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Historian: “You Can’t Disconnect History of the 2nd Amendment from the History of White Supremacy”

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President Obama is speaking in Dallas, Texas, today at a memorial service for the five Dallas police officers killed by a sniper Thursday evening. Dallas authorities said Micah Johnson, the sniper, managed to amass a personal arsenal including a semiautomatic SKS rifle, bomb-making materials, bulletproof vests and ammunition. Over the weekend, President Obama warned that the easy access to guns nationwide has exacerbated divisions between the police and local communities. We speak to Gerald Horne, an expert on the Second Amendment from the founding of the Ku Klux Klan to the Black Panthers. Horne is a professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Houston.

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Video squareStoryJun 19, 2015“It is in Our Power to Do Something”: After Another Massacre, Will Public Mobilize for Gun Control?
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama is speaking in Dallas today at a memorial service for the five Dallas police officers killed by a sniper Thursday evening. Dallas authorities said the sniper, Micah Johnson, managed to amass a personal arsenal including a semiautomatic SKS rifle, bomb-making materials, bullet-proof vests and ammunition. Over the weekend, President Obama warned the easy access to guns nationwide has exacerbated divisions between the police and local communities.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Part of what’s creating tensions between communities and the police is the fact that police have a really difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama also addressed the fatal police shooting in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, where an officer shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop for a broken taillight. The aftermath of Castile’s death was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend while she was next to them in the car, with a police officer pointing a gun at her and her four-year-old daughter.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In Minneapolis, we don’t know yet what happened, but we do know that there was a gun in the car, that apparently was licensed, but it caused, in some fashion, those tragic events. So—so, no, we can’t just ignore that and pretend that that’s somehow political or the president is pushing his policy agenda. It is a contributing factor—not the sole factor, but a contributing factor—to the broader tensions that arise between police and the communities where they serve. And so we have to talk about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now is historian Gerald Horne, who’s looked at the history of the Second Amendment, from the founding of the Ku Klux Klan to the Black Panthers. He’s author of two new books, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, as well as the book Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Houston.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Gerald. Can you start off by talking about this past week, from the killings of black men to the killings of the police officers in Dallas?

GERALD HORNE: Well, we should not see these events as terribly surprising. First of all, you have a society that, as President Obama noted, is awash in weapons. Second of all, we have unresolved issues of racism and inadequate discussion about the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, that helps to contribute to a situation where black people are perceived as criminals by the police authorities, which inevitably leads to their slaughter, as you saw in Louisiana and in Minnesota most recently.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about that scene of the protesters in Dallas, where you had some 20 of them carrying, oh, military rifles like AR-15s, yes, you know, in the anti-police brutality rally. Now, this is legal in Texas. During the Dallas attack, police circulated a photo on Twitter identifying an African-American protester carrying a weapon as a shooting suspect. The man, named Mark Hughes, turned himself in to police and was released after being detained and questioned for hours. His lawyer has said he’s since received hundreds of death threats. He said later, quote, “I can’t believe it. The crazy thing about it is, with hindsight, I could easily have been shot,” he said.

After the Dallas attack, the Dallas mayor, Mike Rawlings, said he supported increased gun control, saying, “There should be some way to say I shouldn’t be bringing my shotgun to a Mavericks game or to a protest because something crazy should happen. I just want to come back to common sense,” the mayor said. Now, Ohio also has open-carry laws. The RNC is set to begin in Cleveland next week. Talk about the history of gun control, from the Ku Klux Klan to the Black Panthers, and when it was really put into effect.

GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, you need to understand that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is the calling card for the gun lobby in Washington, D.C., has everything to do with slavery. When the Second Amendment speaks of militias and speaks also of guns, they’re expressing a fear of slave revolts. The Second Amendment did not apply to enslaved Africans. The Second Amendment did not apply to the indigenous population. In fact, it could be considered a capital offense to sell weapons to the Native American population, since the European settlers were seeking to take their land.

Likewise, with regard to the Reconstruction era post-1865, one of the signal reasons that the Ku Klux Klan was organized was precisely to disarm newly freed enslaved Africans. That is to say that the Second Amendment did not necessarily apply to black people in the post-Civil War era. And, in fact, their Second Amendment rights were basically eliminated.

