulated as the precursors to the National Guard, to deal with enemies from within and outside their borders.

The enemies outside their borders included foreign nations, such as Great Britain, that recognized how vulnerable these recently minted states were. Native American nations were still fighting to survive the onslaught of these white Europeans and posed a persistent security threat to some states. Guns were needed to eradicate those Native Americans who had survived the intrusion onto their lands by these white men and refused to retreat or otherwise surrender their lands.  Many national leaders and several Presidents became famous by virtue of their military prowess in victories over or battles with Native Americans. George Washington allegedly showed up to the Continental Congress in his uniform from the French and Indians wars when the delegates were considering who should head the Revolutionary War army.   The unforgettable election slogan of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” celebrated the victory of General William Henry Harrison over Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Of course, the most compelling reason to guarantee that the Federal government did not deny Americans of European extraction the right ‘to keep and bear Arms’ was slavery.

Slave uprisings were a longstanding and very real concern for many of our “Founding Fathers.” Almost all of America’s first Presidents, including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, and Taylor and the members of the early Congress were slave-holders. They were all acutely aware of the danger these people, deprived of all rights and legal recourse, were.  Slaves could certainly not be controlled by the people who treated them like animals or worse without the benefit of firearms. “The people” referred to in the Second Amendment were only those inhabitants of the United States who were recognized as citizens. Native Americans and African Americans were specifically excluded from the rights and privileges of citizenship with few exceptions.

Consequently the initial impetus for keeping and bearing firearms was to give white, primarily-Christian men of European extraction the wherewithal to maintain their supremacy. We armed the rural American to help him kill wolves, mountain lions, Native Americans, and African-Americans.  We armed the urban American to help him kill non-white, non-European, non-Christian people or to kill himself. Nearly half of all firearm-related deaths in America are suicides.

Those unfamiliar with American history will insist that people need guns to protect themselves.  Wayne LaPierre’s easy to remember pronouncement that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun” is belied on a daily basis by the exploding death toll from guns in concert with the expanding accessibility and ownership of firearms. At the most recent, horrific mass shooting in Texas, nineteen well-trained “good guy” aw enforcement officers waited an hour in a hallway outside classrooms filled with dead and dying Hispanic children before they moved in with enough deadly force and equipment to neutralize a dozen armed intruders.  Were these the “good guys” that the NRA said would protect us and our children? Were there no “good guys” at the federally-licensed firearms store where this murderer purchased his weapons? Were there no “good guys” who thought it might be wise to notify law enforcement that a teen-ager just bought two semi-automatic, military style rifles and more than sixteen hundred rounds of ammunition? Less a platitude and just as easily remembered is the assertion that “the only way to stop a bad guy from shooting a lot of people is to keep him from getting a gun.”

The harvest by gunfire of non-white or nonChristian residents of America extends back to before the establishment of the United States as a country and is accelerating.  The murder of African Americans in any part of the United States prompted little action until the 1960s. Prior to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, a slaveholder could rape, torture or murder an African American with impunity. After slavery became illegal, the Jim Crow laws which allowed for the mass incarceration of African-Americans and the “easing” of these men to high risk manual labor operations continued “slavery by another name.” Black prisoners attempting to escape these unjustified imprisonments were simply murdered.

Some will say that not all of America’s mass shootings are racially or religiously motivated. They may argue that the recent spate of attacks on Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, Asians, Jews, Muslims, and other minority groups is an aberration, but most mass shootings over the past century have targeted specific racial or ethnic groups. Of course, in every war there is collateral damage. Some murderers are indiscriminate. In 2017, a man opened fire on a crowd at a concert in Las Vegas, killing 60 and wounding 411. That this shooter could purchase and get hotel staff to help him transport nearly two dozen rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition without raising any questions or arousing any suspicion suggests reverse racial profiling: no need to worry about a polite, white man with extraordinarily heavy baggage requesting a room on a high floor overlooking an outdoor concert venue. The “good guy’” who stopped the “bad guy” in that slaughter was the gunman himself. He committed suicide. The “good guys” in the hallway outside his room did not attempt to enter until they stopped hearing gunfire. Hoping that “good guys” with guns will protect us from “bad guys” with guns has failed.  The unavoidable conclusion is that easy access to firearms kills lots of people, good, bad, and innocent.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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