Ya think Danny Glover is scripted much?
When the leftist actor-activist told students at Texas A&M Thursday that the Second Amendment right to bear arms had its origins in a Federalist Era push for states’ rights to suppress potential slave rebellions and American Indian insurrections, many wondered at the possible sources for his unexpected claims about constitutional history.
It now appears that Mr. Glover, the character actor best known as Mel Gibson’s sidekick in the bloody “Lethal Weapon” films, was parroting — without citation — an argument posted by a talk radio host two days before at the feisty leftist news and opinion site Truth-out.org.
“I don’t know if people know the genesis of the right to bear arms,” Mr. Glover said on Jan. 17 at a student event in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Second Amendment comes from the right to protect — for settlers to protect themselves from slave revolts, and from uprisings by Native Americans.
“So, a revolt from people who were stolen from their land or a revolt from people who the land was stolen from, that’s what the genesis of the Second Amendment is.”
(In a landmark 2008 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right “of the people to keep and bear arms” protects an individual right to own guns, rejecting a competing interpretation that the amendment is an antiquated, effectively obsolete protection of a now-irrelevant collective, state-level right to maintain an armed militia.)
Captured on video, Mr. Glover’s bold reinterpretation of the Second Amendment quickly went viral.
At Thursday’s campus event Mr. Glover left his trusting young Aggie hosts little reason to suspect that his confident dissent from mainstream scholarly understanding of the “genesis” of the Second Amendment might be founded on nothing more than an article by a talk radio host posted within the previous two days at a left-wing website proudly specializing in provocation. But such now appears to be the case. The venerable visitor’s impromptu history lecture tracks closely with an eccentric interpretation of Second Amendment history that had been freshly propounded shortly before in an article headlined “The Second Amendment Was Ratified to Preserve Slavery” by popular left-wing radio talker Thom Hartmann posted on Jan. 15 at the Truthout web site.
“The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says ‘State’ instead of ‘Country’ (the Framers knew the difference - see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote,” proclaims Mr. Hartmann’s opening paragraph. “Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that … and we all should be too.”
The Hartmann-Glover Interpretation has been eagerly taken up by many on the left as a useful new pro-gun control meme. As blogger Gaius Publius crowed at the progressive Americablog on Friday: “There’s a huge PR opportunity here. Painting the Second Amendment as a defense of racism & slavery is a nice way to rebrand NRA types — both the organization itself and its most virulent supporters.”
Rated the eighth most popular talk radio host in 2011 by Talkers Magazine, Mr. Hartmann is widely considered the most popular progressive host in talk radio, a medium long dominated by the political right.
A former psychotherapist and prolific author, Mr. Hartmann is also a 9/11 “truther.” He signed a 2004 petition sponsored by truther group 911truth demanding intensified media and criminal investigation of “unanswered questions that suggest that people within the current [George W. Bush] administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”
This was the same “Truth Statement” that landed former Obama “green jobs czar” Van Jones in hot water when it came to light in 2009 that he’d signed the 2004 appeal. Unlike Mr. Jones, however, Mr. Hartmann never repudiated the petition nor asked that his name be removed from its list of signatories.
According to its mission statement, 911truth is dedicated to exposing the “truth” about 9/11, namely that “elements within the US government and covert policy apparatus must have orchestrated or participated in the execution of the attacks for these to have happened in the way that they did.”
It could be that, despite suspicious timing, Mr. Glover arrived at his understanding of the Second Amendment’s genesis independently of Mr. Hartmann. However, an internet search turned up no record that Mr. Glover had previously espoused such an interpretation.
Mr. Hartman’s article is itself a popularization of a relatively obscure academic article entitled “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,” published in the University of California at Davis Law Review in 1998 by — I wouldn’t make this up — one Carl T. Bogus, a law Professor at the Roger T. Williams School of Law, the top — indeed the only — law school in the state of Rhode Island.
Mr. Bogus is the editor of “The Second Amendment in Law and History,” a compilation of articles by advocates of the “collective right” school of Second Amendment interpretation, which rejects the prevailing view that the Constitution protects an individual right to gun ownership.
Citing its “redundant” essays, Kirkus Reviews concluded that the “narrow focus” of the one-sided Bogus collection “ultimately raises suspicions that this tendentious volume protests too much.”
Among Mr. Bogus’ handpicked contributors to the 2001 anthology was Michael Bellesiles, author of “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture,” a 2000 book controversially claiming that individual gun ownership did not become prevalent in the U.S. until after the Civil War, generations after ratification of the Second Amendment. Originally lauded as a bracing work of provocative scholarship and winner of Columbia University’s coveted Bancroft Prize for history, “Arming America” was eventually discredited among historians as an unprofessional, error-strewn, improperly documented, partly fabricated and likely fraudulent work.
In 2002 “Arming America” became the first Bancroft Prize winner ever to have its award rescinded, after Columbia trustees found that its author had “violated the basic norms of scholarship and the high standards expected of Bancroft Prize Winners.” That same year Mr. Bellesisles resigned under pressure from Emory University, where he’d been a history professor, after an internal review questioned his “scholarly integrity.”
Mr. Bogus’ early praise for “Arming America” — “undoubtedly the most important historical work ever produced about guns in America,” he gushed in a 2001 review — has been cited as a significant factor in the book’s original acceptance among historians.