Argument: 2nd Amendment rights did not extend to all ethnic groups

Issue Report: Right to bear arms in the US


A debate such as this may slip into viewing American history from a Eurocentric bias (i.e., white women using guns in self-defense against Indians). The right to bear arms is a complicated issue in and of itself, but it becomes more complicated when one considers the genocidal acts (against Native Americans), enslavement (especially of African-Americans), and civil rights abuses that characterize American history. A year after the Second Amendment, the Uniform Militia Act explicitly restricted militia enrollment based on class and race, to every free, able-bodied white male citizen between 18 and 45 years of age.

Interestingly, African-American fought during the Revolutionary war, so there was actual precedent for equal participation in the militia; indeed, some even served during the eighteenth century, despite the Uniform Militia Act. However, the racial restriction of 1792 is indicative of racial tension in the States and the reluctance to extend individual rights to all Americans. Even women served, but this too was a social controversy.

Due to the idealism of the early framers, it is possible that “people” referred to all people, but the historical evidence and legal pressure indicates a stress on a certain segment of the population, white males of European descent. So, contrary to the romantic notion that every individual had the right to defend himself or herself, more than that, the historical complexity of the second amendment issue illustrates how class, race, and gender were important factors. Those with power, white males of European ancestry, attempted to restrict the right to bear arms to themselves. So, rather than allowing violent racists or other types of terrorists to form their own militia, it is better to have an American state militia, which is open to all American citizens.

Since there have been an underclass of Americans who have been mistreated by State, it is better to reform the state and its militia, then to let powerful social groups (white males of European descent) hold America hostage, as it had throughout periods of racial violence and the limitations of gender rights. Moreover, it is easier to monitor and make a public militia accountable for its use of arms, then it is to monitor or hold private individuals or groups of individuals accountable.


  • Dave Kopel provides a variety of reflections on the historical right to bear arms.[1]