Brendan O’Neill: Gun control is an obsession with left-wingers ... but it wasn’t always like that
ONE of the great mysteries of modern politics is how gun control came to be seen as a natural Left-wing cause. Following the horrific shootings in Aurora, Denver, the usual lineup of Left-liberal activists and commentators have pleaded, for the ten thousandth time, for America to get rid of its stupid constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms and to clamp down on gun ownership. This is the default setting of virtually every observer who considers himself of the Left, particularly those outside of America, who love nothing more than to look down their long noses at the Wild West-style, gun-wielding, blood-spattered mess they believe modern America to be.
Which is all a bit weird, because for years – for two centuries, in fact – gun control was a largely Right-wing, reactionary campaign issue, not a Left-wing one. The fact that it has now been adopted by Leftists is very revealing indeed.
Before the 1980s, Right-wingers and racists were the most vocal in demanding that the states in America should strictly circumscribe gun ownership. Where the revolutionary government of 1791 made the second amendment to the US Constitution, which insisted on the right of the citizenry to bear arms as a safeguard against tyrannical government, successive legislators and campaigners who were freaked out by the prospect of former slaves getting hold of guns called for a rethink of this fundamental liberty. So after the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831, when a band of black rebels shot at white slave owners and freed their slaves, the state of Tennessee altered its constitution. Where once it had guaranteed that "the freemen of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence", post-Nat Turner it said "the free white men of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence".