A more fundamental reason the “guns would have prevented slavery” comment is ludicrous

Unless you were hiding under a rock this weekend, you probably heard Barack Obama was sworn into his second term as President of the United States. If you were hiding under a rock — along with some ammunition and 100 of your favorite soups — you were probably celebrating Gun Appreciation Day.

You know, that time to “go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your ‘Hands off my Guns’ sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Obama.”

Gun Appreciation Day? More like Fun Appreciation Day! (Get it? They’re right next to each other on the keyboard, and also they rhyme!)

The celebration received considerable attention for its choice of date. Aside from the obvious threat implied in a celebration of firearms on any date associated with a President of the United States, particularly one who is virulently disliked by a substantial minority of citizens, this weekend also marked the nation’s observance of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

Of course, Larry Ward — chairman of Gun Appreciation Day — famously couldn’t manage to ward off (Get it? It’s his name!) the siren call of stupidity:

Ward insists that Gun Appreciation Day, which calls on gun activists across the nation to rally in support of the right to bear arms and against President Barack Obama’s “post-Sandy Hook assault on gun rights,” actually “honors the legacy of Dr. King.”

“We are looking for a peaceful protest,” Ward said. Continuing, “I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.”

Ward has been roundly ridiculed — I’ll just link to Stewart and Colbert and Larry Wilmore on The Daily Show and call it a day — for his construction of an alternate history in which slaves were given guns and Dr. King wasn’t killed by one. Some have taken the narrative a step further, and noted that the whole point of the Second Amendment was to preserve the “peculiar institution.”

But there’s one important element of the story I haven’t seen anywhere in the outpouring of stories addressing Ward’s comments. To the history books!

European traders, singly or in groups, would establish themselves under the protection of African rulers, who welcomed them for the sake of the imported manufactured goods they offered in return for slaves or other produce. The imported commodities were chiefly luxuries- textiles, hardware, tobacco, liquor- of a kind that seemed more attractive than those produced locally. They also included firearms. Slaves were exchanged for guns, to fight wars to capture slaves to exchange for more guns.

In other words, more guns wouldn’t have prevented slavery — to the contrary, free trade in firearms enabled coastal African tribes to maintain a fresh supply of bodies for European slave-traders. Guns were literally the currency of the slave trade.

Really, the list of things guns make/would have made demonstrably better is remarkably short.


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