Lawful And Responsible Gun Owners seek to promote unity of all individuals from diverse backgrounds of any nature.
The Second Amendment (and all other articles in the Bill of Rights) is meant to apply equally to all individuals.
According to the Constitution of the United States all people are to be treated equally with total disregard for race, religion, sex, lifestyle, or any other traits an individual might possess.
An embarrassing fact in the history of our nation is the origin of gun control for the purpose of controlling certain groups of individuals. This is well illustrated in many documents such as the following description of a noteworthy case handled by the North Carolina State Supreme Court.
THE NOTORIOUS CASE OF
STATE V. NEWSOM
Charles Alfred "Al" Human, Jr.
©1995 Charles Alfred "Al" Human, Jr.
Reproduction Permitted for Review or Non-Commercial Purposes Only
All Other Uses Forbidden Without Written Permission of the Author
As a response to periods of increasing burglaries, assaults, robberies, rapes, and murders, as well as various real and imagined terrorist crises, many have proposed tighter, more discretionary government control over gun ownership. Some have even proposed the repeal of the Second Amendment. This support for gun control and gun prohibition has come from some seemingly strange sources. Both anti-gun forces and many who profess to support the right to keep and bear arms have endorsed gun waiting periods. Moreover, opposition to gun ownership comes not only from so-called "liberals" such as Carl Rowan and Mario Cuomo, but even from so-called "conservatives" such as George Will and Adolph Coors.
Before joining this cross-ideological bandwagon, however, we would all do well to read about a case in North Carolina jurisprudence in which a policy of gun confiscation actually prevailed: the case of State v. Newsom. This case provides many valuable lessons to both opponents and supporters of the right to keep and bear arms.
The case of State v. Newsom had its beginning on June 1, 1843, when Elijah Newsom was arrested in Cumberland County for violating a discretionary license law. Elijah Newsom had been arrested for carrying a shotgun without having attained a license from the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions a year in advance of carrying the weapon. This violated an 1840 law mandating such licenses. Newsom was placed on trial, found guilty by a jury, and, upon request of counsel, judgement was arrested and the case appealed to the State Supreme Court.
Elijah Newsom's counselors W. Winslow and D. Reid, argued before the North Carolina State Supreme Court that the 1840 law was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and under Articles 3 and 17 of the North Carolina State Constitution. (Article 17 of the State Constitution as then amended was the State's recognition of the right to keep and bear arms in defense of the State. Article 3 was a prohibition against emoluments except in consideration for public service.) In response, the North Carolina State Supreme Court espoused virtually the same flawed, tired "State's rights" and "State militia" arguments used by many supporters of gun control and gun prohibition:
"The Constitution of the United States was ordained and established by the people of the United States for their own government and not that of the different States. The limitations of power contained in it and expressed in general terms are necessarily confined to the General Government. It is now the settled construction of that instrument that no limitation upon the power of government extends to or embraces the different States unles they are mentioned or it is expressed to be so intended. Barrow v. Baltimore 7 Peters 240; RR v. Davis 19 NC 459. In Article II of the amended Constitution, the States are neither mentioned nor refered to. It is, therefore, restrictive of the powers of the Federal Government." 1.
In response to the State Constitution's Article 17, the North Carolina State Supreme Court once again espoused arguments virtually similar to the collectivist "State militia," "public safety," and "majority will" arguments used by modern gun control supporters:
"That Article declares 'that the people have the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of the State.' The defendant is not indicted for carrying arms in defense of the State, nor does the law prohibit him from so doing. The only object is to preserve the peace and safety of the community...Self-preservation is the first law of nations as it is of individuals, and while we acknowledge the solumn obligations to obey the Constitution as well in spirit as in letter, we at the same time hold that nothing should be interpolated into that instrument which the people did not will." 2.
The Court also emptied the concept of individual rights of all meaning by arguing that the 1840 act did not violate the right to keep and bear arms, "But subjects it to the control of the county court, giving them the power to say, in the interest of sound discretion, who of this class of persons shall have the right to the license (sic) or whether any shall." 3.
The arguments of Newsom's counselors failed and despite both Federal and State Constitutions, the North Carolina State Supreme Court upheld the 1840 act and Elijah Newsom was found guilty. But far from preventing crime, this 1840 act aquiesed and assisted in a particularly heinous crime then prevalent in North Carolina.
The name of this crime was summarized in the title of a work by historian and political science Professor John Spenser Bassett: Slavery in the State of North Carolina.
You see, the 1840 gun control act upheld in State v. Newsom was directed against "free negroes, mulattoes, and free persons of color." (sic) Elijah Newsom was classified as a "free person of color" and was snared by this law as such. The law read as follows:
"Be it enacted, etc. that if any negro, mulatto, or free person of color shall wear or carry about his or her person, or keep in his or her house, any shotgun, musket, rifle, pistol, sword, dagger, or Bowie-knife, unless he or she shall have obtained a license therefor from the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of his or her county, within one year preceding the wearing, keeping, or carrying thereof, he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be indicted therefor." 4.
This 1840 law restricting "free persons of color" from owning guns was similar to earlier laws prohibiting slaves from hunting with guns and according to John Spenser Bassett, "It is thus that it was as late as 1844 that the Supreme Court undertook to fix the status of free negroes"...a status "reduced more and more to the position of a slave." 5.
