Immigration issues reviving specter of gun control’s racist roots

One of the factors that has secured Donald Trump the status of presumptive nominee for the Republican Party is the question of immigration.  This started with his attacks on migrant workers from Mexico in the early days of candidates’ seeking attention in the months before the primaries began.  Throughout the process, voters who expressed concerns about the potential harms of people coming to this country favored Trump.

This subject is complex, one that accommodates a variety of positions—some focused on practical matters, while others, we have to acknowledge, are derived from racism.  Finding what in all of this is a valid concern, something worthy of attention beyond the work of being refuted.

It’s a truism to point out that America is a nation of immigrants.  This statement is repeated often enough that we risk forgetting what it means.  For one thing, this continent wasn’t unoccupied.  The meme showing a group of armed Plains Indians labeled Homeland Security, defending America since 1492 summarizes the fact that the arrival of Europeans meant the loss of possibly ninety percent of the population that lived here to various infectious diseases indigenous to the Old World.  Others were murdered—there is no other word for it—and others were violated by the policies of our government to pacify and control those who were still alive.

But human beings have killed each other for tens of thousands of years, and we can’t change the past.  What we should do with regard to our origins is to feel a measure of humility about what our generation has been given.  None of us today earned the gifts of our ancestors.

The experiment that followed—a nation made of people who came here by choice and people who were brought here by force—has built both inherent flaws and inherent strengths into the system.  One of the flaws is identity politics.  To borrow a line from G.K. Chesterton, the attitude here that we should stand with our group, right or wrong, is akin to saying my mother, drunk or sober.  We may have affection for people like us, whatever characteristic we’re singling out, but just as we didn’t earn our history, we also didn’t make choices for good or for ill about our parents.

We who value gun rights ought to be particularly aware of the harm that divisiveness about race or ethnicity produces.  We talk about the racist roots of gun control, but what’s important is to recognize the implications of that.  New York’s increasingly onerous gun laws get their start in fears about immigration, and the history of control in the southern states is tangled up in the desire of the Ku Klux Klan and others to prevent blacks from exercising their rights.

What is too easy to forget is that the suspicions felt about gun owners or about members of racial or religious minorities are the same impulse.  Given our history, it’s a strange stance to take that we made it through the door that we will now close and lock behind us.  We should welcome in anyone who shares the values of freedom, initiative, and generosity.  These are a part of what has made this nation great.

In addition to being true to what it means to be an American, with the demographic trends in this nation, we have to bring people who aren’t white men into the gun community.  Assuming that everyone else won’t be on our side is a guarantee of failure.  We have to be as welcoming to unexpected new supporters as we are to the folks we find the easiest recognition of ourselves in.  Imagine gun owners having the reputation as the most inclusive group in our country.  We’d thereby be true to the rights we value.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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