Garry Wills Links Gun Rights to Slavery

September 7, 2019 at 2:27 pm (By Amba) ()

From the New York Review of Books newsletter (I added the red bolds):

This week we published an essay by the historian, writer, and longtime Review contributor Garry Wills titled “The Rights of Guns.” After the recent series of mass shootings—in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso and Odessa, Texas—one might say that it was timely. But there’s a sense in which a reflection on the hold that guns and gun rights have on American society is never not timely.

Wills’s piece this week ends with the observation that the Second Amendment worship that enables this cycle of death is akin to religious idolatry—taking us back to the mordant piece he wrote for the Daily on this theme in 2012, “Our Moloch,” in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. It is a melancholy fact that, with every new mass shooting, we see an uptick in people sharing and reading that piece. […]

The distortion of “gun rights” has been a long-running theme [for Wills], dating back at least to a learned 1995 essay for the Review on the constitutional debate over the right to “bear arms.”

There, he explains that Madison granted the Second Amendment essentially as a compromise […] to win acceptance for the rest of his Bill of Rights. But in our email exchange this week, he offered an even darker interpretation of this compromise:

“I am now even more convinced that Madison added the Second Amendment under pressure from his Virginia foe Patrick Henry, who opposed the Constitution without protection for the militia as a slave-compelling power and for arsenals (‘keep and bear arms’) to store military resources against slave rebellions, a deep and constant fear in the South.”

Patrick Henry?? “Give me liberty or give me death” Patrick Henry?

I really must clean out the rest of my 1950s grade-school version of American history. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!

More on Wills: He advocated “Distributism,” which he described as “against both unchecked capitalism and socialism, respecting property but distributing it.” (William Buckley told him that wasn’t conservative—too anticapitalist. Wills reportedly got the idea from the great conservative writer G. K. Chesterton.)

And he apparently advocates Warren:

[B]ack in 2015 he’d written a piece for the Daily urging Elizabeth Warren not to run. (His point there was that her best work was championing people’s interests against those of bankers and using her influence to pull Hillary Clinton further from the clutches of Wall Street.) But what about now?

“Warren was useful in the Senate before Trump. She is essential in the White House after Trump,” Wills said. “Who does the government work for?”

(I’d link to the newsletter, but it seems to exist only in inboxes.)



  1. wjca said,

    The overlap in the demographics of the 2nd Amendment fanatics and the unrepentant racists is rather striking, when you think about it, isn’t it?

  2. amba12 said,

    Which makes it :O that the connection could have such deep roots.

    In fairness, I do know 2nd Amendment stalwarts who are not full-throated racists. They have been convinced that their liberty depends on being able to defend themselves against an out-of-control government. Thing is, if that scenario actually came true, they’d be vastly outgunned no matter how armed they were.

  3. wjca said,

    In fairness, I do know 2nd Amendment stalwarts who are not full-throated racists.

    Certainly the two groups are not identical. But there is a big overlap. With, I suspect, far more 2nd Amendment enthusiasts who are not racists than racists who are not 2nd Amendment fanatics.

  4. amba12 said,


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