What is even more interestingly repugnant about State v. Newsom is not merely its upholding of a racist 1840 gun control law, but the precedents the Court used in justifying the law. When Elijah Newsom's counselors argued that the 1840 act violated state prohibitions against special emoluments, the Court upheld racist tradition over individual rights. The Court responded: "Is this a violation of the 3rd article in spirit, or is it such a palpable violation as will authorize the Court to declare it void? If so, then is the whole of our legislation upon the subject of free negroes void . (sic) From the earliest period of our history free people of color have been among us as a separate and distinct class, requiring, from necessity in many cases, separate and distinct legislation." 6.
As an example of this, the Court cited an act dating from 1777 prohibiting colored persons within the fourth degree from testifying against those classified as "white" and said in no instance has the constitutionality of the act of 1777 been questioned...the long aquiescence under the act of 1777 by all classes of society--legislative, judicial, and private--has given an expression of the 3rd article of the (North Carolina) Bill of Rights which is obligatory on the courts." 7.
The North Carolina State Supreme Court furthermore cited the case of State v. Manuel a case which upheld selling "free persons of color" into slavery over misdemeanor offenses. As the final bolster for the racist 1840 gun control act, the North Carolina State Supreme Court cited the fact that "the present Constitution of the State entirely excludes them ("free persons of color") from the exercise of the elective franchise." 8.
Thus, in upholding the denial of the right to keep and bear arms by "free persons of color" the North Carolina State Supreme Court had to uphold an entire ugly, clapboard slaughterhouse structure of laws and traditions which denied all individual rights of "free persons of color." The North Carolina State Supreme Court finally, of necessity, had to conclude State v. Newsom not only by upholding the 1840 gun control act, but by making a declaration that only belongs in the courtroom of a dictatorship:
"We must, therefore, regard it as a principle settled by the highest authority, the organic law of the country...that the free people of color cannot be considered as citizens in the largest sense of the term, or if they are, they occupy such a position in society as justifies the Legislature in adapting a course of policy in its acts peculiar to them, so that they do not violate those great principles which ought to lie at the foundation of all laws." (sic) 9.
State v. Newsom thus was not only a case upholding gun control, but was the Dred Scott case of North Carolina jurisprudence, a case of tyranny, a case that denied and ran roughshod over all individual rights of an entire class of human beings. Although the ruling of this case was reversed after the abolition of slavery in the course of Reconstruction, it still holds many lessons for all of us. State v. Newsom shows what the theory and practice of tyranny really means. It shows that the tyranny so characteristic of other countries not only can happen here, but has happened here and can happen again if free men and women do not remain ever-vigilant against it. The case of State v. Newsom teaches us that all individual rights are of a piece, that you cannot in logic deny one right without doing the same for all other rights. Supporters of gun control cannot deny the right to keep and bear arms without ultimately denying all individual rights. Supporters of the right to keep and bear arms cannot support this right without ultimately supporting all individual rights.
The case also teaches that inherent in a free individual citizen's right to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness is the right to own the means to protect these rights from violation. This case demonstrates that when the right to keep and bear arms for the protection of individual rights is threatened, the very ideas of individual rights and free citizenship themselves are threatened.
The case moreover shows that you cannot in logic defend the rights of some individuals, yet do the opposite with the self-same rights of other individuals because of conditions of birth. Those who deny the right to keep and bear arms put themselves in the dangerous position of supporting racial and ethnic tyranny. And those who defend the right to keep and bear arms had jolly well better defend it as the right of all individuals!
Even deeper than these lessons, the case shows that politics based on racism, blind tradition, or appeals to "the public good" is incompatible with individual rights.
Racism cannot defend individual rights; in State v. Newsom, racism was the basis for denying individual rights.
Tradition cannot defend individual rights; in State v. Newsom, traditon trampled individual rights.
"The public good" cannot defend individual rights; not only did "the public good" demand the negation of individual rights in the case of State v. Newsom, but "the public" has no existence, good, or rights above, beyond, or opposed to the existence, good, or rights of the individual. Any claim to defend individual rights on the basis of "the public good" is a claim without basis.
Fortunately, State v. Newsom in its own negative way, shows what is required to defend individual rights. Defending indivdual rights requires the very traits of character the judges lacked in handing down State v. Newsom: the ability and willingness to perceive a common denominator in experience, the ability and willingness to evaluate that experience as right or wrong for human survival, plus the ability and willingness to act for the furtherance of what is right.
In other words, the defense of individual rights, including the right to keep and bear arms, requires the use of the ultimate armament for human survival: the intelligence and integrity of human reason.
1. North Carolina Reporter, Volume 27, by James Iredell, (6 Iredell Law) Annotated by Walter Clark, (Raleigh, NC, Edwards & Broughton Printing Co., State Printers, 1916.) p. 182.
2. Ibid. p. 184.
4. Ibid. p.181
5. "Slavery in the State of North Carolina" by John Spenser Bassett, Series XVII, No. 7-8, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Herbert B. Adams, Editor. (The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, MD, July-August 1899.)
6. Iredell, p. 183.
8. p. 184.
9. p. 185.