The Man Who Saved the Second Amendment
By David DemingIn recent weeks, federal courts have begun to nullify a number of gun control laws on the grounds they violate the Second Amendment. In the Western District of Oklahoma, judge Patrick Wyrick found that prohibiting marijuana users from owning guns is unconstitutional. The Fifth Circuit Court concluded that people subject to domestic violence restraining orders cannot be compelled to surrender any weapons they own. A federal district court in West Virginia ruled that the federal law which makes it a crime to possess a firearm with an altered, obliterated or removed serial number is unconstitutional. The tide at last has turned: two-hundred and thirty-two years after its ratification, the federal courts are finally starting to take the Second Amendment seriously.
There’s no mystery as to the cause of this revolution. Last June, in the landmark case of NYSRPA v. Bruen, the Supreme Court of the United States significantly strengthened the case law supporting Second Amendment rights. In a 6 to 3 opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court recognized that the Second Amendment protects not only the right to own guns, but to carry them in public. More importantly, the Court put an end to “means-end scrutiny,” the rationale that lower courts had used repeatedly to uphold gun control statutes. Under this doctrine of review, any statute that was viewed as furthering an important government interest was upheld as constitutional. Placed in the hands of liberal judges who found firearms to be repugnant, the implementation of means testing had essentially removed the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights. On the contrary, Thomas wrote, the proper standard of judicial review was “to assess whether modern firearms regulations are consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding.” And the most important historical period was the late eighteenth century, the time during which the Second Amendment was written and adopted.
So the man who saved the Second Amendment was Justice Clarence Thomas. But if we are to believe Justice Thomas himself, he was not so much the cause as the effect. In his autobiography, My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas explained that his entire character had been formed by his grandfather, Myers Anderson. “What I am is what he made me.” Born into the most abject poverty in rural Georgia, Thomas’ parents were divorced in 1950, and his father abandoned him. As a young child, Thomas lived in a shack without electricity or plumbing. One day, the house burned to the ground, and Thomas’ mother relocated to a slum in Savannah where raw sewage poured out onto the ground. “Most of the time,” Thomas wrote, “I was cold and hungry.”
At the age of six, Clarence and his brother were taken in by their grandparents. Clarence Thomas’ grandfather, Myers Anderson, was barely literate. With only a third-grade education, Anderson made his living delivering fuel oil. A man of some self-discipline, Myers Anderson raised his grandchildren to have “manners and behavior,” and respect “rules and regulations.” The order of the household was enforced by a liberal amount of corporeal punishment. Anderson understood that the key to success in life was education combined with a powerful work ethic. He told Clarence, “I am going to send you boys to school and teach you how to work so you can have a better chance than I did.” By the time he was in the fourth grade, Clarence Thomas was a fixture at his grandfather’s business: before dawn, after school, and all day on Saturdays.
In the summers, Myers Anderson took his grandchildren to live and work on the family farm. Clarence and his brother woke before sunrise and worked all day, cutting trees, clearing land, mending fences, washing dishes, and feeding livestock. They learned how to butcher a hog, and how to skin and clean deer, raccoons, and squirrels. Anderson didn’t allow his grandsons to wear work gloves because he considered it “a sign of weakness.” Initially the boy’s hands blistered, but the blisters turned into callouses and the gloves proved unnecessary. No task was too difficult. If the boys protested, Anderson told them, “old man can’t is dead – I helped bury him.”
In college, Clarence Thomas drifted away from his grandfather’s teachings. He entertained Marxism and the black power movement of the 1960s. In his autobiography, Thomas confessed, “I was an angry black man...I now believed that the whole of American culture was irretrievably tainted by racism.” In the Spring of 1970, Thomas participated in a rally protesting the Vietnam War. He marched and chanted “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.” The event degenerated into a riot. Thomas found his way back to his college campus early the next morning, escaping possible arrest and the ruination of his life. Exhausted, he prayed. “I promised Almighty God that if He would purge my heart of anger, I would never hate again.” Rage and resentment were abandoned.
Proverbs 22.6 assures us, “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Clarence Thomas returned to his grandfather’s principles. He read Thomas Sowell’s Economics and Politics of Race, and Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In 1980, Thomas registered as a Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan. He adopted the natural law philosophy of the Founders, and their vision of a government designed to protect the natural rights of its citizens. Through hard work and quiet perseverance, Thomas eventually was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
There is a clear lesson in this story: nothing is more important than the education of our children. The greatest mistake conservatives ever made in this country was to abandon our education systems and turn them over to leftists. Our public schools are a disaster. This type of headline is now commonplace: “Not a single student can do math at grade level in 53 Illinois schools. For reading, it’s 30 schools.” Contemplate that. If 20 or 30 percent of the students failed to achieve basic proficiency levels in reading or math, we would have a serious problem. It’s much worse than that: in many schools not a single student is achieving the most basic level of proficiency. In the nineteenth century, teachers in one-room rural schools managed to successfully teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. But our modern public schools are only good for inculcating racial hatred through critical race theory and providing young children with pornography. This is a corrupt system that cannot be reformed or improved; it must be abolished.
The consequences of NYSRPA v. Bruen (2022) are just beginning to unwind. If the text and history criteria established by the Supreme Court are followed, the federal government’s entire scheme of gun regulation must fall. There is no historical precedent for the licensing of gun dealers, or for conducting background checks on buyers. Nor is there any historical basis for any gun ban whatsoever. Even the National Firearms Act of 1934 did not ban machine guns, it simply required registration and the payment of a tax. The first true national gun ban was the Hughes Amendment of 1986. The National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Act of 1993, and all state bans, regulations, and restrictions are unconstitutional. It will take time, but ultimately all of these statutes are doomed.
Myers Anderson’s legacy looms large, and will continue to manifest its influence over the next several decades. Unless the Supreme Court wavers or reverses itself, the Second Amendment, and with it, perhaps, our entire constitutional system of ordered liberty, will be preserved. Not because of the actions of any brilliant legal scholar or any charismatic politician. Liberty will endure because one semi-literate black man living in the Jim Crow South of the 1950s took the time to properly raise a child. If our country is to be saved, it must be one child at a time.
David Deming is a geophysicist and professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma. Follow him on Twitter @profdeming.