On Freedom Day, Reflecting on How the Second Amendment Became a Race War Proxy

Throughout Oregon and many parts of the country, Juneteenth celebrations are getting unprecedented visibility and recognition. Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas received the news of their freedom. It’s celebrated annually on June 19, but up until being recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, you would rarely see Juneteenth celebrations in Oregon outside of a few pockets of the state. It’s hard not to assume that white discomfort with a holiday celebrating and encouraging deep reflection on Black freedom played a big part in that.  

Now in 2022, how do we not take for granted the respect Juneteenth celebrations are finally receiving throughout the country, while also having the real discussions about freedom and Black liberation that are often absent from institutional celebrations of Black culture?

For example, many of us are still processing the mass shooting that took place in a Buffalo, New York grocery store where a white supremacist targeted mostly Black elders and ultimately killed ten people. More mass shootings have followed and gun manufacturers and their lobbyists have not just argued for arming even more people, but have aggressively pushed solutions, such as arming teachers and putting more police officers in schools, that present a clear and present danger to Black children in particular.

These gun-centric solutions follow a playbook that dates to the Constitution itself and the Second Amendment’s implications as a tool for repressing slave revolts. This Second Amendment fetishization increased following the 14th Amendment, which freed enslaved people, but made an exception for those who have committed crimes. This also included the creation of policing, an institution that we view as a staple of society but originated as a mechanism for catching slaves.

The national gun rights discussions in America have never strayed far from conversations or expressions of Black freedom. Organizations like the National Rifle Association were ironically strong proponents of gun control when it was in response to the Black Panthers exercising their open carry rights. It’s well known that gun sales surge following mass shootings. They also consistently surge after moments of progress or sustained resistance to racism, such as the election of Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter protests.

If there was ever a time to examine the connection between the political debate over guns and Black liberation, it’s during this moment in 2022 as we celebrate Juneteenth. The rhetoric that weapons manufacturers and lobbyists are using to further erode gun control laws and empower police officers (with no accountability for the rampant culture of racism and brutality in policing), is filled with racist dog whistles. In many cases, especially during election years like this one, political ads play images of racial justice protests while telling viewers that the protesters and the very idea of Black Lives Matter are threats to the country and their families.

At best, it’s broadcasting intimidation. However, as we’ve seen with countless racist attacks, including mass shootings targeting Black people in particular in recent years, people are acting on this messaging with violence.

As we celebrate and reflect on Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day to some, we must organize to make sure the forces trying to push us backwards cannot succeed. That starts with refusing to let them hide behind dog whistles and Constitutional platitudes when aiding and abetting racial terror. It means resisting the intimidation attempting to silence our fight for things like voting rights and police accountability, on a national level, and increasing resources and visibility for Black students, staff and faculty, on a campus level.