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Civil-rights leaders of the 19th and early 20th centuries also lamented that the right to self-defense was denied them. Fredrick Douglass reacted to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 by editorializing that the best remedy would be “a good revolver, a steady hand, and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap.”

The late-19th-century civil-rights leader Ida B. Wells argued that one of the lessons of the post–Civil War era, “which every Afro American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.” T. Thomas Fortune, another black civil-rights activist of the era, argued that it was with a Winchester that the black man could “defend his home and children and wife.”

Now, it should be noted that even if the Second Amendment had been specifically written, as [author of ‘The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America’, Carol] Anderson maintains, under pressure from states in the South that wished to preserve the subjugation of humans, the nation’s sin would have been denying the inalienable right of self-defense to all people.

We don’t attack the idea of free speech simply because people are denied its protections. That fact only accentuates its importance. For most of our history, self-defense was also seen as an immutable right that existed with or without the sanction of the state. “Remember that the musket — the United States musket with its bayonet of steel — is better than all mere parchment guarantees of liberty,” is how Douglass made the case for natural rights. He did it better than many of the Founders. Certainly, he did it better than Anderson.

— David Harsanyi in The 1619 Project Comes for the Second Amendment



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