Similarly, if you fast-forward to the 1960s, even the NRA and the gun lobby sought to push for gun reform after the specter of the Black Panther Party marching to the California Legislature with arms in hand helped to outrage and inflame political sentiment, including the political sentiment of then-Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan of the state of California. So, you cannot disconnect the history of the Second Amendment from the history of racism and white supremacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that scene in Sacramento. Explain exactly what went down, when you have the Republican governor at the time, Ronald Reagan, taking on, really, gun control, his reaction to Black Panthers being legally allowed to have guns, and they marched on the Capitol in Sacramento of California.

GERALD HORNE: Well, as you know, the Black Panther Party, which in Oakland, California, at least, was organized in 1966, had as part of its mantra, as part of its principle, to confront the authorities around the question of police brutality and police misconduct and police terrorism. As a result, they marched on Sacramento, California, seeking reform in that regard. And, of course, it caused inflamed sentiments to ensue.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Philando Castile and the calls for the NRA to speak out in his case. He said—his girlfriend said he had a license to carry. He told the officer that. What about this?

GERALD HORNE: Well, apparently, it has caused internal disruption within the National Rifle Association that the NRA has been relatively mute about the fact that Mr. Castile apparently had a permit to carry a weapon and yet he was shot by an officer of the state. One can easily imagine that if Philando Castile had not been black, if he had been white, for example, there would have been outrage expressed by the NRA. This helps to solidify the point that I’ve been making, which is that you cannot disconnect the history of the Second Amendment and lobbying for it from the history of white supremacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the Ku Klux Klan, historian Gerald Horne.

GERALD HORNE: Well, the Ku Klux Klan not only was a terrorist organization that was formed after the U.S. Civil War to deprive, in the first place, black people of the right to vote, but keep in mind that it had a second iteration in the post-World War I era, about a hundred years ago, and in fact controlled may statehouses, and in fact marched in the tens of thousands on Washington, D.C. It was a popular mass-based organization, and I daresay that the sentiment that the Ku Klux Klan expressed about a century ago has yet to be extirpated from the society.

AMY GOODMAN: As you look at what’s happening today, President Obama in Dallas—you teach at the University of Houston—then apparently going to be holding a summit that’s going to—that supposedly, not clear who exactly will be included in that summit, but dealing with all the issues here, the killing of the police and also issues of police brutality. What do you think needs to happen?

GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, we need to support Black Lives Matter, which is under assault right now. As you probably know, there is a petition on the White House website that’s garnered tens of thousands of signatures, that calls for United States to determine that BLM is a terrorist organization. I’m sure you’re familiar with the defamatory remarks made by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani against BLM. I think that not only does this organization need support domestically, but it needs support internationally, because if you look at the history of radical reform with regard to what is antiseptically referred to as race relations, oftentimes it’s needed an external shock from the international community in order for that reform to go forward.

AMY GOODMAN: The Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said in the Times on Monday, The New York Times, that Heller, the 2008 decision establishing an individual’s right to own guns, was a very bad decision. What do you think is the best approach to gun control?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that all of us would be well advised to look at the legislation that Governor Jerry Brown of California signed a few days ago, which, among other things, calls for background checks with regard to obtaining ammunition. The Second Amendment does not speak to the question of ammunition, and I think that that’s a loophole that we should try to drive a truck through. We should also look into background checks generally. And, in fact, on the California ballot in November, as of now, there will be Proposition 63, sponsored by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, that attempts to go beyond the legislation that Jerry Brown authored. I think that activists in locales across the nation need to push this kind of statewide reform with regard to gun control, because, seemingly, the Republican right wing in Washington, D.C., will be blocking gun control on the federal and national level.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, those who criticize President Obama, saying his refusal to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement led to the killing of the cops, your response?

GERALD HORNE: That’s obviously poppycock. I mean, President Obama is under a lot of criticism and a lot of pressure from the right wing to distance himself from Black Lives Matter. That would be like distancing himself from his own children. I think that he should be pressured instead to give support to Black Lives Matter, because they are the hope for the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Historian Gerald Horne, I want to thank you for being with us. Among the books, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.

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