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Sheriff Clarke: Gun Control Was Meant to Keep Arms Away from Black People

WASHINGTON — Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. said he was inspired to advocate for the protection of the Second Amendment after reading about the efforts to keep guns out of the hands of freed slaves who fought for the right to bear arms.

“The fight by the abolitionists, post-slavery, for blacks to be able to be armed — do you know that gun control, early gun control, was really about keeping guns out of the hands of black people? We as black people have been so separated from our history it’s astounding to me. We should be some of the most ardent supporters of the Second Amendment because our history was not being able to possess arms to be able to defend ourselves from mobs, kidnappings and lynchings,” he said during a Heritage Foundation event, “The Right to Arms and the War on Guns.”

“The 13th Amendment freed the blacks on paper but it wasn’t until the 14th amendment that made the rest of this Constitution including the Second Amendment apply to black people, and we truly became free because we could defend ourselves. It’s the first law of nature — self-defense. We all want to live,” he added.

Clarke read a passage from Stephen P. Holbrook’s book, That Every Man Be Armed, about the “black tradition of arms,” which included a series of partial quotes from Frederick Douglas about the right to bear arms.

“When government failed to protect the just rights of any individual man that man rests of his original right of self-defense even if it means unfortunately shooting down his pursuers,” the passage read. “Slavery is a system of brute force…it must be met with its own weapons.”

After Clarke read the passage, he said, “My ancestors, the abolitionists, fought for me to be able to defend myself and you, but the right already applied to you and you think I am going to cede this back to the federal government after what they went through to obtain this right. I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Clarke told the audience that supporters of the Second Amendment today are not doing “such a good job” with winning the “emotional” argument on the gun-rights issue.

“We can win the argument on the data and research – but the question is, can we win the emotional argument? Because that’s where we don't do such a good job, which is why I try to deal with this stuff from a common-sense perspective,” he said.