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BLM versus #BLM

Summary: Understanding resistance to firearms restrictions requires unmasking a pernicious armed rebellion narrative that masquerades as the “original intent” of the American framers.

  • Susan Liebell Susan P. Liebell
Published: June 29, 2021

This essay is part of the series Protests, Insur­rec­tion, and the Second Amend­ment

ABSTRACT: Under­stand­ing the persist­ence of public gun viol­ence and resist­ance to restric­tions on fire­arms requires unmask­ing a perni­cious armed rebel­lion narrat­ive that masquer­ades as the “original intent” of the Amer­ican framers. Promoted by the National Rifle Asso­ci­ation (NRA), consti­tu­tional schol­ars of the Second Amend­ment, public offi­cials, and the conser­vat­ive press, the narrat­ive insists that guns uphold free­dom and rights, main­tain order, and prevent tyranny. Wrapped in symbols of the Amer­ican Revolu­tion, this narrat­ive has been used to justify the Janu­ary 6 U.S. Capitol insur­rec­tion, private-citizen poli­cing during the #BLM protests of 2020, and calls to kidnap or assas­sin­ate public offi­cials as tyrants. This article uses John Locke (the 17th-century thinker who inspired Amer­ican revolu­tion­ar­ies and the Consti­tu­tion’s writers) to demon­strate how the armed rebel­lion narrat­ive disrespects “original” under­stand­ings and distorts the mean­ing of the Second Amend­ment. First, Locke, the founders, and the original under­stand­ing of the Consti­tu­tion do not justify radical indi­vidual gun rights, private-citizen poli­cing, or subver­sion of the govern­ment by indi­vidual citizens. Our found­a­tional docu­ments insist on redress through insti­tu­tions like courts and legis­latures and create high bars for armed insur­rec­tion (based on the views of the major­ity rather than small groups of indi­vidu­als). The armed rebel­lion narrat­ive replaces a collect­ive decision with the views of the indi­vidual. Second, this danger­ous and distor­ted lens should not be used to justify false equi­val­ences between #BLM (a mass call for social change with some viol­ence) and Janu­ary 6 (an armed insur­rec­tion with viol­ence at its core). Lock­e’s ideas about indi­vidu­als, the public, and the social contract — claimed by both viol­ent insur­rec­tion­ists and #BLM protest­ers — clarify the big lie that perpetu­ates our gun-satur­ated polit­ics.

BLM versus #BLM by The Bren­nan Center for Justice